Need to develop your soft skills?

Are you good at dealing with people, solving problems or working in a team? A new report reveals many young people lack the soft skills needed to get their first job.

The shift in the employment market from the manufacturing industries to the service sector means soft skills are in demand, according to report published by The Work Foundation. Large numbers of young people are now employed in areas such as retail, leisure and hospitality, which all require customer-facing or soft skills.

The term ‘soft skills’ refers to a range of personal qualities and attributes, including the ability to interact effectively with other people.  Generally, employers are looking for staff who are polite and helpful, who will get on well with team members and other individuals, and who have a positive outlook and adaptable approach.  Being able to demonstrate skills such as these will help you stand out from other candidates.


The rise of customer service

Customer service, how a company relates to and deals with its customers, is an area that requires a variety of soft skills, and increasingly is being seen as an integral part of many different roles, rather than as a separate area of responsibility.

Carole Donaldson, Resourcing Manager at department store John Lewis explains, “John Lewis sees delivering great customer service as being at the heart of all we do and therefore look for individuals who have the behaviours and skills to meet this need.  This is not only for roles which have direct customer service contact but includes Partners working in our Contact Centres, Warehouse Operations and Support functions.”

Companies are also using good customer service as a way to stand out from their competitors. Negative experiences, such as rude, unhelpful staff, or a failure to rectify problems, can cause lasting and significant damage to a company’s reputation.  With social media channels providing a public arena for customers to complain when things go wrong, getting customer service right is now more important than ever.


Developing your soft skills

So, how can you develop your soft skills and increase your chances of employment? Carole Donaldson acknowledges this can be difficult for those at the start of their career, but says soft skills can be gained from a wide variety of situations and experiences, “Being part of school societies, organisations such as guides and scouts, local volunteer groups and mentor groups all can help to develop these skills.”

Think about using your life experience to demonstrate how your skills match those of a particular role.  Dealing with a difficult person, or convincing someone to do what you want can provide examples of persuasion or influencing skills.  Perhaps your hobbies and interests involve dealing with people?  Organisational skills can be gained from helping arrange an outing or social event, or as member of a club or team.  At school or college you may have shown the ability to work under pressure or time management skills during revision or exams.  Even instances of when things have gone wrong can be useful.  Explaining how you’ve handled a difficult situation or solved a problem could make all the difference to getting that job.

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