By Maurie Bachman

The Motley Fool, March 8, 2019 —

Here’s what today’s employers are really looking for.

Many companies were hiring in 2018, and 2019 still offers plenty of opportunity for job seekers. A good 40% of employers are aiming to hire full-time, permanent employees this year, while 47% want to hire part-time help, according to new findings from CareerBuilder.

But what can a job searcher like you do to increase your chances of landing an offer this year? You might assume that to get hired, you’ll need to hone the skills that pertain specifically to the jobs you’re applying to. In reality, your best bet might be to focus on your soft skills instead.

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What are soft skills?

Soft skills are those that apply to any job, and they’re generally interpersonal in nature. For example, while you might need an in-depth knowledge of certain software programs to get hired as an IT professional, being organized and good at time management are skills you might need to succeed in any environment.

Soft skills are so important, in fact, that 92% of employers say they’ll be a critical factor in deciding whether candidates who apply to open roles this year will, in fact, get hired. Furthermore, 80% of employers say that soft skills are equally or more important than hard skills (those that are job-specific) in the hiring process.

Which soft skills should you focus on?

It pays to work on improving any soft skills that might apply to a job you’re interested in, like critical thinking and strong communication. But according to CareerBuilder, the top soft skills that hiring managers are looking for at present are:

  • The ability to be team-oriented
  • Attention to detail
  • Customer service

The tricky thing about soft skills is that developing them is often something that comes with time. You can take a course to learn different computer programming languages or read up on different employment laws and regulations to get hired in a human resources capacity. But it’s hard to study teamwork, attention to detail, and customer service.

Your best bet, therefore, might be to observe those around you who seem to excel in those areas and aim to emulate their behavior on the job. For example, if you have a colleague who’s great at diffusing tense situations, you might aim to identify what it is they do to get the parties involved to calm down. Is your coworker using specific language? Altering their tone? Pinpointing their secrets will help you get better at customer service.

Similarly, if you have a colleague who’s well-regarded as a strong team player, observe how they interact with others. Do they proactively offer up help rather than wait to be asked? Are they open to new ideas? Easily approachable? These are characteristics you’re apt to pick up on rather quickly if you make an effort to do so.

Finally, there’s attention to detail — something you probably won’t pick up from other people, but rather, will need to work on yourself. To improve there, it might help to build more time into your schedule for key tasks that require added concentration. You might also try an exercise where you walk away from a project or report for a day or two, if you have that luxury, and then revisit it. Doing so might help you identify some of the finer points you might’ve missed.

Boosting your soft skills will make you a more valuable employee and desirable job candidate both now and in the future. And that’s reason enough to put in the effort.