It can be so easy to assume that the skills you need to advance in a job can only be taught in school. But in reality, the technical knowledge you need for your everyday career is only a small portion of the skills you need to advance in your career. Technical knowledge and education are great for getting the job. But to truly excel in any organization, you need to have more.
We’ve all know about the talented employee that gets promoted but had has their team quit underneath them because they had no management skills.
And honestly, soft skills are overlooked because they are not quantifiable. There is no general “people skills” or “communications” test that people can take with a score that they can put on their resume. Soft skills are skills that an employer will usually test during the interview with behavioural questions, but it’s one of those things in life you have to see happen in-person to truly determine if they work or not.
As a career coach, I know that many people have the technical skills to do a job, it’s what was taught in school. But it’s the soft skills that are holding most people back from getting ahead in their career path.
So whether you’re looking for a new job or promotion, these are the 10 soft skills you need to get ahead in your career. And how to master them. The first 7 skills will focus on soft skills that can be developed at work and the last 3 soft skills will focus on soft skills outside of work.
Let’s get started.
1. Communication Skills
Communication skills are one of those vague things that people write on their resume that make you think, what does that really mean? And while you may get away with it on a resume or in passing in an interview, communication skills are not something you can fake in real life.
They are the tangible, hard skills that you need to work with other people and these include:
Verbal – This type of communication is the easiest to understand: It’s what you say. To improve this skill, use a confident voice while speaking, avoiding filler words such as “um,” “hmmm,” etc., and be conscious about how you choose your words.
Non-Verbal – This includes anything that you are saying without words. It includes body language, tone of voice, facial expressions. If you’re to improve non-verbal communication skills, the best way to do it is just to be intentional and conscious of your non-verbal actions such as if someone is telling something stressful, look them in the eyes to show empathy instead of looking upwards or away which shows that you’re annoyed. This one is a tough one to understand, but one of the best defaults is to copy the body language and tone of voice of the other person.
Written – Being able to effectively write out your intentions is a skill that takes tact because it can depend on the person. The most common written skill in the workplace is sending emails. because no matter what you do in life, you have to write emails. Good written skills comes down to word choice, punctuation, and tone. And the real difficulty in this skill is that it depends on the other person. In verbal communications, it’s pretty easy to convey your emotions. If you raise your voice, you’re angry, and it’s easy to tell by tone if a person is upset, but not so easy over email.
Working on developing your communication skills, unfortunately, comes down to practice. So start being consciously aware of what words and body language people respond to best, and write it down.
2. People Skills
In my opinion, most “people skills” can be determined by one thing: listening skills.
Yes, people skills can also include a whole list of other soft skills such as teamwork, leadership, patience, but at the end of the day, it all boils down to listening to other people and understanding where they are coming from.
It is the skill that most personal development writers like Dale Carnegie in the classic book “How To Win Friends and Influence People.” So the next time you are considering how to improve your people skills, try active listening. Trust me, people love talking about themselves and even though some things come naturally to others like humour or having charisma, everyone likes someone who can actively listen, empathize, and who tries to understand their point of view in conflict.
3. Self-Management Skills
Being able to take initiative in any job makes a world of difference. Don’t wait for someone to ask you to do something. When you get comfortable enough in a position and know something needs to be done, take the initiative in projects and come up with new ideas. If you are in a role where you aren’t sure of the company’s priorities or know the job well it’s always okay to ask your supervisor. If you have some downtime, simply asking “could I get started on this for you?” is a game-changer for developing this soft skill.
4. Managing Your Boss And Employees
Even if you are not a manager, you still manage people. One of the most important tasks you will ever have is to manage the expectations of your boss and your employees. This means that you are effectively communicating with your team. More so, it’s about understanding the priorities of people that are not you. One of the most game-changing pieces of advice I’ve ever received is learning not just how to please your boss, but learn how he/she needs to please their boss. everyone has someone that they need to be accountable to.
To learn what the priorities of others and challenges others are facing and help them. If your employees are struggling with a particular task, understand why and come up with solutions.
Lastly, it is always important to keep open 2-way communication with the people you work with. So if you do not see them daily, schedule check-ins to talk about work or anything else. It’s so easy to put your head down at your desk and think that’s all there is to work, but to get ahead, you need other people. No one builds up their career on their own and vice versa. So while managing employees, remember that you should be ensuring that they are growing and developing their skills as well. Not only does it make your team better as a whole, but it also shows that you’re someone who can help another person which is how people become successful in their careers. People want to be around people that can make companies better.
And that brings us to our next point. Leadership skills are invaluable in a company because it’s not something that anyone can truly teach. It’s something you need to act upon and demonstrate. Developing people and communication skills are a huge part of leadership, but leadership skills encompass more than that. It’s the ability to inspire and motivate people; knowing when to listen and when to act.
Leadership skills can look different in different industries, but it’s a soft skill that derives from the ability to plan and delegate work, inspiring people through creative solutions, and being a person of integrity and trustworthiness that people want to work for. Developing leadership skills can be tough if you aren’t already in a supervisory or management role, but you don’t need to be given the opportunity to be a leader; you can choose to be one. Volunteer to take the lead in a project at work or, volunteer in leadership positions outside of work for a local organization or charity you wish to support. The one thing about leadership skills is that it is super transferable and so the exact project or industry you worked in isn’t as relevant when you starting off developing these skills.
6. Productivity/Time Management
The one thing everyone probably wishes for in their career is more hours in the day. It can be hard to keep up with the responsibilities of a role and it can be even tougher to get ahead in your career if you’re constantly trying to complete your own tasks.
Developing time management soft skills at your work will not only make you more productive, but it will also make the quality of your work better. No one works well in a rush and it can be so easy to miss the little details; developing time management skills means that not only do you demonstrate you are able to take on more responsibility, you can ensure that your current workload is also done to a high quality.
The great thing about developing time management skills is unlike other skills, there are lots of tools out there to help you.
Some popular time management skills include:
- Time Blocking: Physically block off the time in your calendar to complete the tasks
- To-Do Lists: Create a to-do list of everything you need to complete in the day
- Creating Checklists/Cheat Sheets: Create checklists of routine tasks so you don’t miss a step or think about the next step
- Saving Shortcuts: Create shortcuts on your desktop for files you need to quickly access to
- Creating Templates: Create template responses in your email or templates of things such as report so you don’t have to start from scratch every time.
7. Creative Problem Solving
Thinking outside the box and problem-solving is a soft skill that everyone desires. It’s something that not only can’t be taught, but it’s also a skill that there is no one single way to approach. Problem-solving is the ability to make a judgment and think through the best solution. Unfortunately, it is a skill that comes mostly with experience. It can be hard to know how to creatively solve a problem if you’ve never experienced it before and hence, don’t fully know the consequences or results.
The best way to approach problem-solving is usually to listen and learn through experience. However, I have found the best way to develop problem-solving skills is to learn from others. When I’m in a new role, I ask a lot of questions and it’s not necessarily from my supervisors, it’s from the people who have been with the organization or in the role the longest as they’ve seen the results of decisions fully through and truly know their impact. Another way to develop creative problem-solving skills is to read books and listening to career podcasts. I personally love reading about other people’s experiences and how they faced problems in their careers. Some of my favourite books that I’ve read are “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg and “Never Split The Difference” by Chris Voss. I’m also reading “Principles” by Ray Dalio. Also, a disclaimer when I say “read” books, I mostly listen to them on audiobooks because I’m an audio learner. Some of my favourite podcasts include SecondLife (that interviews different women who’ve made big career changes in their life) and interviews on the Goal Digger podcast.
The great thing about problem-solving is that you can pull from people of different industries and who’ve had completely different career paths. That’s where the creativity skills develop, it’s through learning from people who have different perspectives or life experiences to tell you how they solved a problem in a way you might have never considered.
8. Marketing Skills
Learning to sell yourself is one of the most important skills that you will ever develop for both your personal and professional life. And if you’re like me, the thought of selling yourself feels kind of….icky. I’m not a “bragging” type of person and I tend to shy away from anything that
But I’ve learned that marketing myself isn’t about bragging, it’s about showcasing my achievements to demonstrate that I’m right for the role. Being able to confidently market yourself and effectively communicate your skills impressively and comprehensively is definitely a skill. And it takes getting used to. We all know someone who is cocky and brags about their achievements and people like that can be exhausting to be around.
To develop your marketing soft skills, it takes personal development activities that aren’t always found in the workplace. The first thing is to practice with other people. It’s easy to sit in a room by yourself and practice your personal summary when you introduce yourself, but it’s a whole other experience to actually do it in real life. One of the best ways I’ve ever learned to market myself is through networking. Throughout my twenties, I went to so many conferences (sometimes in different provinces) and networking events where I didn’t know a single person by myself. And to be honest, at first, it was really nerve-wracking. I would feel so insecure because everyone else seemed to know someone there and I was just sitting by myself. So I had to learn how to introduce myself and market myself to complete and utter strangers.
Sometimes it was embarrassing. Sometimes it was awkward. But the thing is I got through it every time and I naturally got better and better at it. There is a balance between talking about yourself and the value you bring to an organization and talking about the other person. Marketing yourself isn’t always about you. It’s about having a conversation with the other person to understand their needs as well and it can be difficult to judge a situation, but again, it takes practice.
Another thing I would recommend to develop your marketing skills is looking into social media. People dismiss social media as a part of the career process but social media is just a tool in which you can choose to display yourself. So curate your photos and rework your LinkedIn profile to really showcase the person you want your future employers to see. Lastly, if you’ve ever considered it, I learned a lot about marketing by starting MLA and this business. It’s uncomfortable to promote your own content, but the way that I like to think about it is connecting the right person with the right resources.
9. Job Search and Job Interview Skills
Even if you are the most talented person in a role, it doesn’t mean much if you aren’t able to communicate it the job application process. Looking and interviewing for a job is a skill in itself. Not everyone is good at writing a resume or interviewing because these are conventional practices made up by society.
The great thing about this skill though is that there are a ton of resources out there to help (and MLA is one of them!)
Some great resources that Millennial Life Admin provides (if you haven’t already looked to it) are
– MLA Job Search Tracker: This excel sheet keeps me accountable and organized when going through the job search process (so I don’t end up with a million tabs open and missing deadlines)
– MLA Interview Questions Study Guide: I created this study guide for job interviews because I get SO NERVOUS during interviews that I feel like I want to throw up. Having this guide not only keeps me organized and prepared, but it also helps calm my nerves because I’m not scared of blanking out during an interview.
– Promote Yourself 1:1 Career Coaching Program: If you’re truly looking for a true career transformation, my signature 1:1 Career Coaching program combines the technical aspects of job search with the mindset. Learn how not only to get a job but your dream career and apply for jobs you feel “unqualified for.”
10. Career Management
One of the best career quotes I have ever heard is “no one will care more about your career than you do.” And I wish I could tell you where I got that from, but I think it was from one of the dozens of career podcasts I’ve heard. That statement is true for so many reasons.
It is up to you to decide what you want from your career and to go for it. No one is there to do it for you, and no one should. Determining what kind of career and lifestyle you want comes internally and it’s your responsibility to seek out those opportunities.
However, there will be people that help you along the way. Some of my greatest career decisions came at the advice of a manager or mentor, but again, it’s your responsibility to seek those people out. One of the greatest downfalls of newly graduated students is that they end up lost in their career because there is long a counselor or professor or academic adviser advising them of the next step and how to get there. The true mark of adulthood in your career is when you decide for yourself and map out how you get there because even with help, somewhere down the road it will come down to you.
Developing career management soft skills can be tricky and to be honest, it comes with mistakes. I think every single professional has worked in a job that they decided, for one reason or another, was no longer for them. No one has a crystal ball that can tell them exactly how things turn out (and anyone who says they knew exactly how their career was going to turn out meant that they never took on challenges or risk), but it’s the learning experience and how you choose to move forward that will really develop and test this skill. Sometimes it’s right to stay in a job, other times it may be time to leave or pivot careers altogether. Learning how to manage and market your transferable skills will be invaluable in this process so to develop your career management skills, first start by researching and mapping out what it is you want from your career. Read about other people’s experiences and if it doesn’t end well, learn from it.
Getting ahead in your career means working on the soft skills that aren’t always tangible. But people see it, and in most cases, they feel the difference.
Getting ahead in your career is about more than the tangible and technical skills – it’s about being able to build a meaningful career and develop the career confidence to market yourself to careers you feel unqualified for. If you are looking for more help with this, I would love to help! I invite you to apply for my Promote Yourself 1:1 Coaching Program and really live up to your career potential.