April 25, 2023

Soft skills: The key to personal and professional success

Interview: Jana Tanasić
It is more than obvious that employees in administrative roles need to be ISO-certified, that a dentist needs to have 5,000 fixed teeth in their portfolio, a hairdresser loads of certificates on the latest materials to keep your hair as shiny as of a newborn and lawyers need to have the bar exam in their pocket.

But, which dentist do we rather go to? The one who answers our questions with empathy and provides detailed answers or the one who silently writes the prescription with a frown on his face? Which lawyer would we hire? Someone who systematically and assertively explains our rights to us or someone who sees us just as a source of income?

That’s why when we say the word “soft” we often think of comfy cushions, bagels or Konstrakta’s recent hit song, but also of soft skills, which we popularly call in its original form in English “soft skills” without a translation.

How much can these skills help us and what opens the doors of the future to us? We talked to Jana Tanasić about it. Jana has an MA in psychology and she is a RE&CBT psychotherapist under supervision with years-long experience in soft skills development, and since recently, she is also an Employee Experience Manager at Klika at our Banja Luka hub.

When we say soft skills what kind of complex skillset we are referring to?

There is a reason we started talking more about the importance of soft skills. We are talking about a complex skillset that often defines our success in many areas of our personal and professional life and helps us enhance our interpersonal relationships. Some of the most important ones are communication skills, problem-solving skills, planning and teamwork. These kinds of skills are developed through experience and self-reflection as opposed to hard or domain skills, which we acquire through education.
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We come across people who deliver high-performance work. Is there a structure that could help us achieve better results with soft skills within a set timeframe?

There is a variety of frameworks and strategies we can borrow from the soft skills sphere that can enhance our work productivity. In this context, it comes down to efficient task and time planning and setting clear and straightforward goals by applying certain methods, whereby I would like to emphasize the SMART methodology. We should check if the goals are clearly defined - specific, if they are measurable, attainable, realistic and can be achieved within a given timeframe. Time management is a useful skill that will help us stay focused on priorities, track work progress and maintain our motivation. Besides that, communication skills, especially active listening and assertive communication help us express ourselves concisely and enhance our collaboration with the team. 

Everything we mentioned so far resembles emotional intelligence. Are we actually talking about that?

Soft skills and emotional intelligence are connected, but they are not the same thing. Emotional intelligence means having the ability to recognize, understand and express one’s own emotions, as well as understand the emotions of others. From the definition, we can naturally conclude that emotional intelligence represents a solid foundation for the development of soft skills, especially communication skills, teamwork, leadership, and some others. When we are talking about predispositions for soft skills development though, we cannot leave out the impact of emotional intelligence, but neither logical-mathematical intelligence, which is connected to time management and problem-solving skills.

The pandemic and post-pandemic climate, as well as the adoption of the remote work concept, brought the importance of soft skills to the surface. Given that working with clients is mostly reduced to remote work and very little to no contact in person, which skills could we categorize as useful for career advancement and building better relationships with clients?

The pandemic altered the workplace dramatically, especially when it comes to working remotely/from home and it is quite certain that remote work is not going anywhere in the future. Employees are facing challenges like blurring work-life boundaries, less frequent communication with colleagues and fewer opportunities for mentorship. Therefore, it is vital to learn to set clear boundaries with colleagues and clients, to maximize work output during work hours and organize time efficiently to avoid stress and burnout. That’s why time management is one of the most important skills in the post-pandemic business setup. Reduced face-to-face contact and communication via digital platforms also means developing specific communication skills like virtual non-verbal communication. The way we represent and conduct ourselves during online video calls, the way we present information via a longer email or video call meeting, etc.

In what way can we measure these skills and is there a precise methodology to do so?

Measuring and assessing soft skills is not an easy task, but it is a necessary one, considering that the correlation between highly developed soft skills in employees and the success of an organization is becoming more visible. HR managers assess these skills in multiple ways and in different periods.

Candidates often list skills such as communication skills, teamwork, problem solving and working under pressure in their CV, but the reality is often different, so using standardized questionnaires, behavioral interviews and problem-solving tasks are key for the assessment of soft skills in candidates and employees.

Periodic performance feedback sessions, which also include reflecting on these skills, are extremely useful for the personal growth and development of employees. Feedback from the team and self-assessment are useful tools for understanding the development of key skills in the workplace.

Employers are typically looking for reliable and flexible employees who are open to collaboration and sometimes even those who are a bit more creative. Considering the standardized hiring process, we do not have precise and defined ways to present such skills and candidates rarely emphasize them on their own, so what would be your advice to people applying for jobs in IT?

We often get to hear that employees in IT have less developed soft skills, that they are not as talkative and that they are less prone to teamwork. For me, such statements are just a myth, and I think that lately, our industry is probably investing the most in the development of soft skills. Klika, for example, recognized the impact these skills have on the success of the business. In that regard, recruiters look at candidates as all-around individuals, evaluating both hard and soft skills, because they are aware that soft skills and personality play an important role in work performance. When applying for a job, candidates should assess which soft skills are key for the position they are applying to, which are also often listed in the job description. Only the skills we are good at should be listed on our CV and they should reflect our experience and be backed by examples.

Descriptive terms in CVs that are formulated as “I coordinated”, “I supervised”, “I organized”, “I managed”, and “I developed” are useful descriptions of soft skills.

But to avoid sounding generic, candidates can share real-life examples during the interview of how they used soft skills in their work, using the STAR method. We simply describe the given Situation we were in, the Task we were assigned, the Action we took to address it and the Result we achieved.
Lastly, it is always important to be honest with the employer. Candidates that openly communicate their lack of experience or space for improvement will leave a good impression. A good employer knows that soft skills are a learning process and will have no issues investing in their employees and their development.