Barb Cutillo: Soft skills: Can you demonstrate them on a resume?

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At the beginning of each semester, I give students a short questionnaire. The questions range from, “What problems/questions would you like to tackle in this class?” to, “What are your goals, and how can I help achieve them?” And finally, “What questions do you have for me?”

These questions build a foundation for solid relationships for several reasons, including setting the right tone, generating insights about who the students are and issues they are passionate about, and revealing stimulating topics for class discussions. This year, I had a graduate student ask an intriguing question: “How do you demonstrate ‘soft skills’ on a resume?”

Can soft skills be presented effectively on a resume? What do we mean by “soft skills,” and how do hiring managers identify them? Are soft skills even considered in the AI resume-screening process that is so prevalent today? To what extent do they matter to hiring managers and companies? To answer these questions, defining soft skills is the best place to start.

Soft skills are the personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and pleasantly with others. Essentially, they are interpersonal and behavioral skills, such as leadership and conflict-resolution abilities that help shape a person’s relationships. According to Indeed.com, soft skills include “communication, teamwork, adaptability, problem-solving, creativity and work ethic.” Compared with hard skills, they are more difficult to learn and are applicable across industries and professions. Soft skills are challenging because they develop from a person’s innate qualities and require self-reflection, humility and a desire to change in order to improve.

For job seekers, it is not enough to simply list these traits: A good resume accurately demonstrates these traits with statements of concrete actions and experiences. This is where the quality of an emotional intelligence “toolbox” can help, more specifically self-awareness, feedback and practice. Here are some steps you can take to develop or improve soft skills and ideas for how they can be reflected on a resume:

Do a “gap” analysis: First, prioritize the soft skills that are most relevant to your career path. Second, evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses to determine the gaps. Strengths can be highlighted in the resume objective or summary.

Gather feedback: Ask supervisors, managers and co-workers to provide feedback on your work. Set your ego aside, listen and adjust. Include a list of soft skills that peers indicated you’re proficient in and highlight team or special projects you completed well.

Practice communication skills: Find ways to communicate more often–whether that is in a presentation, email or face-to-face meeting. Effective leaders are good communicators. List any speaking, presentation or project-management opportunities.

For hiring managers: Ideal candidates require a combination of both hard and soft skills, which means the resume should demonstrate that balance. Since AI programs are doing most of the resume screening today, be intentional about the soft skills you include in the job description and/or posting language. Consider what is vital to success in the position for both the short term and long term and highlight that in the posting.

With competition for talented workers as high as it is now, why is a balance of hard and soft skills particularly important to the workplace? In the current environment, managers often need to fill positions quickly; so it’s no surprise that there’s a bias toward hiring candidates focusing primarily on the hard skills. While the hard skills of potential employees fill immediate company needs, such as creating a budget forecast or performing data analysis, the soft skills like teamwork and communication help employees succeed in the workplace and help drive companies to outperform peers in the long run.

According to a study focused on Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, the companies that implement high-quality practices related to recruiting, development and employee relations consistently outperform the market and, in fact, create a competitive advantage. They demonstrate “stable and highly positive workforce attitudes” that lead to less turnover, higher productivity and improved profits.

Ultimately, I reported back to my students that soft skills can be effectively communicated on resumes, and in fact, soft skills are essential to job seekers and organizations. For employees, hard skills might be the traits that get you hired, but soft skills will allow you to gain responsibility and promotions faster.

For organizations, employees with proficiency in soft skills make better decisions, increase productivity and reduce conflict. Organizations that require managers to be intentional about seeking a balance of hard and soft skills in potential employees will improve succession planning by growing the middle-manager ranks and enhancing communication and collaboration, all leading to greater returns for the organization.•

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Barb Cutillo is a lecturer of management at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business Indianapolis.

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