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Skills You’ll Need to Kick-start Your New Career

These are the skills job loss victims need to kick-start their careers. Trevor Johnson reports Skills You’ll Need to Kick-start Your New Career

Redundancy has burst into your life like a thunderbolt and now you’re back in the job market, anxious to impress a potential new boss and increasingly bewildered by how things have changed since you last sent your CV to possible employers.

Welcome to the world of hard and soft skills - now regarded by many recruiters as often more important than academic degrees and qualifications in the search for the right candidate for a job.

What’s the difference?

Susan Vitale of human resources software provider iCIMS explains: “In simple terms, hard skills are what you do and soft skills are how you do it.

“Companies can train employees in technical skills, but people, social and communications skills are far harder to teach and if you’ve got them you will have a far better chance in today’s job market.”

Studies show that although soft skills are more like personal attributes than qualifications, they matter because when choosing between two job candidates who have the same hard skills an employer will want to know the answers to soft skills questions like:

  • Can you cope with colleagues’ emotional problems?
  • Can you take the initiative in a crisis?
  • Are you a natural leader?
  • Would colleagues take your orders without question, knowing they can trust you?

Employment consultant Stephanie Randall, who specialises in finding jobs for redundancy casualties, says that people with previous long and successful careers are often at an advantage when candidates’ soft skills are being assessed.

“Soft skills are transferable, can be used regardless of the job and makes for very adaptable employees,” she says. “And because soft skills can only be acquired over time, the current trend is for employers to go for more mature people.

“That’s good news for those who feared that redundancy would put them on the scrap heap.”

Key to a new career

First developed by the US military in the 1970s after it was noticed leaders with social skills got the best out of their men, understanding and developing your soft skills is increasingly the key to picking up a career after redundancy, according to research by the International Institute of Social Studies.

“It’s easy to understand why employers want job candidates with particular hard skills, but soft skills are equally - or perhaps more - important,” believes sociologist Dr Roy McGregor. “Nearly every job requires people to engage and interact with others and in some fields it’s particularly vital.”

For instance, studies have shown that bosses are looking for job candidates with developed soft skills in customer services, human resources, sales and marketing. Nearly 50 per cent of recruiters of IT jobs believed that soft skills were more important than hard.

Other professions vary. “I want my doctor to have hard skills first and soft skills second,” Susan says. “But if he or she is lacking in soft skills, I might not go back.”

Desirable soft skills

What are the soft skills that will impress a potential new boss? Here are some that recruiters will be looking for:

Problem solving. Over 60 per cent of bosses were looking for someone who had the skill to find solutions to HR problems, particularly when looking for a member of their management team.

“If it’s just technical or factual stuff, you can probably find the answers on Google,” Dr McGregor says. “But these problems need empathy, listening skills and emotional insight. You can’t find that online.”

Adaptability. Nearly 50 per cent of bosses in large organisations will be looking for this trait.

“It’s the ability not to be fazed by something new that’s been thrown at you, because you have the experience and resources to deal with it,” is how Stephanie puts it.

Time management. Around 49 per cent of recruiters regard this as an essential trait when taking on new staff.

“You can teach strategies on how to run your day, but businesses expect potential management staff to have this soft skill already,” Dr McGregor says.

Organisation is the fourth most sought after soft skill, which is often revealed by job candidates during their interviews.

Recruiters have turned down job hopefuls who were late, forgot to bring important documents and even turned up at the wrong office on the wrong day.

Communication. “You would think the ability to interact with others is a no brainer, but it’s a main cause of misunderstandings that can slow down the workflow, preventing a company from moving forward,” Stephanie says.

“Just by being friendly and relaxed during an interview and paying attention to the interviewer will show your interaction skills.”

Consultants advise that when going for a job make a list of relevant soft skills and note those most likely to be needed. Do you possess them? If you don’t, maybe the job isn’t for you.

Useful hard skills

On the other hand, hard skills are teachable, which makes them accessible to anyone determined to invest time in developing them.

Currently, the most useful hard skills to have when trying to kick-start a career after redundancy have been assessed as:

Computer skills are now invariably essential, regardless of your field of work. In many jobs, web skills like emailing and accessing social media, managing files, creating presentations and knowing the basics of software and hardware are regarded as routine qualifications.

Data management involves analysing results, understanding guidelines and definitions, extracting essential information, keeping data up to date and creating reports.

Scheduling is the current buzzword for knowing how to get a job done, what tools to use, organising time and labour and achieving financial targets.

Research skills are reckoned essential when preparing a job, getting familiar with a new industry and making a work plan and schedule.

Financial skills include accounting, budgeting, financial planning and cash flow management. While you won’t necessarily need to completely master all of these, you should be able to work well with numbers.

Technical skills gained from professional training courses and practical experience can be easily defined and evaluated at interviews.

“Just make sure you present them well and make them relevant to the job you’re after,” Susan advises.

“It’s hard to say whether hard or soft skills are the most valuable in today’s workplace,” Stephanie says.

“Having both will certainly provide the best chance of getting back on the jobs ladder.” Read more like this

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