Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Building Your Soft Skills and Why It's Important To Say 'Yes'


All through my education, I was taught that my academics and my grades determined my employability. I was told that if I were to ace all of my exams, my future would be bright, and if I failed them, then I was throwing my life away. The reality is, you can have great grades and not get employed, and you can have poor grades and still be super employable. Yes, the grades are important and it would be ideal to ace your education, but it isn't the be-all-and-end-all of your career!

So, what are soft and hard skills? Hard skills are skills which are easily measured. These are your grades, your typing speed, your mathematical ability, your training. They are things that you can be taught and things that you can easily prove to a future employer. Soft skills are harder to measure and harder to prove. These are your personality based skills which can only really be shown over time and by observation and interaction.

So if it's harder to learn and prove soft skills, why is it necessary or important to build them? It's important to learn them because you will be able to use them in the workplace to better your career, as well as use them to treat others well and in your day-to-day life. While they are harder to prove, they will be key points in references from your employer and can be shown by experiences (eg. if you have experience in counselling, it connotes listening skills).

If the way to build and display soft skills is through experience, this is what we need to focus on in order to show them to a potential employer. I decided to focus on building my soft skills this year in my second year in university, and it led me to things I had never considered before. I started this by saying 'yes' to a bunch of opportunities which came my way. I had used my university counselling service in order to attend group therapy and to get on top of my depression. This led to them offering me training to facilitate mutual support groups within their service. I also applied to be a 'peer mentor' for my degree programme, which involves connecting with first-year students and giving them support to helping them settle into university life. This involved more training and more connecting. I also volunteered as a 'Welcome Hero', welcoming new students to the university and coordinating trips to local tourist spots.

TopResume listed 6 Soft Skills Employers Are Looking For In The Workplace and all of these opportunities which I said yes to helped me to develop and display all of these soft skills.

  • The fact that I had taken up these opportunities and put in the time and effort outside of my already time-consuming studies displayed my strong work ethic. I was working hard and dedicating much of my free time to the student community around me. 
  • Working in peer support really helped me to work on my communication skills and helped me to come out of my shell. I am quite an introverted person and I would go out of my way to avoid meeting new people and putting myself out there. However, I am suddenly open to connecting with others and have found confidence in my ability to communicate my ideas. 
  • A lot of the opportunities I took required a lot of creative problem solving, as I was spending a lot of time dealing with people and coordinating events, each of which presented their own set of problems. If a facilitator had called in sick and I needed to take over from them, I had to come up with a quick plan of action for the session. If we were on a tourist trip and someone had taken ill, I needed to deal with the situation whilst also ensuring the enjoyment of others. 
  • Time management has also been a big factor in what I do, as I juggle a lot of projects and events around an already busy student schedule. I also work part-time and was already involved in some peer support programmes and a lot of what I do goes into my calendar. Scheduling and time management has become key!
  • It goes without saying that teamwork is heavily involved in most of what I do. It's so important for most projects and jobs that you are able to work within a team! I have been working in great teams of like-minded people in peer support and it's great to see the passion and commitment that goes on behind the scenes of all the schemes!
  • Next academic year, I will be able to gain a lot of leadership skills as I have already been given opportunities for next year to advance in a number of the projects and schemes I am working in! I am so glad that I took up the opportunities when I did because otherwise, I would not have this chance!

Since starting to say 'yes' to the opportunities that come my way, I have taken a certified first aid course, excelled in my peer support roles, taken great blogging opportunities and connected with lots of lovely people! My CV has also benefitted and my soft skills have developed greatly!

What do you plan to do to develop your soft skills? x

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