Soft Skills

"Soft Skills" is the eighth video in the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis series, No-Frills Money Skills. The video stresses the importance of academic preparedness and introduces soft skills and professionalism. By viewing examples using several workplace scenarios, students learn the about the importance of soft skills in the workplace, including communication, cooperation, professionalism, work ethic, and many others. Students learn several key concepts about interviewing for, obtaining, and keeping a job.

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No-Frills Money Skills is a video series that covers a variety of personal finance topics. The brief videos use clear, simple language and graphic elements so that students can better visualize the personal finance content being presented. In the end, they will see how important these concepts are to their everyday lives.


Prospective Employer: I see on your resume that your GPA is 3.98.

Job Applicant: Yes.

Employer: That’s quite impressive.

Applicant: Thank you.

Employer: Your background in IT is just what we’re looking for.

Applicant: Hmph.

Employer: We’re looking for someone who can act as a liaison between the users and the IT department.

Applicant: Okay.

Employer: So we need someone with great communication skills.

Applicant: Okay.

Employer: How would you assess your communication skills?

Applicant: Okay.

Employer: Well, it was nice meeting you. I don’t think our company is the right fit for you.

Applicant: Okay.

Kris: Wow that applicant had a 3.98 GPA and is skilled in IT, but didn’t get hired. Can you see what went wrong? There’s a lot of talk about choosing the right school and program of study, which are important, but on today’s episode of No-Frills Money Skills, we’ll look at another set of skills you need to succeed in the job market.

You probably already know that high academic performance is a key skill needed for success. As a student, you’re challenged to demonstrate your academic proficiency in various ways. Examples include grade point average, ACT or SAT scores, standardized state exams, honor roll, and Dean’s list recognition in college and universities.

These achievements are numerical representations of your academic ability. They can put you in the running for scholarships and later employment but employers look for something more: skills that go beyond academics—known as soft skills. Soft skills are getting more attention in the workplace because, according to various reports, they are lacking in the workforce.

So what are soft skills and why are they so important? Soft skills are your personal traits, characteristics, and interpersonal skills that show how you present yourself and get along with other people. Examples include:

  • civility
  • appropriate appearance
  • punctuality and regular attendance
  • communication
  • honesty
  • focus and attentiveness
  • critical thinking and problem solving
  • leadership
  • professionalism
  • strong work ethic
  • teamwork and collaboration
  • flexibility and preparation for work

Some of the skills listed are self-explanatory. Others might not be familiar to you yet they’re very important. In one survey, about 70% of businesses emphasized workplace professionalism as a sought-after skill.

What is professionalism? It’s the consistent use of the skills, good judgment, courtesy, honesty, and responsibility expected in a business environment. These qualities and personal attributes are ambiguous and harder to measure than test scores or grade point averages. A firm handshake, communication skills, and eagerness to learn new things are hard to gauge from an application, and sometimes even from an interview. But when people lack them, it is glaringly obvious.

Take communication skills for example. Look at the difference between these two interactions between Shannon, a new employee trying to figure out the copy machine, and a co-worker.

Shannon: Hey.

Co-worker: Hi.

Kris: That was a bit awkward. Let’s try that again and see if we can do better.

Shannon: Excuse me. Hi, I’m new here and I’m having trouble with the copy machine. Can you help me, please?

Co-worker: Yeah, absolutely. So what are you trying to do?

Kris: You see the difference?

In the first scene, Shannon lacked the professionalism, interpersonal and communication skills needed in the workplace. In the second, Shannon showed how to handle the situation.

You can take advantage of opportunities to develop soft skills while you are in school. This will help you become a good job prospect and a better future employee. When you’re ready to apply for work, there are some important things to remember to increase your chances of getting the job.

According to research conducted by the Center for Professional Excellence, over 90% of employers would not hire someone with poor personal hygiene. Nearly 75% of employers would not hire a person with inappropriate attire, or facial piercings other than ears. Inappropriate footwear, visible tattoos and unnatural hair color are other frequently cited reasons not to hire a job candidate. However, you can control all of these things. You can bathe, brush your teeth, wear a long-sleeved shirt, and take piercings out of need be. Of course, these vary somewhat, depending on the job a person is applying for, but remember personal hygiene tops the list.

According to the survey, what you wear to an interview matters as well. Take a look at the following interview scenes and you decide who is appropriately dressed for the job described.

Prospective Employer: Professionalism is the hallmark of our company. We’re really looking for someone to be the face of our company, primarily representing us at board meetings of Fortune 500 companies. It says on your resume that you have extensive experience doing presentations in our line of work. Can you tell me a little more?

Candidate 1: I’ve worked in the industry for many years. I’ll bring expertise and insights that will move your company forward.

Candidate 2: You want someone to represent your company in a professional manner? Look no further, I’m your man.

Kris: Given the job description, who dressed the best for the interview? While most people wouldn’t wear a flamingo suit to a corporate job interview, it’s a reminder to keep the job you’re applying for in mind as you get ready and dress accordingly.

Let’s say you’ve just landed a job. How do you keep it? According to a recent survey of business leaders, 57.9 percent of respondents said attendance and punctuality are the primary reasons employees get fired. 45.5 percent said the next reason for termination is poor quality work. Let’s drop in on some workplace interactions. You decide if the qualities you see show professional and soft skills… or not.

Supervisor: Why aren’t you working?

Employee: I didn’t see you coming.

Supervisor: Hi, this is Shannon. I understand it’s not necessarily part of your job, but is it okay if somebody shows her around today?

Employee: Yeah, absolutely! It would be my pleasure.

Kris: Those were some examples of what to do, and what not to do, in the workplace. You have time to develop those soft skills and other desirable habits now while you’re in school. Attend school regularly, be on time, and do good work. Work cooperatively with your classmates and treat people respectfully. When you interview for a job, dress appropriately. You probably won’t see questions about soft skills on a standardized test, but they may be just as important in finding and keeping a job as how much you know are able to do.

I’m Kris Bertelsen, and I’ll see you next time!


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Education Level: 6-8 9-12 Non-educators
Subjects: Career and Technical Education Personal Finance
Concepts: Employment Income Human Capital
Resource Types: Video
Languages: English
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