Work: The hard truth about soft skills: Graduate careers: Qualifications are fine, but most employers are now looking for a more human touch. Lisa Bachelor reports

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Date: June 9, 2012
Publisher: Guardian News & Media
Document Type: Article
Length: 587 words
Content Level: (Level 4)
Lexile Measure: 1300L

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Byline: Lisa Bachelor

You might have a degree, perhaps a technical qualification and a bit of work experience on your CV but have you promoted your soft skills? Do you even know what they are?

Soft skills - sometimes known in work-speak as "employability skills" - are becoming increasingly important to graduate recruiters sifting through the CVs of a growing pool of similar looking applicants, according to experts.

While hard skills refer to things such as academic qualifications, soft skills include communication ability, teamworking, time management, problem solving and attitude to work.

A recent report by the Work Foundation concluded that the long-term shift from production to a service-driven economy has made soft skills increasingly important for people seeking their first job. Findings from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) back this up. Of more than 1,000 HR professionals surveyed, the vast majority said that, aside from an increased need for more workers, better employability skills would be more likely to encourage them to hire young people than financial incentives, such as those from the government.

The good news is that, while many soft skills are inherent, others can be learned. "You can train yourself just as you can in hard skills," says Soraya Pugh, head of graduate at recruitment consultancy FreshMinds Talent. "If you are shy, for example, get involved in debating societies and other clubs at school and university. There are also courses on communication skills that can not only teach you some soft skills but help you demonstrate to employers self-awareness and initiative simply by the fact you have signed up."

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, believes the best way of demonstrating such skills is to get some work experience. "It is in every young person's interest to try and gain experience that exposes them to the workplace," he says. "This is not only because of the obvious benefits in terms of hard skills.

"Our research suggests that the main benefit is that it helps them to develop soft skills."

Recruitment experts agree that graduates applying for jobs can start to highlight their soft skills as early as the CV stage.

Soft skills don't need to be listed under a separate heading on a CV - this could look naff - but need to be demonstrated through examples. It's not good enough to say you are a good communicator, you need to say why.

Rebecca Jones, business coach and author of Business in Red Shoes, says she speaks to a lot of graduates who struggle to think of what to put on their CV.

"They then start blagging rather than making the best of what they have got and that lands them in all sorts of trouble," she says. "Soft skills are what make your personal brand but you need to think about them. Instead of thinking, for example, 'I have only worked at McDonald's', think 'What did working at McDonald's teach me?'"

Graduates who are not particularly assertive might worry that desirable soft skills can best be demonstrated by those with more confidence. But Rob Johnson, managing director at Instep, a training and development provider says one of the most important can be the hardest to master.

"This is the ability to listen," he says. "A good candidate will demonstrate that ability from the first phone call they make, right through the interview process. Your ability to articulate clearly and concisely is secondary to your ability to listen to the questions and think carefully about your answers."

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