Don't forget about these soft skills in 2021.

You're in the middle of your job search, and you feel confident that you're the candidate for the job. Why? That's easy — you have all the skills the job requires, from the training to the industry knowledge and technical skills.

News flash — so does your competition.

The playing field has changed now, too, thanks to 2020. It was a challenging year that forced companies to do things differently, and consequently, it changed what recruiters really care about

“Undeniably, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into the hiring process for both job seekers and recruiters alike, which our data confirms by uncovering what's newly important in one's candidacy,” said Amanda Augustine, TopResume's career expert, certified professional career coach (CPCC), and certified professional resume writer (CPRW). 

“Our findings reveal that job seekers may be taking themselves out of the running even before — or right after — the virtual interview because they're ignoring the key factors to which recruiters are suddenly paying attention.”

It's not as mysterious as you might think. What helps candidates stand out from the rest are known as soft skills. The new normal includes a lot more remote work, and that means that soft skills are more important than ever, with some rising to the top of recruiters' wish lists in 2021.

What are soft skills?

Think of soft skills as your personal skills — things you do that make you a great employee outside of the technical skills that are needed for the job. They may come naturally to you, or perhaps you've added some classes to your list to augment these abilities. 

If you haven't, consider taking online classes and other certification courses to develop your soft skills in the workplace. Soft skills, which may seem basic to some, can be difficult for employers to find, so they're impressed by applicants who can demonstrate a strong set from the get-go.

While there is an abundance of soft skills that are worth noting, here are the top soft skills that employers are looking for in 2021:

1. Creative problem solving and innovation

The past year has presented a plethora of new challenges in the work world. The last thing an employer wants is an employee who sees a challenging situation or new task and says, “Wow, I don't know what to do here.” Instead, they want to know that you can think logically and creatively to develop solutions to the problems or obstacles that come up in your role.

They also hope you'll help to come up with new ideas as well as addressing existing problems. And the more creative, the better; that kind of thinking leads to innovation and improvements within the company.

On your resume, be sure to list situations where you had to use your creativity in the face of adversity, coming up with innovative solutions to the problems that arose.

At your interview, express your enthusiasm for tackling challenges. Every job has hurdles, and employers want to hire people who aren't afraid of tackling those challenges, so make sure your interviewer knows you're one of those people.

2. Communication skills 

This is a broad category: It can mean anything from how you converse with a client and colleagues to how well you get your point across in emails. The ability to communicate with clients and team members is essential, and it's not just when you are trying to get the point across, either. Now that most communication is done through emails, chats, video, or phone conference calls, strong communication skills are more critical than ever. 

Taking a class on communication skills is well worth your time and money. It's one of the most crucial soft skills in any job, in any industry. If you already think that it is one of your best attributes, find a way to demonstrate that on your resume and in your interview.

3. Time management

Moving to a partial or complete work-from-home environment was a big leap of faith for many employers. Would their teams be legitimately productive away from their office? Without the natural structure that a day at the office provides, time management became a soft skill that quickly rose to the top of many recruiters' priority lists.

Time management means you know how to organize your schedule, both daily and beyond, to get your projects done on time and with efficiency. The work from home environment can actually save people time by cutting out commutes on both ends of the day, but it can also add a lot of distractions. How well can you focus on your work and manage your time to stay productive without a manager looking over your shoulder?

Your work calendar is your best friend when it comes to time management. Set daily and weekly goals for what you'd like to accomplish and don't be afraid to block off time on your calendar to zero in on that work. If you're preparing for a job interview, see if you can learn what project management tools the company uses and get familiar. These tools help manage projects and the time of everyone involved. If you can demonstrate familiarity with the tools they use, you'll have a leg up on the competition. 

4. A growth mindset 

When it comes to ensuring longevity in your career, you need to be able to grow and adapt to changes within your industry and the job market as a whole. With the mechanization of jobs and industries, having a growth mindset is essential. 

So what is a growth mindset? Professionals with a growth mindset are motivated to reach higher levels of achievement by continuously learning new skills in order to move with a changing market. Essentially, it is being adaptable and willing to go above and beyond the soft and hard skills you already have. 

Showcase your growth mindset by highlighting instances when you showed initiative by learning a new skill in order to better do your job or help you keep up with industry-wide changes.  

5. Emotional intelligence

What does it mean to have high emotional intelligence? Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, evaluate, and respond to your emotions and the emotions of others. This means that you are able to think empathetically about the people around you and the interpersonal relationships that develop in the workplace.

This is another soft skill that has taken on new meaning for 2021. Stress, grief, and frustration are abundant as we try to work through the pandemic. From new work-from-home challenges to lost loved ones or other pandemic issues, having the ability to read the emotions of your co-workers and respond with compassion is essential. 

In fact, one survey by CareerBuilder reported that 71 percent of employers value emotional intelligence in an employee over IQ, while 75 percent are more likely to promote an employee with higher EQ (emotional quotient) over someone with higher IQ. 

The best way to show your emotional intelligence? During your interview.

6. Collaboration

Collaborating with your co-workers isn't as easy as it seems. For those who believe that they know how to do the job and don't have faith in others to do their parts, they can create tension in the office and hurt the overall efficiency. 

Now, you have to be able to do it all while not being in the same room as your co-workers. Learning to trust others, work together, and give and accept ideas is a difficult skill to master — but if you can, you'll be well ahead of the competition.

Show off your soft skills in collaboration by displaying on your resume your ability to work with team members. You should highlight it during your interview as well. Show enthusiasm for accepting colleagues' ideas and maximizing your team's overall efficiency by utilizing each person's individual strengths.

7. Adaptability

Change is a major part of the modern-day workplace, even without the difficulties of 2020. The lightning-fast advancement of technology has us doing things differently all the time. Throw in the new challenges of the past year and it's astounding how much jobs have changed, and continue to change, as we roll into 2021. 

Think about all of the changes we've seen lately. Many offices went from 100 percent in-house work to partial or completely remote work. Video conferencing is now an everyday occurrence, while working and collaborating online is the new norm. All of these things have required workers to adapt to new methods, new technology, and new ways of thinking. 

Think about ways you've had to adapt to in the past and be prepared to showcase how well you can go with the flow during your next interview. 

8. Active listening

Everyone loves a good listener. It shouldn't be hard to do, but for many people it is a struggle — especially in a remote environment. Active listening is more than just listening intently; the active listener shows that they're engaged in the conversation by saying little things like, “Okay,” or “I understand,” and nodding. It also means asking questions, making eye contact, and withholding judgement. 

As remote work takes center stage in 2021, it can be all too easy to be disengaged from your sixth video conference of the day or that morning check-in call before you've had your coffee. If you're uncertain what it really means to be an active listener, do a little research and practice it at home with your family or friends (they'll appreciate it, too). Then, during your interview, let your active listening skills shine as you engage with your interviewer. 

9. Leadership

While creativity, communication skills, a growth mindset, emotional intelligence, and collaboration are all skills that can make you a great employee, leadership skills will elevate you even further. No matter the job, most employers are looking for someone who is capable of growing beyond that role.

Leadership skills are really a combination of all the other soft skills. When you put them together, you have a person who can not only work well with the team, but also take the reins and make the rest of the team better.

If you've been in charge of big projects in the past, bring that out in your resume and mention it in interviews. Show that you're not someone who is just looking to punch in and punch out, but an applicant who is ready to conquer this job and grow into a future leader within the company; that makes you an attractive investment for the hiring company.

Showcase these skills

Think of your soft skills as the accessories to your training in your field. They alone cannot qualify you for a job, but when paired with solid credentials, they can make you a much more attractive candidate. As you review your soft skills, keep in mind how 2020 has changed the playing field and highlight those that will help you shine in the “new normal” work environment. 

From cashier to construction worker to CEO, soft skills are universally needed in today's workforce. Learn to cultivate yours and display them for employers to see — and you'll keep yourself ahead of the pack.

Are your soft skills highlighted on your resume? Check today with a free resume review! 

This article was updated in January, 2021 by author.

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