Top 5 Employee Soft Skills & How to Help Employees Develop Them

You’ve just gone through another marathon hiring process. It’s down to two candidates. On paper, they both seem equally qualified. Educational background? Check. And relevant work experience? Check.

Now what? You can only hire one of them.

That’s where assessing their soft skills, aka “power skills,” comes into play. Let’s dive into what soft skills are and why they’re essential. We’ll also reveal the top 3 ways you can help your employees develop and hone their soft skills.

Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills: What’s the Difference?

The primary difference between soft and hard skills is how your employees acquire them. For instance, soft skills are the individual traits or pillars in our personality that make us who we are. For example, our communication skills or creative thinking abilities develop and evolve. Of course, several others fall under this category.

Types of Soft Skills:

  • Creativity
  • Empathy
  • Leadership qualities
  • Time management
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Flexibility & adaptability
  • Public speaking abilities
  • Listening skills
  • Collaboration
  • Strong work ethic
  • Confidence
  • Exhibits a growth mindset

On the other hand, hard skills, aka “technical skills,” are the ones we develop in educational or vocational settings or those we learn in life. 

Types of Hard Skills:

  • Statistical analysis
  • Proficiency in MS Office
  • Foreign language fluency
  • Digital security
  • Copywriting
  • Programming language proficiency (e.g., Perl, Python, etc.)
  • Budgeting
  • Contract writing
  • Marketing

Ideally, you want to see a combination of hard and soft skills in every job applicant (and employee). Unlike hard skills, soft skills can be challenging to learn. That’s because not only do your employees need the technical and intellectual capability to perform their job, but they also need to work as part of a diverse team.

Key Soft Skills to Look for in Job Applicants

Soft skills become even more critical for each employee’s success when you have a diverse and inclusive workplace. Creating and maintaining a positive workplace culture is essential for better productivity, positive morale, and employee retention. 

Here are the three important soft skills you should look for when interviewing candidates. Hiring candidates who possess these soft skills will help you maintain a more inclusive and positive work environment. 

Out-of-The-Box Thinking

Workplace problems often require innovative solutions. When interviewing a job candidate, you’ll want to gauge one particular soft skill–their ability to think outside the box. But how might you go about this?

Here are a few questions or topics you could ask during their interview:

  • Tell us about a time you felt stuck on a problem or issue. What did you do to resolve it?
  • Propose a hypothetical scenario of your choice (e.g., a real problem your company has faced), and ask the candidate what approach they would take to resolve it.
  • Have you ever proposed a unique solution that your manager or colleagues rejected? If so, how did you handle this situation?

Leadership Qualities

Your employees all have a unique combination of soft skills. And some may have more of a predisposition toward leadership qualities than others. What do we mean by leadership qualities, though? Leadership qualities include any combination of the following soft skills:

  • Empathetic
  • Strong communicator
  • Charismatic
  • Inspirational
  • Encouraging 
  • Learning agile

When you’re interviewing a viable candidate, consider the following factors to determine if they have what it takes to be a leader in your ranks:

  • Assess their past job duties that include public speaking, management, and decision-making skills
  • Pose a hypothetical scenario to determine how they might demonstrate leadership qualities (e.g., what would they do to improve an issue with miscommunication in the workplace?).
  • Ask them directly if they consider themselves to be a leader in the workplace and why.


The ability to step into a customer’s or a colleague’s shoes is a valuable soft skill for any employee. When an employee understands their colleagues’ perspective and experiences, that can have a positive impact on their ability to collaborate, problem-solve, and communicate, in general.

There are several ways you can encourage your team to practice empathy. A corporate charity event, such as Tools for Schools, would allow them to not only improve their collaboration and communication skills, but they’d be doing so for a good cause. 

Helping Employees Develop Soft Skills

Not all of your new hires or current employees will have already developed the right soft skills. Employers should make it an ongoing priority to help employees develop those critical soft skills to be successful in the workplace. Here are several quick steps that you can take toward accomplishing that goal. 

Invest in Employee Professional Development

What better way to show your employees that their soft skills are just as essential as their hard skills than to invest in professional development opportunities? These opportunities would allow them to practice and strengthen their soft skills.

One of the best ways to do this is by organizing team-wide soft skill-building activities. For instance, Synergyk is a collaborative team-building experience that forces your team to work together if they want to make it to the next round. As a result, they’ll learn to recognize their strengths and weaknesses while improving their problem-solving abilities.

Acknowledge and Reward Growth

Who doesn’t like to have their hard work recognized? To show your employees that you value the soft skills they bring to the table, you’ll want to acknowledge and reward them for it. Doing this can incentivize them to continue developing and practicing those soft skills. 

Take a look at some of the best ways to reward your employees:

  • Plan a paid, company-wide team-building day. Catapult to Success would test their soft skills and reward them with friendly competition as they learn to problem-solve together.
  • Host a catered lunch or a dinner out at a local restaurant.
  • Consider a reward of additional paid time off.
  • Offer gift cards or tickets to a local museum or concert.

Take the Next Step 

Not every job candidate will bring the same set of soft skills to the table. And that’s a good thing for diversity’s sake. The bottom line is that soft skills are learnable. So, it’s vital to offer your team plenty of soft-skill-building opportunities.

TeamBonding team building activities can allow them to practice and improve several soft skills, including collaboration, empathy, communication, and more. When your employees do this, they’ll have a more positive employee, and you’ll be more likely to retain them long-term.

Anna Webber

Team Contributor


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