What are soft skills? Why do I hear about them so much? Are they really that important when it comes to landing a job after you transition out of the military?
We all know that some jobs require hard skills and often certifications to prove you have those skills (try flying a plane without a pilot’s license). Veterans often have both types but do not understand soft skills and how important they are.
Some of the most commonly identified soft skills are: teamwork, communication, dependability, organization, open-mindedness, willingness to learn, and leading diverse teams. These are skills that most service members master. We rarely do anything that does not require working in teams, very diverse teams for that matter. You must be able to communicate up and down the chain of command in the service. Think, for example, about the 19 year old Airmen on the flight line who is doing a walk around with the CO as he is getting ready to fly. Looks a lot like the intern in the mailroom chatting with the CEO about the multi-million dollar machine he is getting ready to use. This happens hundreds of times a day around the services. As you move up in pay grade these skills are essential.
The reason you hear about soft skills so much is because they are things that are not easily taught on a college campus, but are an integral part of everyday life in and out of the uniform. The first place these skills will surface is during the interview process. Did the candidate show up on time? Check. Are they dressed appropriately? Check. Did they communicate well during interviews? Check. Was their resume organized? Check. Am I knocking off all the soft skill traits, Check-mate…
So let’s take a look at the hard and soft skills.
Hard skills and soft skills:
So, you’re ready to start the arduous process of looking for a career. In most job descriptions, employers will expect to see a combination of hard and soft skills. But what exactly are these skills, and what are the differences?
When thinking about hard skills, you want to think about practical knowledge or specific training pieces that you’ve accomplished. Soft skills, on the other hand, are your unique traits and strengths used to complete the mission (job to all my civilian friends).
As soft skills are related to your traits, we’re thinking about your personality and specific characteristics that you develop through life. Hard skills are the skills you gathered through pieces of training or education. Both skills are equally essential but the key is as a military member many of us do not recognize our soft skill or their value.
As mentioned before, hard skills are the skills you gained through an outside source. Every job opportunity will require a set of specific skills and knowledge related to their field. For instance, if you desire to work as an engineer, you will most likely need to understand and apply computer science. It’s important to mention that some workplaces may offer training on specific techniques they required of you. Some companies that SkillMil works with believe that you hire character and train skills.
Overall, these are specific hard skills that are high in demand: Know two or more languages, statistical analysis, database management, mechanics, programming languages, adobe software suite, machinist, SEO/SEM marketing, network security, data mining, mobile development, marketing campaign management, storage systems and management, and user interface design.
When thinking about soft skills, think about how you communicate with others. How are your habits in the workplace? Do you prefer to work as part of a team or alone? How are you as a leader?
These are all personality traits that define who you are and represent what employers are looking for. Soft skills are essential as they are the tools that will help you interview, land the job, and succeed in your new position. While hard skills are necessary to perform a specific job, soft skills will dictate how the work environment develops and how well you relate to your coworkers. Many employers may look for these skills over hard skills, or maybe your leadership skills will make you the chosen candidate between you and the other two people with the same knowledge (i.e., hard skills).
Some examples of soft skills are effective communication, teamwork, problem-solving, organization skills, a disposition to learn, empathy, creativity, motivation to improve, open-mindedness, critical thinking, adaptability, work under stress, and integrity.
Put it to practice: Resume and interview process
Both hard skills and soft skills need to be part of your “presentation card” when looking for jobs. Now, remember, the first thing employers see of you is your resume, so make sure to include your skills. You could have a specific skills section where you could bullet point the abilities relevant to your applying position. That said, it’s essential to do a little research on the place you’re sending your resume to understand what exactly they’re looking for. Some of the companies we use at www.skillmil.com will use your profile only and won’t require a resume so include all of your skills when building your profile.
Hard skills may be easier to demonstrate on the resume and in your SkillMil profile as they could be under education, special training, certificates, etc. But you could also give short descriptions under job positions or training experience where you talk about your soft skills—for instance, talking about your ability to work on a team and under stress when you did a specific training or mission.
Well you made it to the interview process (congratulations!). Here is when you have the opportunity to demonstrate your soft skills and go in-depth about your hard skills. Regarding soft skills, show up on time, speak clearly and make sure to answer the questions, maintain eye contact, look confident, ask follow-up questions, and be honest (do not lie about your experiences or yourself).
For hard skills, make sure to elaborate on your experience and training, answer the technical questions, and provide a physical portfolio. A good practice to show both hard and soft skills is to talk about your past experiences that relate to the job requirements. Start the story by describing the experience, what was expected from you, what you do (specific actions), and explaining the outcomes and what you achieved from the task.
Remember, be honest about your skills, do not make up abilities or experience, but do not be shy! Show and demonstrate what you have to offer. Be proud of your accomplishment and experiences (hard skills) and show how good you are at working with others or as a leader and how organized you are with your work. Any trait about yourself that you believe could benefit the work environment, use it, demonstrate it, and be confident!