The millennial generation is easily one of the most talented generations when it comes to work. Due greatly to the technological boom that coincided with most millennials’ educational years, this generation brings vast knowledge and many skills to the table. Whether fresh out of school or after years of work experience, millennials are usually equipped with the hard skills and theoretical knowledge necessary to do a variety of jobs.

Unfortunately, for the amount they excel in terms of hard skills, their penchant for soft skills is sorely lacking. In fact, the widening skills gap — with a severe lack of skills like communication, collaboration and critical thinking — is now considered a workplace trend that is steadily on the rise. In today’s world, millennials have gained a reputation for being amazingly technologically-savvy.

At the same time, this so-called obsession with technology is one of many contributing factors to the underdevelopment of soft skills. Amongst other things, technology makes for reduced face-to-face interaction, which in turn hampers the growth of soft skills like communication, collaboration, networking abilities, and professionalism.

The merits and demerits of technology aside, it should be noted that soft skills continue to be of utmost importance in the workplace. Often, these skills could be the difference between landing a dream job and being pushed to the sidelines.

As stated in this article on LinkedIn Pulse, “67 percent of HR managers said they’d hire a candidate with strong soft skills even if his or her technical abilities were lacking, while just 9 percent would hire someone with strong technical credentials but weak soft skills.” Statistics like these make it obvious why soft skills are so valuable to companies.

The Importance of Soft Skills

Millennials commonly overlook the fact that a lack of soft skills can significantly affect a company’s bottom line. The LinkedIn article quotes a survey that shows that a lack of communication skills can cost a company an average of $62.4 million every year. How is this possible? For one, when an employee can’t effectively communicate to his or her entire team, the company subsequently pays the price. Secondly, if employees are unable to communicate their ideas or work productively in a team setting, their theoretical knowledge is of no real value.

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As stated in an article by Maryville University, “Employees have to attune themselves to the culture of the company they are joining and be ready to work within the day-to-day structure it presents.” An adaptable and flexible employee, who can tune in to company culture, is therefore more likely to succeed at his or her role and raise the company’s return on investment than an employee who cannot stay in sync with the mission and vision. Soft skills are thus equally, if not more, important than academic ability.

What Millennials Can Do

Unfortunately, soft skills are not often taught in schools and colleges. Rather, they require honing through practical experience. For millennials, one way to develop soft skills is by willingly exposing themselves to environments and situations that demand skills like critical thinking, collaboration, and effective communication. This could be as simple as volunteering for a community beach clean up to more professional situations like summer internships.

In an article on Inc, Scott Mautz, keynote speaker and author of ‘Find the Fire’ and ‘Make It Matter’ details various tips and tricks for millennials to further develop soft skills.

For instance, when it comes to developing critical thinking skills, Mautz recommends constantly asking “why” as well as delving deep into analytical tasks. As stated by Mautz, “Nothing develops critical skills like digging into data, sorting through it to find trends, and boiling down observations into simple recommendations (yes, even written on one page).” Similarly, to get creativity flowing, Mautz recommends actually taking the initiative to build things, as opposed to simply ideating about them.

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Companies also tend to value individuals who are willing to take the initiative to better themselves, and so, being a self-starter can give millennials an edge while developing soft skills. This can make a huge difference when it comes to one’s personality, and showcase leadership in a tangible way.

Additionally, being a self starter is vital for those millennials who want to become self-sufficient leaders and embark upon the path of entrepreneurship, especially female business owners who often face greater challenges than their male counterparts.

Companies too can play a role in helping potential candidates develop their soft skills through varied training programs. Aaron Levy of Raise the Bar, in an interview with Forbes, says that company training programs should “focus on soft skills, like listening, asking powerful questions, and having difficult conversations. These are the habits that will be valuable in multiple contexts. This is a departure from old-school trainings that were task- and performance-based, which will seem outdated and irrelevant to today’s developing leaders.”

For millennials, making the most of these training opportunities is essential and makes for a great way to get involved with company culture as well as network with superiors. It is important to remember that soft skills cannot be developed in one day — rather, they require ongoing honing and everyday application to exhibit improvement. This is something millennials need to keep in mind — both as they complete their educations as well as undergo corporate training programs.

Once millennials have an adequate amount of soft skills, they need to show these off in an appropriate manner. Only then will they be able to land their dream job. Unlike hard technical skills, soft skills are more difficult to exhibit during applications. Tips to display one’s soft skills include:

  • Leverage one’s cover letter: A cover letter is one of the best places to have a candid conversation with a potential employer, and display one’s abilities. Rather than using cliched words and phrases, The Muse recommends picking a few key skills that match the job description and then detailing specific examples or scenarios wherein these skills were used effectively.
  • Use one’s resume: It’s common knowledge to use as many statistics and hard numbers in one’s resume to show impact. In terms of soft skills, numbers can be helpful too. For instance, as stated on The Muse, using phrasing like “Managed strict project timeline successfully by coordinating virtual meeting across time zones and presenting findings to over 50 colleagues via teleconference,” demonstrates personal attributes of communication skills and time management. In a resume, it is also important to ensure that the information used is specific to job requirements as per the job description.
  • In an interview: A face-to-face interview (or even one over Skype) is one of the best ways to display various soft skills. Every interview question can be used as an opportunity to show off a certain skill by citing real-life examples of the same.
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There’s no doubt that soft skills are a top priority for most employers. While academic knowledge is extremely important, millennial’s should not sideline developing soft skills in favor of higher qualifications. Rather, a balanced approach should be followed, with equal importance given to both soft and hard skills. Ultimately, a holistic well-rounded personality is the key to job success.

By Jori Hamilton

Jori Hamilton is a writer from the pacific northwest who enjoys covering topics related to work, social justice, environmental issues, and more. You can follow her on twitter @hamiltonjori