Careers advice

The top 10 soft skills employers are looking for in NZ

Soft skills are becoming increasingly important, but which ones do NZ employers value most?

What you’ll learn:

  • What are soft skills?
  • How to develop your soft skills?
  • 10 soft skills that NZ employers look for in job applicants

If you’ve read any articles on upskilling or career advancement at any point in the last five years, you’ll have almost certainly come across the concept of soft skills. And for good reason, soft skills are a crucially important tool in the modern professional’s toolkit, and something that employers actively seek out when hunting for their next hire.

But what exactly are they, and how do you acquire them? Today, we’re going to answer both of these important questions, and examine which soft skills New Zealand employers value most. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to reference core soft skills in your next job application, helping you to stand out from the crowd.

Soft skills are vital to a productive and happy team environment.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are a set of abilities and personality traits that help someone do their job by working effectively with other people. Importantly, they’re not specific to one role or industry, and are sometimes called transferable skills.

This means soft skills are as relevant to an astronaut as they are to a tour guide.

Unsurprisingly, soft skills are the opposite of hard skills. Hard skills are qualifications or experience someone needs for a role – for example, while it’s great that the pilot taking you on your next holiday is a brilliant communicator, you’d hope they also have a pilot’s licence.

To be truly effective, an employee needs a good mix of hard and soft skills. But, in recent years, bosses have placed increasing emphasis on the latter. This is mainly because:

  • Today, customer service is everything: with so much competition out there, consumers are more interested than ever in who provides the best customer service. As we’ll see, soft skills like communication and emotional intelligence are vital to this.
  • Soft skills can be harder to learn: most hard skills are taught, while soft skills are often closely linked to personality.
  • Robots: as artificial intelligence and automation continue to take over traditionally hard skilled tasks, the future of humans in the workplace will increasingly be soft skills led.
  • Without soft skills, the workplace doesn’t work: you could be a mad scientist level genius, but if you can’t work with others or communicate your ideas, progress will be very slow.

10 soft skills employers are looking for in NZ

1. Adaptability

We’re kicking off with one attribute our Head of Jobs, Jeremy Wade, identified as an essential soft skill for modern employees. 

Many NZ businesses now use agile practices in how they operate. Agile emphasises the need for teams made up of individuals with different skill sets working together to solve problems in a self-managing way. 

So, whether you’re new to the workforce or well established, the ability to roll with change and adapt to new ways of working, who you work with or what you’re doing will be attractive to anyone looking to hire.

NZ employers look for candidates with strong soft skill sets.

2. Growth mindset

As well as being able to adapt, bosses love employees who are always working to improve themselves.

This could be through taking courses to learn new technical capabilities, or soft skills development. Not only does this show you’re ambitious and career-minded, it makes you a more valuable asset to the business.

3. Communication

This refers to both written and oral communication – if employees can’t communicate effectively, progress slows and mistakes creep in.

Today, storytelling is huge for businesses. As the NZ public becomes more picky about who they shop with, being able to tell a convincing story about your products and business goals is essential. And a business can’t do this without ace messengers among their staff.

Communication is also important for building good relationships with your colleagues, and making the office a more friendly place..

4. Problem solving

Whether you’re interacting with customers, or other staff on an internal project, problems crop up in every work environment.

The question is, when this happens, do you go to pieces or start looking for solutions? As businesses experiment with new technology, having a resilient attitude when things don’t go to plan is only going to get more important.

5. Emotional intelligence

This is about recognising a range of emotions in both yourself, and those around you.

While this has obvious importance for people leaders, having high emotional intelligence will help all employees create good working relationships with their colleagues, and contribute to a positive company culture.

Communication and emotional intelligence allow you to build friendships with your colleagues.

6. Creativity

Many businesses pride themselves on innovation, and being one step ahead of their competition. As such, individuals who aren’t afraid to use their imaginations and try new things, are attractive candidates for all sorts of organisations.

7. Cultural awareness

As New Zealand becomes increasingly multicultural, being able to work with people from different backgrounds is becoming essential.

Employers value this soft skill because, ultimately, employees that understand and appreciate each others’ differences will work better together, and produce better results.

8. Leadership

It’s not only managers who benefit from having good leadership skills. Even if you’re in your first job, you can show leadership by:

  • Helping others with their workload.
  • Taking responsibility if you make mistakes.
  • Accepting additional work (when you can manage it).

Leadership doesn't just come from managers.

9. Focus mastery

Work environments are full of distractions, from social media to chatty colleagues. While a bit of socialising is important, being able to shut out diversions when necessary and focus is an art in itself.

Having this self control will help you make better decisions, and think critically about what you and others are doing.

10. Persuasion

While listening to others is an important part of collaboration, you also need to make sure your voice is heard when you have one of those lightbulb moments.

This is important for you, as it means your hard work is acknowledged, but also of great value to the business. After all, the organisation won’t thrive unless its bright sparks (that means you) can convince others their ideas are worth pursuing.

Don’t forget to add your soft skills to your Trade Me Job Profile and CV when applying for jobs. Sometimes, they can be what separates you from other candidates, and the employer won’t know what you’ve got to offer unless you tell them!

How to improve your soft skills

Given the variety of skills listed in the section above, it probably won’t come as a shock to learn that there’s no silver bullet to improving all of them at the same time. In fact, one of the reasons that employers prize soft skills so highly is that they’re notoriously difficult to coach. However, this doesn’t mean that you can;t work on building yours, if you put your mind to it.

Here are a few tips that will help you on this journey:

  • Prioritise: as you can’t develop all of them at the same time, it’s important to choose one or two to focus on at a time.
  • Find learning opportunities: while there are courses you can take to improve your soft skills (see below), one of the best ways of improving is trying to put them into practice at workplace settings. For example, if you've decided to work on problem solving, throw up your hand the next time your manager is looking for someone to take on responsibility for a particularly gnarly project. It might be daunting, but this is the best way to learn.
  • Take courses and do research: communication is probably the greatest example of a soft skill where there are heaps of courses you can take to get your confidence up. But other ways of improving could involve reading and researching. For example, if you want to improve your cultural awareness, the best way to do this is to increase your understanding of other cultures.
  • Seek guidance: good managers should be taking every opportunity to support the growth and development of their people, so let your manager know that you’re working on your soft skills. This way, they might be able to come up with additional ways for you to get practice, or incorporate this into your personal development plan.
  • Ask for feedback: it’s one thing to motivate yourself to work on your soft skills, it’s quite another to know whether you’re making progress. Again, this is where working with someone else, like your manager, can be a huge benefit. If they know, for example, that you’re giving a talk as part of your plan to work on communication, they can attend and provide constructive feedback at the end.
  • Watch others: if there’s someone you work with who’s particularly good at the skill you’re trying to develop, watch how they do it, and learn their ways.