After college graduation, it's time to take all your knowledge and experience and put them to use in the workplace. But, with limited experience, how can you build a resume that proves you have what it takes to succeed in a demanding job? Two words: soft skills.
What are soft skills?
Hard skills are easier to define and measure. They're frequently learned in school or on the job and are usually clearly called out in job postings. They include things like computer programming language and software knowledge, web design, data analysis and statistics, and foreign language proficiency.
According to Jessica Berwick, a career advisor at Eastern Washington University, "soft skills are those skills that apply across all industries and transfer to any type of role. They include your attitude, ability to work in groups, problem-solving skills, and social and emotional intelligence."
And they're becoming even more important in the working world. In fact, according to LinkedIn, 57 percent of leaders say soft skills are more important than hard skills. As jobs become more automated, employees who can adapt to change, communicate strongly, and have strong emotional intelligence in the workplace will be in line to advance.
Here are some of the soft skills employers value across many industries:
- Time management
- Conflict resolution
- Written and verbal communication
These resume-ready soft skills examples should help you begin brainstorming your own set. The great news? You don't need a ton of work experience to possess valuable soft skills. Why are soft skills important? For the purposes of application materials, highlighting your soft skills for your resume (and your cover letter, too) is an effective way to show that you're more than a sum of your technical accomplishments — you also know how to work with people, and you're good at resolving interpersonal conflicts.
Backing up skills on your resume with evidence
Anyone can say they're a self-starter, but can you show proof? To stand out as a competitive candidate, you'll want to find ways to back up your soft skills. You don't have a long work history to draw from, so pull from your college experience.
"I think it's helpful to prepare several examples and situations that evidence your soft skills before going into an interview," says Berwick.
For example, say you want to showcase your communication savvy. Rather than write, "I'm a great communicator," Berwick suggests briefly describing a scenario in which your communication skills shined, like when you planned, advertised and led the cleanup of a local park.
"Teamwork evidences strong communication skills," adds Berwick.
Maybe you worked on a project with other students and had to navigate delegating assignments and group meetups. You can provide this succinct example directly in your resume's work history section.
Practice sharing that scenario with a mentor or friends before you flesh it out in a written cover letter or explain it in an interview. That way, your description of the situation spells out the importance of what you did in measurable terms and appears natural to people reviewing your application materials or asking you questions in an interview.
Berwick also suggests that you prepare more than one example.
- Did you work with a difficult customer or team? Describe how you managed the situation to showcase your social intelligence.
- Did you bolster morale at an internship? Focus on the importance of leadership, regardless of role.
- Did you help make your team or office more efficient? Share how your problem solving skills saved the day.
"Sometimes, students don't have a ton of work experience, but you can leverage academics," says Berwick. "Did you do a major research project or team project? That's an opportunity to highlight time management."
Placing soft skills in a resume
Because your work history is likely brief as a recent college graduate, you are a good candidate for a functional or combination format resume. Even if you choose a traditional chronological work history format, all three contain five essential resume components: a professional summary, skills, work history, education and contact info.
The skills section is where you'll place your soft skills, but it's not as simple as just listing them out by name. Backing up your soft skills with relevant, concrete examples customized in your resume shows each employer you're able to perform the functions of the job. It also proves that you can communicate well, solve problems and work in teams.
It's important to prepare an arsenal of examples and be equipped to give the employer a window into your experience. Read job descriptions carefully for the specific soft skills you should highlight for each role and be sure to use the same words in your resume as in the job posting to hit your point home and help beat the automated resume scanning bots (frequently called ATS.) If you're not prepared to share details about how you developed a soft skill, leave it off your resume.
Soft skills and company culture
Including your soft skills in your resume, cover letter and interview answers can demonstrate to the hiring manager that you will be able to perform the job's duties. But these skills may also help the hiring manager figure out if you're a good cultural fit for the organization.
"What's going to set you apart are intangibles. The employer already knows you're qualified. What they're looking for is if you'll fit," Berwick says.
Soft skills can indicate how you might fit in the workplace's culture. Take inventory of what makes you who you are — your best traits. Are you a great communicator? A thoughtful peer? An organized planner? Present these attributes in a succinct resume and cover letter, and you'll be ready to head into interviews armed with a powerful presentation of your highly hirable soft skills.
Whether you're a recent graduate hoping to enter the workforce or a professional contemplating a career change, your resume's soft skills can help you distinguish you from other applicants. Our Resume Builder will walk you through how to include your most valuable skills (and also help you build a resume from top to bottom in no time at all).