A well-rounded employee will demonstrate both hard and soft skills—but what exactly is a soft skill? These are the ones you need to know about.

By Maggie Seaver
January 14, 2020

What the heck are soft skills—and how are they different from hard skills? Hard skills are quantifiable abilities, certifications, and expertise needed to accomplish professional tasks. Fluency in multiple languages, proficiency in software programs, writing and grammatical skills are all just a few examples of valuable hard skills. Although certain hard skills do come more naturally to certain people (maybe you’re just not a math person, or you’re more familiar with Microsoft than Google Suite), they are skills that can be taught and acquired through education, training, and experience. 

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Soft skills, on the other hand, are more innate and subjective qualities that refer to how well people connect, collaborate, and communicate with others. "Soft skills are the essential interpersonal skills that make or break our ability to get things done in our current jobs and take on new opportunities ahead," according to a LinkedIn report on top skills companies and hiring managers are looking for in 2020. "Soft skills demonstrate how we work with others and bring new ideas to the table." 

Soft skills include time management, creative thinking, effective communication, listening skills, leadership, and teamwork. The ideal job candidate or employee will exhibit a balanced combination of both hard and soft skills. They need to be good at their technical work tasks, of course, but also pleasant to work for and with.

Each year, LinkedIn’s data report unveils employers’ most highly valued soft skills for the upcoming year, and 2020 is all about these top five qualities: creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and emotional intelligence. Here’s why showing up to work with these key soft skills gives you a leg up professionally.

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1
Creativity

Creativity isn’t just a valuable thing for art directors and copywriters. Companies in every industry need people who can ideate, innovate, and approach problems with creative solutions. No company can grow without fresh ideas, the pushing of boundaries, and unique ways of thinking—these all come from the most creative people within the organization.

2
Persuasion

Persuasion is a difficult and delicately honed people skill that relates directly to effective leadership. Companies value people who know how to get others on board, and who can successfully, convincingly debate the importance of strong ideas. As LinkedIn puts it, "Leaders and hiring managers value individuals who can explain the 'why.'" 

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3
Collaboration

"There’s no 'I' in 'team'" is a well-known cliché, but it really does ring true in the workplace. A team that works in tandem is so much stronger than any one person could be on their own; but this can’t happen without top-notch collaboration from each individual. Competing egos, failure to delegate, and poor communication can get in the way of team collaboration, which is why possessing people skill of collaboration is so essential.

4
Adaptability

Hate change? You might want to work on that, at least when you’re at the office. Employees who can face change—whether it’s as small as a deadline swap or as sweeping as an organizational shift—with positivity, open-mindedness, and flexibility are the ones companies want to hire and keep around.  

5
Emotional Intelligence

What exactly does this mean? "Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, evaluate, and respond to your own emotions and the emotions of others," according to LinkedIn. While the first four soft skills, above, also made LinkedIn’s 2019 top list, emotional intelligence is new to the lineup, replacing time management as the fifth most-coveted soft skill. This particular ability is highly subjective and dependent on an individual’s personality: They’re highly attuned to subtle social cues, have strong and genuine people skills, and are keenly self-aware. Their propensity for both empathy and compassion make them trustworthy, relatable, and easy to work with. 

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