How to Sharpen Your Soft Skills

For those looking to launch or change their careers, now may be the time to do it. Economists say we’re experiencing a “Goldilocks labor market,” with plentiful job openings across nearly every industry. But there’s a caveat. Despite the ample opportunities, data shows candidates are still experiencing stiff competition for available positions, especially in rapidly growing fields.

So, how can interested individuals ensure their resumes rise to the top of the consideration pile? Of course, technical expertise is an added benefit, but employers consistently say “soft skills” such as adaptability and creativity make candidates stand out. These capabilities give applicants a competitive edge, denoting their strong work ethic and ability to communicate effectively, think critically and be a team player.

As we’ve witnessed at City Year with our AmeriCorps members, there are ways individuals can build their own “power skills.” With professional development centered on the four areas below, we’ve helped equip and empower young adults to thrive as student success coaches and in their future workplaces.

Step beyond the comfort zone. Throughout their year of service, we ask our student success coaches to stretch themselves personally and professionally. This may include pushing them to express their emotional needs, asking their leadership team for concrete guidance or requesting responsibilities not listed in their job description.

Prioritize communication. When it comes to communication, practice makes perfect. We offer AmeriCorps members regular opportunities to hone their writing and public speaking skills, from drafting external impact reports to speaking during media interviews and school faculty meetings.

Solicit regular feedback. It’s critical to develop the ability to accept and act on constructive feedback. Through classroom observations, quarterly meetings with principals, daily one-on-ones with impact managers and more, we allow these young adults to gain insight that will help them learn, grow and improve — all practices that translate to a workplace.

Practice self-reflection. We could all benefit from taking a beat. We encourage our student success coaches to spend a few minutes contemplating their challenges and wins, including through first and final circles, to boost their self-awareness, empathy and connection with others.

In today’s job market, soft skills are in higher demand than ever before. By sharpening capabilities with proven tactics like these, applicants can get a leg up on the competition, land that desired job and set themselves up for long-term career success.


Courtney Brown is the director of impact for City Year Little Rock, a nonprofit dedicated to helping students and schools succeed through work with AmeriCorps members as well as professional development and social-emotional learning opportunities.


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