Soft Skills: What Employers Want (and Don't Want) in an Employee

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Photo courtesy @bpsusf on Flickr

No matter the technical or how-to (“hard”) skill requirements of a job, there are "soft skills" valued at all workplaces. Sometimes what separates a good employee from an exceptional one is taking just one or two extra steps or considering a situation from the employer’s point of view. Whether you are trying to get a job, keep a job, get promoted, or have a more successful career, you will benefit from giving regular thought to how you can serve a current or potential employer better.

Employers want employees who are: self-motivated, have ideas and take initiative; deliver more than is promised or expected
Employers don't want employees who: wait for specific instructions, deliver the bare minimum

By regularly performing beyond what is required, you’ll make yourself ever more valuable to your employer, which is crucial these days with hiring freezes and layoffs. Even if not all of your ideas are implemented, the fact that you are thinking of ways to improve things or try something new will be appreciated.

Want: Flexible, eager to learn new things
Don't want: Resistant to change, uninterested in learning new skills

Rapid, constant change is commonplace these days. Low-maintenance employees who can adapt quickly and without a fuss are more likely to be retained when there’s a layoff.

Want: Easy to work with, positive, has conflict resolution and negotiation skills
Don’t want: Conflict with supervisor and others, resistance to compromise, complaining

Positivity and amiability are good qualities at any job, and with so many positions these days being temporary, project, or consulting work, it is more important than ever to get along with those with whom you interact. Working successfully with others increases your visibility in the workplace, expands your network, and builds your reputation in a positive way – all these can help to increase your job security.

Want: Has a large network; active in professional organizations
Don't want: Uncomfortable with networking or uninterested in professional activities beyond “9 to 5”

Alliances with others in your field provide opportunities to collaborate and share resources, information, and advice. These things benefit everyone involved: you, your employer, and those in your network. A strong network is also essential for a successful job hunt.

Want: Informs supervisor of problems and proposes well-thought-out solutions
Don't want: Brings problems to supervisor and expects him/her to give solutions

Problem-solvers are much preferred to problem-bringers. This is another way to demonstrate initiative and good judgment and shows respect for your manager’s time.

Want: Organized and able to multitask, punctual, behaves professionally, meets deadlines without reminders
Don't want: Chronically late, disorganized, unprofessional, rude or abusive, requires close supervision to get work done

If you demonstrate effective time management and consistently professional demeanor and interactions, you’ll gain your supervisor’s trust and s/he will appreciate not having to devote time to checking up on you. This can lead to increased responsibilities and more opportunities in the future.

Want: Takes responsibility, reliable, honest
Don’t want: Gives excuses, hides mistakes, blames others

Trust can take a long time to build, and very little time to destroy. Your boss will likely forgive you for making a mistake if you own up to it, apologize, fix it, and take care not to make it again. Honesty is not just telling the truth, it is also keeping your word; do what you say you’ll do, every time.

Want: Understands when to discuss, and when to follow instructions
Don’t want: Endless debate, questions every decision

There’s a time to ask questions and offer opinions and there’s a time to say “Got it” and just do what needs to be done. Your boss will appreciate it if you can read situations accurately and know which response is appropriate.

Want: Able to accept and give criticism in a professional manner
Don’t want: Takes things personally, becomes defensive, avoids difficult conversations with direct reports or gives feedback in a harsh, harmful way

Accepting constructive criticism can sting, and giving such criticism can be more uncomfortable than many new supervisors imagine it would be. Being able to do both with grace and respect and move forward without drama will serve you well in your career.

Want: Strong communication skills: writing (formal and informal), verbal, presentation/instruction
Don’t want: Unclear communications, poor writing skills, discomfort with public speaking or presentations

Effective and appropriate communication in different work settings is required for success, and comfort with public speaking is a plus if not a requirement for many positions and for advancement.

Want: Makes employer and supervisor look good, lightens supervisor’s and others’ loads
Don't want: Disinterested in making employer look good or more interested in promoting self

These are two simple and very powerful things you can do to demonstrate your value: make those around you look good to others within and outside your workplace, and assist in any way you can, large or small.

Ellen Mehling received her MSLIS from Long Island University and works as a librarian, instructor and writer in and around NYC.  Her professional experience includes work in special, public, and academic libraries, as well as archives.  She is Director of the Westchester Graduate Library School Program and Director of Internships for L.I.U.’s Palmer School and since 2009 has been METRO’s Job Bank Manager / Career Development Consultant.  She teaches classes and workshops on job hunting, information literacy, researching, and other subjects at METRO’s Training Center and other venues within and outside NYC.

Category: metro | Sub Category: career resources