Most Important Soft Skills in Business: 5 Essential Skills For Your Career

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This post is part of my ‘Finance Career Content Series’ which contains the following posts:

When I was in university, the term ‘Soft Skills’ meant nothing to me.

‘Soft Skills’ seemed very intangible – ‘teamwork’, ‘leadership’, ‘work ethic’, etc. They were fluffy concepts which I didn’t really know how they worked in the workplace.

However after having worked in finance for 15 years, I see the important role soft skills play in people’s career progression.

Once you hit your 30’s, technical skills become less and less important. The people who really progress in companies and make the big bucks all possess great soft skills.

Having witnessed how people climb the ladder and get promotions, the below are my 5 most important soft skills if you want to do well in your career:

  1. Communication
  2. Initiative
  3. Networking / Relationships
  4. Problem-Solving
  5. Critical Observation

Most Important Soft Skills in Business #1: Communication

Presentation Skills:

  • This is for me one of the most important soft skills you can possess.
  • Senior leaders who can command and hold the attention of a room will always look very impressive. Many senior execs cannot do the above and it reflects badly on them.
  • Even in small meetings, if you can get your point across clearly and articulately you will look good. It’s a skill many people don’t have. They will fumble the words out, or blabber on longer than they should and lose peoples’ attention very quickly.
  • Many people who are very good at presenting may lack lots of other skills but because they perform well in front of a crowd; they quickly get ahead of their peers.
Boy Speaking into Microphone
Communicating with Senior Executives:

  • Senior Executives are busy people. They do not have a lot of time on their hands. This means that they often have short attention spans.
  • When dealing with senior management you should get straight to the point. They will grow weary of long introductions, or irrelevant info.
  • Often, they will be only concerned with the bigger picture so they will not be interested if you start showing them the detail – keep your messaging succinct and high level. You can have the detail ready if they ask you a specific question on it.
  • When I’m writing emails or presentations for senior execs, I will compose a first draft. I’ll then re-read this asking myself at a high level what am I trying to say? Or what will the senior exec care about or not care about?
  • Once I’m happy with the messaging/flow, I’ll re-read again and see can I reduce the amounts or words I use to make it as succinct as possible.

  • You’d be amazed at how many people write unclear, convoluted emails which turn into huge email trails. These do nothing but take up people’s time and further confuse matters.
  • Lots of people feel the need to cc’ in the whole world which needlessly clogs up peoples’ inboxes and wastes their time.
  • Writing clear to the point emails and knowing your audience is a very valuable skill.
  • A lot of the time it’s much more efficient to pick up the phone and call the other person. Instead people engage in ambiguous email table tennis back and forth. Sadly lots of people don’t realise this.

  • Getting the messaging right in a powerpoint slide or presentation is also an acquired skill
  • Some of the powerpoint slides people prepare are busy (too many words/graphics), make no discernable point or have a call to action, and can just look bad
  • Good presentations will be written specifically for the audience, and tell a clear and structured story. They will have a good logical flow from start to finish, and not have too many key messages that the audience needs to remember.
Picture of a Projector for Presentations
Communicating with your team:

  • Communicating to your team is also very important.
  • Lots of managers do not communicate well to their team. They will not be open and transparent with them or sometimes not tell them important info at all. This can impact the teams’ motivation levels.
  • Good managers will be great communicators and coaches who will help you to grow and develop and stand up for you when talking to senior management.

Most Important Soft Skills in Business #2: Initiative

  • Often the people who get ahead in companies will have lots of initiative.
  • They will not be afraid to ask for new roles and experience and push for opportunities.
  • Being able to spot a person in the business who can act as an advocate for you can get you very far.
  • Having a positive attitude / willingness to take on new projects will add to your development. This can also put you ahead of your peers in interviews as you can call on more varied experience.
  • Using your initiative to solve problems will also gain you a reputation as someone who gets things done. This will also reflect well on your career prospects.
Most Important Soft Skills in Business: Picture of 'You Make Your Own Luck'Quote

Image Credit: Zomalo

When interviewing 100 graduates 10 years out of university for my book, I found that the people who shown their initiative and had done some work experience during university were streets ahead of those who had not in terms of their careers. Check out my post on the Importance of Work Experience

Most Important Soft Skills in Business #3: Networking / Relationships

  • Getting noticed is a big part of progressing though an organisation. Throughout my career I’ve have seen lots of people who may be very good at their jobs but because nobody knows about them outside their team/dept. they go nowhere.
  • Building the right relationships is also very important. If you have relationships with senior people around the organisation who can informally ‘mentor’ you and give you support / advice then your career progression will become a lot easier
  • Knowing people in different parts of the organisation will give insight into where there are opportunities / the best roles are. Often, the really good roles aren’t advertised so if you know when they are coming up then you have every chance.

Warren Buffett, one of the world’s most successful investors, says in order to be successful you have to ‘surround yourself with the best’, for eight other career advice tips from Warren check out my post: Warren Buffett’s 9 Valuable Tips on How To Be Successful

Most Important Soft Skills in Business #4: Problem Solving

  • In the working world, you will encounter problems every day. How you approach and overcome those problems will have a big say in how far you get in your career.
  • If you can think creatively to find a solution to a complex problem that stumps other people, then not only will you look good in front of your peers and superiors; this will be something you can demonstrate in future interviews.
  • Leaders use their influencing skills to mobilise others to help solve problems. If you start to do this early on in your career, you will get earmarked as having leadership potential
  • Very successful people will be able to see what the problem is, put a plan in place to resolve that issue and follow up with the right people to ensure it gets resolved. It’s surprising how few people in companies can actually do this.
Most Important Soft Skills in Business: Picture of 'Thinking Outside the Box'

Most Important Soft Skills in Business #5: Critical Observation

  • Understanding who are the movers and shakers in an organisation is a key part of getting ahead. You don’t want to align yourself to someone who senior management think is rubbish. If you spot who the very influential people are and do some good work for them then this can really work in your favour.
  • Asking why things are done in a certain way, and challenging the status quo is also an important skill. Processes can quickly became convoluted and onerous. If you can point this out and simplify, then you can save peoples’ time and energy, which again will reflect well on you.
  • Seeing the bigger picture is also crucial if you want to become a senior leader. Top executives are able to observe what is important and what is not important and can then prioritise their time and effort accordingly.

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