You may have heard the term “soft skills” tossed about when seeking a job or discussing careers, but what exactly does that mean? I was introduced to the concept when I was a college graduate applying for my first professional position. The job market was very competitive and it seemed to me a daunting task to stand out among a crowd of high achievers and polished resumes. In fact, my resume was just half a page, even padded with wide margins. So I ventured to the university’s career center where a staff member kindly sat down with me to review my resume. She asked me questions about my past work and volunteer experience in high school and college. With her help, I realized that I had acquired a range of skills over the years that weren’t apparent to me because they are not easy to identify. These intangible skills, often referred to as soft skills, tend to reflect one’s behavior or disposition in response to a situation. Examples of soft skills include the ability to problem solve, take initiative, work collaboratively, or adapt to a new situation. These were the same skills I developed while working part-time as a waiter, receptionist, and camp counselor.
Too often we are focused on promoting our specific work skills or “hard skills” that require formal training, such as knowing how to program, edit a manuscript, use a software, or reconcile a budget. But many employers also seek employees who have shown that they can think critically and creatively solve problems, those with the kind of experience that indicates they are prepared to adapt and even thrive in changing circumstances. These kinds of soft skills are not always taught intentionally. Generally, we develop them through experience and often with little awareness, such when working a summer job or playing on a sports team.
Now, in my role as Director of I-Know, TAMU-CC’s Digital Information Literacy program, we are working with faculty to incorporate soft skills when teaching students how to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information using digital technologies. So, along with teaching practical skills, such as how to use a research database, the program encourages students to draw upon soft skills like persistence and curiosity, to evaluate and question information they find online, to explore more deeply and work collaboratively to learn new skills and digital tools. The ability to draw on all of one’s skills, hard and soft, to navigate the rapidly changing and evolving digital landscape will be key to future success, no matter what discipline or practice one may pursue.