Certifications are typically attached to a set of hard skills: technology mastery, language fluency, or industry knowledge, for example. However, soft skills are just as crucial to career success. After launching our Communication Skills for Business certification earlier this year, we connected with an expert about the importance of soft skills in today’s job market. OfficeTeam is a leading staffing service specializing in the temporary placement of highly skilled administrative and office support professionals. We were able to sit down with Stephanie Naznitsky, OfficeTeam’s Executive Director. Stephanie manages operations for the company’s 300 locations worldwide, and communication and soft skills are crucial in her role. Read on to find out how soft skills are becoming increasingly important in today’s workplace landscape.
Certiport: We’ve been hearing about the need for technical job skills for many years now, but lots of employers are starting to emphasize soft skills. How do you see the job market changing?
Stephanie: Job market skills for administrative professionals continue to evolve as employers expand their duties and requirements beyond traditional job descriptions.
As you mentioned, technical skills are increasingly critical in today’s workplace. Many employers we work with are placing a premium on administrative candidates who possess proficiency with not only Microsoft Office software but also knowledge and experience with a broad range of other tech-focused programs, such as customer relationship management, time management, project management applications, social media, and more.
However, it’s important to note that technical capabilities alone are not enough to enable administrative workers to be successful in today’s workplace. During their daily duties, support professionals need to draw upon their soft skills in order to function productively in the workplace and interact with others successfully. An employee needs to communicate and listen effectively, apply critical thinking to complete tasks, be able to problem-solve and efficiently manage their time. These and other soft skills – decisiveness, flexibility, leadership, a strong work ethic, teamwork and collaboration – serve as the foundation for an individual’s ability to be successful in the current modern workplace.
Certiport: Are soft skills more in demand than they have been in the past? Does OfficeTeam have any data pointing to the need for soft skills?
Stephanie: Yes, soft skills are more important today than ever before and in high demand. A person with deep technical and industry knowledge will have only marginal success if they don’t possess the interpersonal skills to effectively communicate with clients or customers, work collaboratively with colleagues, manage staff members, think creatively, or adapt to evolving workplace demands.
In research conducted by our company, 84 percent of HR managers who were surveyed said that they are open to hiring and training an individual who doesn’t meet all the skills requirements for a job. However, while employees can be trained on specific duties for a position, it’s become more difficult to find candidates with the right soft skills who are workplace ready from day one.
Certiport: What soft skills are important for individuals to master before they enter the workforce? What are some of the soft skills you see employers looking for?
Because administrative professionals are often the first point of contact for company clients, strong communications competencies, both written and verbal, are an essential prerequisite, along with active listening skills. Other critical capabilities that employers are seeking include:
- Time management and project management skills
- Organization skills and strong attention to detail
- Resourcefulness and problem-solving capabilities
- Flexibility and adaptability to changing work requirements
- Collaboration and a team-oriented approach to work
- Natural curiosity and research proficiency
Certiport: How can individuals gain these soft skills?
Stephanie: Administrative professionals should talk with their supervisors to identify and prioritize certain soft skills that need development – and identify ways to strengthen those skills. For example, administrative professionals should:
- Have a willingness to expand their knowledge and understanding of soft skills.
- Work with a coach or mentor to practice soft skills to gain proficiency.
- Volunteer for work assignments or opportunities to strengthen soft skills and practice during daily activities and duties.
- Take advantage of staff development programs as well as on-line training courses, tutorials, podcasts, blog articles.
- Tap into professional associations designed to help members strengthen interpersonal capabilities.
- Monitor progress and seek feedback from others.
- Remember that soft skills take time to learn – critical and strategic thinking skills, for example, are earned and refined mostly through practice and experience.
Certiport: Do you recommend individuals validate their soft skills with industry certifications?
Stephanie: Industry certifications can bolster job seekers’ resumes and help to demonstrate expertise. And the number of industry certifications related to administrative professionals is growing, as employers increasingly recognize the benefits of formal education and training. According to research conducted for the OfficeTeam 2020 Salary Guide, some of the top certifications are Certified Administrative Professional, Microsoft Office Specialist, Professional in Human Resources and SHRM Certified Professional. However, soft skill certifications are an equally valuable addition to a resume.
Certifications can benefit both parties ― the company and the administrative profession. For administrative professionals, certifications can validate the experience and level of skills and capabilities the individual possesses; they can lead to increased responsibilities, career opportunities and advancement; they also can increase an employee’s ability to perform effectively on the job. For companies, certifications can help to recognize that employees’ skills are an important indicator of job performance, productivity and effectiveness and contribute to a positive work culture and in many cases, increase customer satisfaction.
Certiport: How can employers determine if job seekers have the soft skills they are seeking?
Stephanie: Hiring managers can more easily determine if a job candidate possesses strong communications capabilities during the employment process by observing verbal skills during interviews and assessing key written communications skills when reviewing an individual’s resume.
Employers can evaluate if a candidate has other soft skills important for the position in a number of ways, including asking a candidate’s work references for their assessment of the individual’s soft skills and using available online soft skills screening tests. During job interviews, asking job seekers specific questions around soft skills can help gauge their capabilities. A few examples:
- Collaboration/teamwork – Can you give me an example when you had to work on a project with someone who was difficult to get along with? What did you do or what approach did you take to work collaboratively and successfully?
- Adaptability – Can you tell me about an assignment when you were asked to do something you’d never worked on before? How did you respond? How did you complete the task?
- Problem-solving – Provide candidate with an actual situation/challenge at your company that requires soft skills to resolve; ask them to discuss how they would solve it and the particular soft skills required at each step.
- Organization – What tools do you use to keep yourself organized?
- Leadership – Can you tell me about a project where you served as the team lead? What was your greatest challenge? What was the most significant thing you did to get the project completed by deadline?
- Resilience – What do you consider to be your most significant failure on the job? What did you learn and how did you move forward to achieve success?
Certiport: What top three pieces of advice would you give job seekers in the market today?
Stephanie: To increase your chances of getting noticed, tailor your application and resume to individual job postings and job descriptions. Also be sure to highlight your accomplishments, technical and soft skills and capabilities in your resume.
During interviews, be prepared to discuss specific examples of how you added value in prior jobs, ways you contributed to your manager’s objectives and company’s goals. And thoroughly research a company before going on an interview so you are equipped to ask smart and relevant questions to gain important information about the organization – as well as demonstrate your interest in the job and the company.
Conduct a comprehensive job search – don’t limit yourself to online job postings and applications. Contact companies that interest you and build, cultivate and use your network of contacts to explore job opportunities and people who could help you uncover job leads or land a position.
Interested in learning more about how to validate your communication and soft skills? Learn more about the Communication Skills for Business certification at www.certiport.com/csb.