Setting Yourself Apart With ‘Soft Skills’

Setting Yourself Apart With ‘Soft Skills’

While ‘soft skills’ are sometimes overlooked when compared to the value placed on hard technical knowledge, they actually play a huge part in career progression and success. This is very much the case in digital marketing and sales, and it is well worth putting time and effort into developing your soft skills, along with the obvious hard skills (like specific software expertise) that are needed in any given role or specialty.

People who possess them can transform businesses and marketing efforts – especially in the digital age. The good news is that management are largely aware of this, with some 57% of senior leaders saying soft skills are more important than hard skills. Hiring and firing decisions are very often based on soft skills.

LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report named soft skills as one of the “four trends transforming your workplace”, along with work flexibility, anti-harassment and pay transparency. The report reveals that over 90% of talent professionals agreed that soft skills are very important to the future of recruiting and HR.

They were also emphasized in the Digital Marketing Institute’s recent original white paper, ‘20/20 Vision: A Marketing Leader’s View of Digital’s Future’, which provided insights from over 200 executives and senior marketing professionals worldwide. The data revealed that “senior marketers value the importance of critical thinking, strategy, analysis, research and insights and management skills first and foremost”.

“Employees with soft skills are critical thinkers, strategists, and problem solvers. They have the ability to adapt to change because they are forward thinkers and planners,” said the report.

What Exactly Are Soft Skills?

“Soft skills include any skill that can be classified as a personality trait or habit. Interpersonal skills and communication skills are more specific categories of soft skills that many employers look for in job candidates,” according to Indeed.com.

It’s a solid definition, and Indeed lists effective communication, teamwork, dependability, adaptability, flexibility, leadership, problem-solving, creativity, work ethic, and integrity as some of the most soft-after soft skills.

When you stop to think about it, it’s clear that most every employer would like to see these qualities in employees and candidates. Conversely, where these qualities are lacking in an organization, or break down for unforeseen reasons, this can make for a very strained working environment, loss of productivity, and ultimately a failure to deliver quality work. That can happen even where a team possesses the requisite hard skills to fulfil its projects and workflow.

The Most In-Demand Soft Skills

So, it’s clear that soft skills are valued by employers – which of course means they are important to employees and candidates too. After all, fulfilling the needs of employers and solving their problems is generally what gets people hired and promoted. Possessing key soft skills could help the path to massive career progression and fulfilment.

But which are the best soft skills to concentrate on, if you’re not sure you already have them? Thankfully, the LinkedIn Global Talent Trends report (mentioned above) breaks this down for us in detail, based on LinkedIn’s own vast volume of data. It identifies the five key soft skills companies are looking for in 2019 – these are the skills companies need but have difficulty finding among candidates. 

The top five are creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and time management. All five of these qualities are clearly valuable, but what actually is involved in each? Let’s look a little deeper at them individually.

Creativity

Creativity is the most in-demand soft skill in short supply, according to LinkedIn’s data. This makes sense because creativity is applicable to almost all roles, not just design or creative marketing roles, as it essentially involves solving problems and overcoming challenges in new and inventive ways.

As it requires real brain power and thought processes to find new solutions, introduce innovations and develop products, artificial intelligence (AI) and software cannot easily replicate this skill.

Creativity is often a hallmark of the best marketing professionals, being crucial to developing new content ideas, forming strategies, and leveraging data effectively, among many other aspects. One misconception is that creativity is completely innate, but it can be developed and enhanced over time, just like many other skills. 

Persuasion

Persuasion is, of course, very much at the heart of digital marketing and sales – the art of persuading potential customers to buy a product. However, it is also a vital skill to develop in order to get buy-in from colleagues and other business stakeholders.

Strong communication, a more general but absolutely critical soft skill, feeds into good powers of persuasion, as this requires putting across ideas and value to the user effectively.

There are deeper scientific principles to persuasion, according to marketing professor and author Robert Cialdini, who has identified six key elements which drive human decision-making. Cialdini argues that understanding and employing these elements can significantly increase your persuasive skills. This advice could prove invaluable to sales professionals in particular.

Collaboration

As digital marketing in very much a team effort in most cases, having the ability to collaborate effectively is essential. Marketing managers, content writers, and designers often work together on creative projects, with analytics and data professionals also feeding into strategy and future plans.

Interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence feed into this skill, and it’s more important than ever in the digital age, which has added a new layer to the collaborative process. These days, different team members and contributors could be based in multiple physical locations, so coordinating the workflow is often done in a virtual environment, via email, conference calls, and video calls.

Engaging with external content writers or creative agencies are typical examples of this. People who can get a diverse team on the same page, ensure a smooth workflow, and deliver results are therefore increasingly valuable to employers.

Adaptability

It’s well documented that digital marketing is a fast-paced and ever-evolving sector. Therefore, adapting to change and new tech advancements is vital. This could mean learning to use new software, but it could also involve something like adjusting to new dynamics within a team.

The introduction of GDPR in 2018 was one major development which forced digital marketers to adapt proactively to new laws and parameters. Increased or altered customer expectations over the course of time is another aspect to consider.

The ability to pivot and change course quickly is essential in the current environment, where strategic adjustments are very often demanded

Time Management

Time management is something many of us are struggling with daily. It can be very challenging, but it’s very much a personal skill and something that can be overcome.

It largely comes down to discipline and good organization. Consider the Pareto principle, which is often used to address time management issues. Also known as the 80/20 rule, it states that, for many events, about 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

Applying this to time management, this means that 80% of your output could come from just 20% of your tasks. The trick then is to prioritize your tasks and give your best efforts and energy to the most important ones – the ones that produce the greatest output and most significant results. Non-important, non-urgent tasks should therefore not be allowed to eat up a disproportionate amount of time. It might require a little audit of your projects and tasks, but solving this puzzle, planning ahead and allocating your time effectively is sure to pay off.

In digital marketing and sales, meeting deadlines is usually essential and crucial to the requirements of the job, so getting on top of time management will prove to be very beneficial, increasing productivity and improving results.

Final Thoughts

Soft skills are not fluffy extras, they can be real career differentiators – the research and data are there to prove it. Employers are crying out for these skills and have great difficulty in finding them. That represents a real opportunity for candidates. Mastering these five can really set you apart from the crowd more than anything else and future proof your career.

With all the advances in tech, it can’t replicate these human qualities, which means they will remain durable and important for years to come.

Good teamwork is something that will always be in demand. Creativity will always set you apart. And good time management will continually improve your productivity.

The other good news is that these attributes are not purely natural talents. They can be developed, nurtured, and enhanced throughout your life and career – and that investment is sure to pay off.


Conor Ward

Conor is a content producer and writer, and former Membership Content Executive at the Digital Marketing Institute. In that position he played a key role in building and managing an extensive library of specialist digital marketing content for the Membership platform. He is an experienced writer and editor, both for print publications and digital platforms, with a passion for content marketing, major brands and career topics. He can be found on LinkedIn here

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