Part of being a young professional is responding to new challenges. To do this, you must rely on different problem-solving abilities. But there are certain soft skills that can help you succeed at just about every step of your career.
Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a greater emphasis on these soft skills, which include curiosity and team work—abilities that can’t necessarily be clearly defined as a KPI.
Julie Lee, a clinical psychologist and a dean at Brown University, says these sorts of soft skills are becoming increasingly relevant due to the changing workplace. She says that some experts have theorized that the pandemic sped up automation and more technical abilities, which are causing companies to reevaluate what skills are necessary for future work.
Further, “interpersonal and psychosocial skills,” are more in demand because they’re needed to operate remote businesses, Lee says. Distributed teams must collaborate digitally, which has increased the importance of such skills as communication and emotional intelligence.
“Companies may be realizing that those soft skills, once considered optional, have become necessary to sustain the workforce’s collaboration and creativity when workers are not physically working side-by-side full time,” Lee says.
Recent research from the CFA Institute, a nonprofit offering education to the investment industry, points to how technical skills can serve employers well, early in their career—but to progress and grow beyond an entry-level job, workers must tap into soft skills, leadership skills, and a combination of deep and generalist knowledge.
Here are four skills and traits that can serve you at every step of your career:
Willingness to learn
Lee says maintaining a sense of curiosity early in your professional journey is key. Young professionals who exhibit a desire to learn new specialities can broaden their mindset and stoke passions and creativity. “Every opportunity can be an opportunity for insight and learning,” she says. “Even a search that does not lead to a job offer can be seen . . . as an opportunity to learn about a new company, role, and one’s ability and interest in the work.”
In a recent article for Fast Company, contributors Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Becky Frankiewicz wrote that when people with high levels of emotional intelligence encounter others with different views, they look for opportunity to learn versus getting defensive.
People with a curiosity to learn about new topics—as well as about new people—make an effort to listen and stay present in an exchange. “Wanting to be heard is a value we all desire, yet it requires working on the reciprocal behavior of listening and staying engaged,” woite Chamorro-Premuzic and Frankiewicz.
Seeking out an opportunity to understand another person (even if your perspectives do not align) almost always leads to a better end. This approach invites collaboration and harmony in the workplace, attributes that allow emotionally intelligent and curious people to thrive, no matter their role.
The ability to leverage connections
In the workplace of tomorrow, noticing and leveraging connections in your network will be a special skill. People with this ability are good at observing the strengths of others. They might notice that a certain person in their network would suit a particular position perfectly and possesses the skills necessary to build a super team of collaborators.
People who are adept at leveraging connections may show a strength in motivating and influencing others. For workers aspiring to leadership roles, the ability to recognize others’ strengths, find them a role in your team, and then build a dynamic and collaborative unit will be a significant strength. This is also an especially important skill in today’s economy, given how hard hiring and retention has been lately for many managers.
Strong communication skills
No matter how the workplace evolves, the ability to communicate effectively will always be critical. Strong communication is only becoming more important as remote work requires additional written communication.
As an early-career professional, effectively communicating in different formats is key. For instance, good communication is a key part of nailing a job interview. So is following up with the recruiter by sending a thank you note. Then, when you secure the job, you’ll need to interact effectively with your new boss and coworkers.
Self-awareness, or the capacity to recognize your thoughts, feelings, and actions, is a skill that transcends the first stage of your career. Self-awareness can also be considered a form of emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence extends to both knowing yourself and remaining open to new viewpoints. It’s also a skill that can be developed by paying attention to opportunities to grow and explore new ways of thinking.
Being aware of yourself as a leader trickles down to how you interact with your direct reports and colleagues. It means you are also picking up on the emotional cues of others and practicing empathy.
Self-awareness early in your career may allow you to excel at tasks like answering questions in a job interview. For instance, if you know you do not have a lot of on-the-job experience, you might choose to answer a question about your qualifications by discussing a relevant internship you did.
Later in your career, self-awareness helps you pay attention to how you present information to your team. Further, self-aware leaders are often more aware of the level of risk attached to certain choices. Good leaders are often intelligent risk-takers; they don’t allow their personal levels of self-esteem to interfere with their judgment.
Another tenet of self-awareness is possessing the ability to self-regulate, which is particularly helpful if you’re a leader (or want to be one). Lee describes self-regulation as the process of “leading yourself,” or knowing your particular impulses and moments of strength and weakness.
“Self-regulation skills refer to the set of self-management skills that help us manage our own internal processes and emotions in ways that help us to stay engaged, productive, and self-directed,” says Lee.