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Whether it’s not hearing back about the job for which you applied, being politely turned down after an interview, or being passed over for promotion, rejection hurts.

It would be understandable to get angry, depressed, and/or apathetic about it. Eventually, you’ll move on.

Or, you could reflect on the situation to analyze why you were rejected. This is the harder path, but it is much more therapeutic and increases your odds of success for the next time.

Let’s say you applied for a job. You were one of five candidates out of 200 applications to get to the interview stage. All five of you are qualified to do the job, or you wouldn’t have made the cut. What variable separated the winner from the rest of you? It was probably soft skills.

According to a study from Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and Stanford Research Center, well-developed soft skills account for 85 percent of job success. Hard skills account for the remaining 15 percent. Broadly defined as “interpersonal skills such as the ability to communicate well with other people and to work on a team,” soft skills were first formalized by John P. Fry and Paul G. Whitmore in a 1974 report on leadership research in the U.S. Army.

What counts as a soft skill varies depending on whom you ask, but a list published in 2012 by researcher Marcel M. Robles does a good job of summarizing some of the most valuable ones:

  1. Communication: speaking, writing, presentation, and listening skills
  2. Courtesy: manners, (business) etiquette, graciousness
  3. Flexibility: adaptability, willingness to change, teachability, adjustability
  4. Integrity: honesty, morality, doing what’s “right”
  5. Interpersonal skills: sociability, a sense of humor, friendliness, empathy, patience
  6. Positive attitude: optimism, enthusiasm, confidence
  7. Professionalism: poise, business-appropriate appearance and behavior
  8. Responsibility: accountability, reliability, resourcefulness, self-discipline, common sense
  9. Team work: cooperativeness, supportiveness, collaboration,
  10. Work ethic: loyalty, working hard, taking initiative, self-motivation, showing up on time.

Some of these qualities are quite subjective, such as being “businesslike” or “adaptable.” Others are more objective, such as “taking the initiative” and “showing up on time.” Can you perfect all of them? No. Nobody’s perfect. If you think you are, then let’s add “humility” to this list.

How can you improve your soft skills? It’s the same as getting to Carnegie Hall – practice! Volunteering, interning, running a blog, tutoring, mentoring, and joining a professional association are all good ways to practice these soft skills, especially those that relate directly to interpersonal communication. For the balance: follow the “Golden Rule”, be well groomed, dress well, manage your time, keep a calendar, and, the easiest of all, set your alarm clock!

It’s hard to see ourselves as others see us, so consider asking trusted friends, colleagues, family members, and bosses for feedback on where your soft skills are strong and where they need improvement. People like to help each other out, and they’ll likely be flattered you asked.

Your education and experiences will get you noticed, but your soft skills will get you hired.

Employers know what they want. They hold all the cards. They’re in the driver’s seat. You can’t fight city hall. Enough metaphors? The truth is that you must fit into their expectations.

Be accountable and realize that when it comes to soft skills, it’s you, not them. Fix what needs fixing.

Ferris Kaplan is founder of Best of You Resumes.



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