5 “soft skills” they don’t teach you in college or university

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Adjusting to the corporate world was a challenge in more than one way for me.

Some months into my corporate experience, I realized that although I was performing well, I needed to work on what were describe to me as “soft skills.”

The behaviours employers expect of you will vary from company to company, but here are a few things to think about when you’re interacting with others at the workplace.

Many of these are common sense, but sometimes they are things we tend to take for granted.

Respect for other people’s time

Although, as a new associate, (and otherwise) you may be encouraged to ask questions, think twice before you barrel into someone else’s workspace. Usually people will appreciate being asked if they have a moment, (or however much time you anticipate it taking) to answer your question(s). This gives them the flexibility to plan the rest of their work around you.

Try, whenever possible, to have an opinion on what the right answer is. Doing this shows those around you that you have thought seriously about the problem or task at hand and now you’re just filling in blanks with their help.

Tailor your communication

Find out how different people work best. Some people prefer in-person interaction, while others like the telephone. Others, still, may think the telephone is an interruption to whatever they’re doing and prefer email. Find out people’s preferences and try to tailor your communication accordingly.

Body language

Whether you like it or not, people judge on appearances. Hunched shoulders, poor posture and under-confident appearance all impact your audience (in this case your co-workers and superiors).

Poor body language can make legitimate work conversations look like chatter. In some cases, people won’t come over to see whether you are talking about something work-related, they will make their judgments on the superficial evidence.

Speech

Listen to how your managers speak and try to hear what they’re doing that you aren’t. In certain organizations and environments, saying “like” and “um” a lot may make you sound less intelligent, while convoluted academic jargon may make you seem snobby in others.

It is important to pay attention to the culture of the organization and judge by others around you what is good and what isn’t. Confidence in speech also leads to the perception of ability. People who execute flawless work but don’t seem sure of it will be questioned much more than those who appears confident.

Interpersonal skills

As much as we like to think that the person who sits and chugs away at their desk gets recognized for all their hard work and diligence, you have to make it easy for people to understand you. This is particularly true of larger organizations.

If others find you difficult to approach or carry on conversations with, it can only hurt you in the long run. An executive won’t notice the person buried in their desk, but they will remember the person who says hello when they walk by.

Many of these can be harder to execute than they look. We fall into bad habits, huddling around cubicle corners talking about last night’s episode of LOST, or weekends past and future.

While most companies will not forbid or discourage talking about topics unrelated to work, be aware of how they perceive these transgressions and whether it could impact your career in the long run.

Photo credit: classroom by velkr0 on Flickr
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About the author

Mira Saraf studied psychology and English at McGill University. When she graduated, she wanted to pursue journalism but somehow ended up working in Montreal's garment industry. From there, she moved to New York to attend FIT. She worked there for a year before moving back to Toronto to work for Winners. Two and a half years in she took over a year off to pursue writing education and a career in freelance writing. She has since returned to the industry and now works for Loblaw/Joe Fresh. She continues to write on a part time basis.