Modern jobs typically require you to collaborate with a wide variety of people under a wide range of circumstances. You will be asked to lead, contribute, and engage with projects and teams inside and outside your core functional area. The soft skills required to handle these tasks efficiently are often referred to as professional skills. This includes:
- Leading and participating in meetings appropriately.
- Managing projects and task forces.
- Hiring and management of team members.
- Coaching, mentoring, and teaching other members of the organization
- Handling negotiations and conflicts.
- Guiding the organization through change initiatives.
- Establishing good working relationships with colleagues and counterparts.
List of Common Professional Skills
There are a wide variety of professional skills, which frequently complement the hard skills you need for your regular jobs. These soft skills can often magnify your impact on the organization and overall satisfaction in your role.
For example: an online marketing executive needs to be able to manage projects and negotiate with their vendors, a High School Math Teacher should have good communication and coaching skills in addition to a good grasp of mathematics; and a software engineer needs to be able to explain their work to other teams and manage large complex projects (to implement their ideas).
- Communication skills Communications are essential to almost every job in the modern workforce, especially senior positions. As work is distributed among team members in different functions and locations - or indeed, moved to external vendors - communications and emotional intelligence is essential to getting things done. Relevant professional skills related to communications include: listening, effective business writing, reading emotions, cultural awareness, presentation experience (both visual and verbal), public speaking, and on-camera training. Understanding how to apply these skills in a digital environment, such as via email, Twitter, or with remote workforces is an emerging need.
- Negotiations & Conflict Management: Knowing how to effectively guide relationships through difficult periods is a crucial skills for leaders and change agents. This could be handling a negotiation with a supplier, resolving a dispute with a third party, or guiding an executive team and internal work force team through a large business change. Knowing how to identify interests, properly position arguments, and deliver messages appropriate are very useful professional skills as you move into the higher levels of the organization. Plus they may help you out when you are buying a new car!
- Decision Management Organizations today are faced with a complex web of decisions as they navigate an uncertain and changing landscape. Decision management skills assume a key role as you advance beyond individual contributor roles. You need to know how to critically look at business issues, breaking them down into their parts and identifying which elements are likely to shape your future. This often involves research to understand the landscape, careful discussion to understand what is known and unknown, and intelligent risk management strategies to manage exposure. Developing scenarios and anticipating change is a key skillset at the top.
- Leadership and Management Management is directing people who you have formal authority over, handling the administrative aspects of being a boss and managing workflow. Leadership is the more challenging act of getting things done without exercising formal power.
- Networking Relationships matter in business, both inside and outside the organization. Networking is more than looking for a job these days - it's often required to "DO" a job, in terms of rallying support from customers and internal partners. The key to successful networking is learning how to offer value to your colleagues, as a giver rather than a taker. Start by asking people how you can help them, as opposed to how they can help you. Learning the art of small talk can also help build relationships by sharing anecdotes and finding areas of common interest with your conversation partner.
Demonstrating Professional Skills On A Resume
This is another area where you need to show the impact of your expertise rather than merely state that you have it. There is an old joke about sales resumes: unsuccessful salesreps talk about how they are focused on the customers, successful salesreps tell you how much they grew sales. The key to selling your professional skills is to demonstrate how they made the organization more successful. Some examples of how you can do this:
- Handling Challenging Situations: Did you lead a complicated project? Manage a very complicated negotiation? Organize a large meeting with a very large number of participants? Lead a large team? Mention this and give specifics (# attendees, financial impact) about your program.
- Change Leadership: Many organizations are desperate for talent who can lead and cope with large scale changes. At a senior level, this could including leading reoganizations. At more junior levels, this could include being one of the first members of your team to learn a new area of business or leading grass roots performance improvement efforts. Be sure to describe what you accomplished with specifics about the scope and impact of your work.
- Liason Experience: Demonstrating that you faciliated communications between a diverse set of stakeholders is always a good thing to mention. It could be internal - between business units or country teams - or external, working with vendors, customers, and other industry stakeholders.
- Managing Complicated Projects: Did you have to manage a complicated project with a lot of moving parts? Describe it!
- Talent Development: Organizations today need managers who can help their people grow to the next level. If you're an appropriate level, it is entirely appropriate to discuss your contributions in terms of helping train and develop the next generation of leadership.
Improving Your Professional Skills
Did you get feedback you need to improve your professionalism? Here are a couple of things you can look into:
- Communications Training: Most large companies and major universities offer a variety of communications and interpersonal skills courses. These are well worth attending, especially if you can get your employer to pay for it. Topics include business writing, interpersonal skills, and personality types.
- Management Training: Nobody was born knowing how to be a manager - and this is crucial aspect of learning how to be an effective manager. If you can get a good management course that is aligned with your company's culture, this is well worth the investment of your time. Everyone has areas to improve when it comes to managing people - and your team is depending on you to get it right.
- Meeting Faciliation: One of the best courses I've taken was on how to faciliate difficult meetings. This was part of a consulting skills program a couple of years back. There's definitely a right way to run a meeting - and you tend to get a lot more done when you use these tools.
- Negotiation Skills: While there are some people who are naturally good at negotiation skills, most of the rest of us can significantly improve our results with a little coaching. I've had three courses in negotiation during my career and walked away from each one with ideas on how to do a better job in the future.
- Presentation Skills: If you have the opportunity to take a presentation skills course, I highly recommend it. A good program should help you not only develop effective materials but guide you through learning how to read a room.
- Strategic Thinking: Useful when you're trying to go from individual contributor or team leader to executive roles. A good course in strategic thinking can open your horizons, especially if it involves looking at an industry or the entire company as part of the process.