Throughout your college career, you likely gained many soft skills, like the ability to solve complex problems or collaborate with others. While you might have gleaned these from your time in the classroom, you likely also learned these skills in your part-time jobs, internships and extracurricular activities.
The hard skills you'll need for a specific job will be obvious; you likely learned many of them while in school. These are the tools of your trade: software programs, data analysis, programming languages, app and web development and accounting are some examples. These skills can be evaluated and have systematic learning processes. They're also easy to see in most job postings, so you can target your application materials to include reference to the hard skills that matter most in each role you apply for.
But many recent graduates don't understand how vital soft skills are to success in their careers – or how important they are to potential employers. As technology changes the way we work and more mundane tasks become automated, the importance of soft skills is growing.
Some believe that up to 800 million jobs could be lost to automation over the next 10 years.Here's how to highlight your soft skills in your cover letter, to catch a potential hiring manager's eye and stand out on the job.
The importance of highlighting soft skills in your cover letter
According to a survey by Bloomberg Next and Workday, "Nearly four in 10 corporations and about half of academic institutions reported that new hires do not have the soft skills they need to perform at a high level."
That means if you have excellent soft skills, you'll set yourself apart from the crowd. The study also showed that the most important cover letter soft skills are:
- Critical thinking
- Problem solving
It's up to you to communicate these skills in your cover letter by showing specific examples of where you acquired them and how you've used them.
Brainstorming your soft skills
Before you start applying to jobs, write down the soft skills you gained in college and the most significant instances where you used them. Make these examples measurable and memorable to give them more impact. Keep them in an easy-to-access place for when you're working on your cover letters, resumes and interview preparation sessions.
It can be helpful to read job listings in your field to get a better sense of the types of soft skills that will be important for your future job. Put together some well-crafted examples you can use as a starting place for each cover letter. Having an extensive list of soft skills at your fingertips (and anecdotes about how you put them into action) will make that critical job task easier each time.
Remember: you should write a custom cover letter for each position you apply to. Read job descriptions carefully and identify the specific soft skills that they include in the posting. Use those words to make the connection for the person (or robot) scanning your application materials.
Translating soft skills into your cover letter
Along with including the five critical components of a cover letter, you need to incorporate the soft skills you learned inside and outside of the classroom. To show off your soft skills, make sure to include examples from any experience you've had, work or otherwise, counsels certified career coach Hallie Crawford.
Perhaps you volunteered with a local non-profit, held a leadership position in a school group or worked on a large project in class. In your cover letter, provide examples of how you leveraged soft skills with measurable results during these experiences. Review some examples of transferable skills to include in your cover letter for inspiration.
"Remember that your cover letter should be to the point, so only include details that help to show why you would be a good fit for the specific position you're applying for," Crawford recommends, emphasizing that hiring managers and recruiters quickly look for potential hires that have the soft skills they need. "They can teach you a new program or process, but soft skills are not easily taught. You either have them or you don't, so including them is a way to pique their interest in you."
Writing effectively about your soft skills
In your cover letter, you need to get to the point quickly. But you should also show how you gained and used your soft skills. Don't merely include buzzwords like, "team player," "adaptable" and "multitasker" without providing examples, as employers won't have any evidence that you possess these soft skills. They may think you just copied and pasted them from Google or the job listing without context.
The same experience may be used to illustrate a variety of soft skills that are valuable in work situations. For example, if you had an internship in a customer service department, discuss how you helped a customer figure out how to use the company's product as an example of your problem-solving skills. You could also talk about how you calmed a customer down and ensured that he or she was satisfied with your service as an example of your empathy and ability to think quickly under pressure.
For a soft skill like teamwork, describe how you led a group project by setting up meetings, working in digital collaborative tools like Slack and Google Docs, and presenting your project to the class. That same project could be leveraged as an example of leadership. Determine which skills are most relevant to the role and target your cover letter to focus on what's most critical to success in the role.
In your cover letter, be brief but clear to demonstrate your soft skills. Use our Cover Letter Builder to create a cover letter that will impress your potential employer.