What are business soft skills?

Cameron Fleming | 7 May 2021 | 3 years ago

What are business soft skills?

When graduating from University or other tertiary education institutions, the world appears to be your oyster as you are armed with vast amounts of knowledge.

Academic success does not, however, translate immediately into desired employment. This is a known issue for employers, educators, and university leavers. Strong academic skills need to be partnered with unassessed soft skills to produce a highly employable candidate.

Soft skills are increasingly valued by businesses and can be defined as a cluster of productive personality traits.

The demand for soft skills

Employment advertisements regularly call for soft skills such as communication, time management, and critical thinking. The term ‘soft skills’ has developed into a market understanding of a, generally, set criteria.

Having the list of skills on your CV is one step; however, your ability to demonstrate your soft skills when recalling them is vital as well!  For example, communication and problem-solving skills can be demonstrated to the potential employer by responding succinctly and empathetically to curveball questions.

The soft skills list

The ‘ultimate’ list has been the subject of numerous surveys in the past. The Guardian published, in 2013, statistics on soft skill terms used in 500, 000 Adzuna (UK) job listings. The results were:

  • Organised (Appeared in 99, 862 ads)
  • Communication skills (68, 064 ads)
  • Motivated (65, 011 ads)
  • Qualified (58, 955 ads)
  • Flexible (56, 551 ads)
  • Degree (54, 049 ads)
  • Commitment (49, 686 ads)
  • Passionate (47, 971 ads)
  • Track record (40, 741 ads)
  • Innovative (36, 581 ads)1

Top 10 soft skills reported in the USA

Statistics from a similar undertaken in the US and cited in Forbes, are sequentially prioritised as follows:

  • Ability to work in a team
  • Ability to make decisions and solve problems
  • Ability to plan, organise and prioritise work
  • Ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organisation
  • Ability to obtain and process information
  • Ability to analyse quantitative data
  • Technical knowledge related to the job
  • Proficiency with computer software programs
  • Ability to create and/or edit written reports
  • Ability to sell and influence others
Through the research, it was determined that some desired skills – especially those related to communication – are frequently unstated by employers even when used to accept or reject candidates. Candidates should do research beyond the job advert to ascertain the full details.

Teaching of soft skills in higher education

In the UK sample, 10% of the ads list a degree being required. This does not, however, mean that 90% are not seeking degreed candidates.

The organisational skills referred to in job adverts are learned by default by top graduates. Deadlines, workloads, and exam dates ensure the delivery of multiple high-quality pieces of work. Motivation, flexibility, and commitment are also shown.

Effective communication of ideas and arguments is developed in written assignments – though it is harder to quantify successful verbal communication.

Degrees provide excellent opportunities for autodidact of communication and teamwork skills.

Why do soft skills matter?

Records show that over 66% of secondary school teachers and small and medium enterprises believe that students don’t currently have the soft skills required to be effective in the workplace. Additionally, around 70% believe soft skills receive insufficient attention in the skills gap debate (69% of SMEs and 73% of secondary school teachers).

There is not only an insufficient focus on soft skills but, conversely, there is an over-emphasis on hard skills. Around 62% of teachers and 58% of business leaders feel that schools and universities over prioritise ‘hard skills’ and ‘ignore’ soft skills.

Whilst CCS (Creative and Cultural Skills), SDS (Skills Development Scotland), and Creative Skillset have all identified that technical and craft-specific skills are lacking across the sector; however, they listed a higher priority as that being the ‘soft skills gap’.

An average candidate becomes a great candidate with soft skills. They will set you apart from other potential employees.

Soft skills are linked to a person’s character, and it takes tenacious commitment to improving this skill set before you slowly see results.

Is training available?

Luckily for candidates, SMME business owners, and employees, there are training courses available. In the courses, there are demonstrations, through discussion and exercises, on how to understand the dynamics of human relations in a business environment. You are then guided on how to apply these learned techniques, habits and mindsets to improve relationships and business results.

Schools play an important role in laying the groundwork for these skills to continue developing and changing over a lifetime.


Whether an employer wants a degree, like the majority of the market, they want proof of the soft skills which are developed by default from the degree study. A degree student will have, for several years, self-managed study, thus gaining organisational skills. Group thesis and reporting will develop teamwork and communication skills. The editing process of a thesis develops a different set of communication skills, and the list goes on.

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