How "soft" skills enhance your employment chances.
In a flat market, job hopefuls should take a long, critical look at their resumes to make sure they’re giving themselves the best chance to get in front of potential employers.
According to career blog glassdoor.com, softer skills are often omitted from resumes or tossed in in a haphazard way, making it difficult for employers to get a complete and accurate picture of a jobseeker’s total skills set.
Don’t make the same mistake. Weave in the five traits outlined below to demonstrate well-roundedness, flexibility, composure under fire or the ability to adapt to new and unusual situations.
5 top skills
Portability refers to a career or skill set that you can take with you wherever the opportunities lie.
“We’re seeing a real shift as far as the role accountants are being asked to fulfil within business,” says Peter Antonius CPA, a senior Melbourne-based business professional who spent more than seven years working in professional services.
“There’s great opportunity for finance and accounting expertise within organisations; I just think it’s going to be quite different to what we’ve been used to in the past. Portability is key. [It] positions people a lot better in their careers than those who are only willing to look at their own locations."
Portability is not just physical; according to Luke Sayers, Australia CEO of accounting firm PwC, it means being “able to change our mindsets to a new way of doing things, whatever that new way might be”.
Having fluency in a second language opens up even more opportunities.
Being agile means considering lateral moves in your current company or moving across industry sectors. Agility is important in a flat employment market or flat corporate structure, where there may not be as many upward opportunities.
John Symons CPA, who has 30-plus years of experience in finance, started at energy company BP as a trainee accountant. He spent several years in HR, a move he later found invaluable: He learned new skills and was exposed to an entirely different facet of the organisation, which helped give him breadth (see below).
Agility can also offer career protection down the line: If you refuse to let yourself be pigeonholed into one career category, you lessen your chances of being displaced if that function goes belly up.
Breadth is in some ways a by-product of agility and portability: it means having a broad base of knowledge and skills that allow you to take on different roles in a variety of industries.
Harvard Business Review is bullish on breadth, arguing that it's more important to be able to see the forest for the trees than it is to specialise in varieties of bark.
“To be a really good finance leader and CFO of the future,” says Symons, “you have to be business savvy. And you can’t get to mastery in that space unless you get breadth, business understanding and leadership qualities.”
If you aspire to start your own company, being a generalist who is across multiple facets of a business will stand you in better stead than specialising in, say, accounts payable. And yet ...
Specialisation has its proponents too, and whether you decide to go for breadth or depth is ultimately a very personal career decision.
If you do specialise, make sure your resume states it clearly. Don’t assume that an employer will take the time to pick apart your eight years of experience in taxation departments to suss out that you’re an expert on international tax issues.
Focusing on a sector – such as a particular area of tax or complex legislation like IFRS – can position you as the expert in that field within your organisation or serve as an attractive calling card for your next employer.
If you are a specialist in an area that few others do, your skills will be valued. The danger of course is if you specialise in a field that becomes obsolete.
Employers are taking a closer look at “soft skills” – that cluster of qualities that makes someone valuable in a service economy.
Job candidates should be ready to demonstrate good communication skills, time management, problem-solving and other analytical skills, the ability to work well within a team and flexibility, among others.
“Great technical expertise is important,” Giam Swiegers, CEO of Deloitte Australia, told a CPA Congress audience in Melbourne, “but leadership takes different skills,” because managing a project today often involves managing people around the world who need to be mobilised quickly into a team.
Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of being able to actively listen – demonstrate that you heard a problem and spell out how you worked to solve it.
Do your skills measure up? Assess yourself with CPA Australia's Career Guidance System.
Have we missed anything? Please let us know if there are other important skills in the Comments section below.