Soft Skills: What are they and why do they matter?

Soft skills are a key part of your personal skill set and, in cover letters and interviews, a useful way to demonstrate that you are perfect for a particular role.

Many candidates focus too much on qualifications, training and technical experience. But most applicants will be able to offer all of these. Soft skills are what really help you to stand out from the crowd, and are often valued more by employers.

The difference between soft and hard skills

Hard skills are sometimes referred to as technical skills, whereas soft skills are sometimes called transferable skills. So what's the difference?

Hard skills

Hard skills are the specific abilities you have learned through school, college, university or some other form of training, that allow you to meet the basic criteria specified in the job description.

Some examples of hard skills include:

  • Certificates from professional bodies
  • Foreign language proficiency/fluency
  • Touch typing and minimum typing speed

These are the kinds of abilities that you would expect all applicants for the role to have, especially if the job description lists them as absolute essentials.

Soft skills

Soft skills are more about the way you work than about what you can actually do. They're sometimes called interpersonal skills or even just 'people skills'. Sometimes - although not always - they're related to personality traits that you hold even outside of the workplace.

Some examples of soft skills include:

  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • Patience
  • Problem solving
  • Time management

You might consider soft skills to be especially important in a managerial position, where the individual needs to display leadership capabilities through good and bad alike.

Why are soft skills important to employers?

After spending years at university, you might wonder why employers care more about your soft skills than they do about your degree classification - and of course both are important in different ways.

Soft skills can be harder to prove on a CV, as anyone can claim to work well in a team or to communicate well with others. It's not so easy to back this up at the interview stage, unless you have some specific examples to support your claims.

But remember, nearly every applicant will meet at least the basic criteria for the job, otherwise (with a few speculative exceptions) they would not have applied. So employers need a way to distinguish between the many applications they receive.

Soft skills and company culture

The corporate culture of a company is what helps it to run smoothly. Colleagues need to be able to rely on each other, to work as a team and to communicate when something goes wrong.

Hard skills can be taught, but soft skills (on the whole) are gained with experience rather than education. That's why they're such a gamechanger at the interview stage: they're valued highly by employers, not easy to gain 'artificially' and help you stand out from the crowd.

Which soft skills are most valuable?

Different jobs demand different soft skills, and you won't always be able to second-guess what the employer is looking for. However, we have found that there are certain interpersonal skills that are in demand time and time again.

Our 'Big Four' soft skills are:


Following instructions is important, but the ability to innovate under all circumstances shows your would-be employer that you will be versatile and dependable.


That all-important soft skill of teamwork comes back time and time again, as in a company with close working relationships between colleagues, no-one is an island.


Making yourself understood clearly and concisely - and understanding others when they tell you something - saves time, money and can even avoid workplace disputes.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence, sometimes known as EQ (as opposed to IQ), shows that you can empathise with others and, in good and bad times alike, that you can support those around you to ensure your team succeeds.

How to demonstrate soft skills at interview

You'll often find soft skills are valued more for senior leadership roles, where you're responsible for a number of subordinates within the company hierarchy. This is a good match for the way soft skills are gained organically over time.

Remember that word 'transferable'? Soft skills are usually extremely portable from one job to another, unlike technical skills which may be specific to a single role or discipline. However, evidence for soft skills is not so easy to produce.

Hiring managers will always value evidence over unsupported claims. It's unlikely that you have much history or trust established with the interviewer - so you'll have to substitute for that with some solid fact instead.

How to prepare for interview

Interview preparation is key. Before you attend your interview, identify 3-4 real-life scenarios in which you feel your soft skills helped you to overcome challenges in your career.

Think about the key points of each scenario, and practise until you can consistently deliver a good, positive summary of each incident. Try to find what makes each example really unique, and not just the same as other candidates will be able to offer.

You only get one chance to really connect with the interviewer, so if communication is your strongest ability, make sure you put your best foot forward at interview.

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