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What are Soft skills? A definition


Are you good at writing or good with a certain software? These are skills and qualifications that you can prove with testimonials, certificates and work samples. They count as hard skills. But what about all those skills that make you the person and the employee you actually are? These soft skills are not usually certified. But they shape your character significantly.

In job application procedures, people often ask specifically about such soft skills: Are you particularly team-oriented, ambitious, able to take criticism, empathetic, communicative and well organised? Can you present well, manage your working hours, learn new skills and work independently? Are you resilient, curious, self-reflective and committed? Almost every employer asks such questions when looking for new workers. So it is important to look at the definition and types of soft skills if you want to be successful in the labour market.


  • What are soft skills and how do they differ from hard skills?

  • Why are soft skills so important?

  • How do I communicate my soft skills?

  • What soft skills are there?


In contrast to hard skills, which can be easily verified, soft skills can usually not or only indirectly be proven through certificates, qualifications and work samples. Professional skills and competences are usually easy to prove or verify; they initially play a more important role in the application process. However, you may be able to compensate for a lack of technical knowledge, for example through the ability to acquire knowledge quickly. Such soft skills often become more important at the end of the selection process after the interviews, especially if there are several candidates with comparable professional aptitudes.

Soft skills primarily refer to qualities such as motivation and the ability to work in a team, but in a broader sense also to all those character traits that make someone the person they are. Soft skills are roughly divided into three categories: personal, social and methodological skills. Essentially, each of these areas deals with the questions: How do you function as an independent person? How do you function as a social being? How do you deal with challenges?


No matter how impressive your hard skills are, you will find it very difficult to cope in modern working life without sufficiently developed soft skills. While there are jobs that require highly qualified experts rather than soft skills, these jobs are rare. Much more often, teamwork, communication and organisational skills are required - qualities with which you can influence the working atmosphere to a great extent.

Some jobs require more teamwork than others; one job presents you with new challenges almost daily and therefore requires a high degree of independence and flexibility, while a repetitive job tends to require a high degree of mental resilience and discipline. Therefore, it is impossible to say which soft skills are generally more important than others. However, a certain set of soft skills is valuable for every job.


While hard skills are often listed on a CV, it is not so easy to compile a list of your own soft skills. And even if you have come up with one, you cannot claim that you are an affable person or particularly quick to learn new skills without proving it in some way. Ideally, you already make it implicitly clear in your cover letter which soft skills you possess. Here are some examples:

  • With the wording of your cover letter, you can influence whether you come across as likeable, creative, self-willed, etc.

  • With the layout of your application documents, you can underline your personal qualities. An original design, for example, can show self-confidence and creativity.

  • If you have already worked during your studies, this usually speaks for a high level of stress tolerance and self-discipline. Depending on the type of work, it may also indicate your teamwork skills.

  • If you list an honorary position in your CV, you indicate that you are a socially competent person and also have a high degree of self-motivation.

  • A CV often also includes hobbies and interests. A team sport, for example, promotes your social skills. An interest in strategy games suggests strengths in solving problems.

  • Last but not least, your application photo also says a lot about you. If you manage to reflect your character without looking unprofessional, you will stand out positively. In any case, invest in a photographer who is able to put you in the right light.


No list of soft skills is truly exhaustive; after all, there are a multitude of human traits that are often difficult to conceptualise. Moreover, many of the traits listed below intertwine with each other so that they interact constructively. The soft skills "resilience" and "stress resistance" overlap just as often as "analytical skills" and "self-reflection". Therefore, it is not only important how many of these soft skills you have, but also how well they work together.

No human being is perfect. No one expects you to master all soft skills comprehensively. Depending on the job profile, colleagues, work environment, etc., some are more important than others. Sometimes a certain quality is a mandatory requirement, while another plays a subordinate role.

As mentioned above, soft skills can be divided into three categories:

Personal competence

Personal skills include all those abilities that distinguish you as an independent person. Many of these spill over into the other categories. For example, a self-confident and self-reflective person can find it easier to be convincing in social interactions. Motivated and committed people are more often willing to acquire or expand their methodological skills.


You complete many tasks and are nevertheless seldom overwhelmed. In times of increased expectations, you manage to meet them without suffering from a drop in performance afterwards. You face unforeseen events and developments with determination and a high level of stress tolerance. This also makes you a role model for less resilient colleagues. Every employer appreciates reliable employees who stand firm even in turbulent phases.

Personal responsibility

You are excellent at working independently and can both correctly assess and accept the consequences of your actions and use them for further development. Self-responsible people stand up for what they do; they are mature and self-determined, but also show solidarity. Individual responsibility does not exclude taking responsibility for others. As a self-reliant person, you cope with the challenges of everyday life under your own steam. This also includes being responsible for one's own mistakes, being liable for any damage that may occur and remedying it independently - as best you can.


You are prepared to leave your comfort zone, to tackle new challenges and to use your skills even for causes from which you do not directly benefit. Committed people invest time and energy in helping others, for example by working on social projects. At work, commitment means not just doing your job, but giving more than is expected of you. Committed employees often have a positive impact on the whole work environment. In addition, commitment is one of the soft skills that can help you advance your career.


You are basically willing to take action and strive to achieve certain goals and perform tasks well. Motivation is the inner drive that makes you a reliable and satisfied worker. For this, it is necessary that you like your work; because real motivation comes from within. Many people motivate themselves by setting a realistic goal and linking it to a reward. Sometimes the appreciation of colleagues and superiors, the financial security of the family or simply the relaxing end of the day are enough. Every person is motivated differently. What is important is that you motivate yourself.


As a curious person, you have an inner desire to learn new things and get to know the unknown. You are attracted to hidden information as well as to the interests of others that have eluded you until now. Curiosity does not always have a positive connotation in our society; people who are too curious are often considered annoying. Yet healthy curiosity is an important drive for people to seek new challenges and explore previously unfamiliar territory. In the workplace, this means showing interest in fields of activity and skills that initially have little or nothing to do with your job profile.


You are in control of yourself and your behaviour. You are difficult to distract from your main tasks. You react confidently to unforeseen events and do not lose sight of your goal. Certain phases of your daily work require concentration and focus, which you master excellently with self-discipline. The basis of an intact self-discipline is a constantly running process of self-control.

By always critically questioning your actions and correctly ordering your priorities, you achieve a high degree of self-discipline. On the job, this means that you prioritise your tasks appropriately and successfully control distracting factors such as private interests and idleness.


You can critically evaluate yourself and your work and learn from your mistakes. At the same time, you know when you have done a good job. Self-reflection is one of those personal competencies that have the greatest effect internally. At the same time, the effect is noticeable externally: self-reflective people are quick learners and grow with their tasks. This also includes knowing what you cannot do. Certain fields of work are aimed at experts for good reasons and should be denied to laypeople (e.g. server maintenance, backend programming). Self-reflective people run less risk of overestimating themselves and thereby causing damage.


While self-reflection requires you to be aware of your weaknesses, self-confidence requires you to recognise and act on your own strengths. Self-confident people never sell themselves short, but know exactly what their value is. Strong self-confidence spills over into many other skills and areas of life because self-confident people have a consolidated character. This means they are not afraid of new challenges or of speaking their mind.

Social competence

Social skills often refer to those workplace skills that involve colleagues and superiors, i.e. the relevant social field. For many employers, it is important, for example, whether an applicant is a team player or is particularly communicative during an interview. Social skills cannot replace professional qualifications, but they can enhance them and, in case of doubt, be the deciding factor. Depending on the job description, they may even be an indispensable prerequisite.

In the application process, employers try to get a credible picture of the social skills of the respective applicant. Conversely, your social skills often determine how comfortable you feel at work and how you fit into the human interaction that most jobs require - even in offices with computer workstations.


As an empathetic person, you can put yourself in the shoes of your colleagues - whether in successes or failures. Your social sensitivity also enables you to respond to your colleagues' predicaments in an empathetic and respectful manner. These can also be circumstances that exist beyond the workplace. If, for example, an employee's performance is weakening because he or she is severely challenged in his or her private life, show understanding. Empathy in the workplace is important in order not to lose the human touch in the face of performance pressure and competition.

Ability to integrate

Social structures are often difficult to break down. When you start a new job, however, you manage almost effortlessly to fit into the existing social fields and actively complement them. You do not remain the 'new guy' for long, but manage to become an independent part of the social field at work. Colleagues who were initially strangers quickly become acquaintances or even friends. Integration does not mean merely conforming to the prevailing conventions. As a person capable of integration, you manage to help shape the environment. Then you will quickly become an indispensable part of the social construct.

Communication skills

The ability to communicate convincingly is one of the most important skills in many companies. As a communication professional, you find it easy to formulate your thoughts concisely while being a pleasant conversational partner. This often extends to digital platforms where you maintain a congenial tone (e.g. in chat or via email). You are also able to interpret signals correctly and understand instructions. You can also communicate your own concerns with confidence. Last but not least, your communication skills will also be put to the test at the job interview.

Critical faculties

As a person who is able to take criticism, you have the (quite rare) ability to deal well with criticism of your person. This means that you do not react impulsively or emotionally to it, but take the input in such a way that you can improve with it. Criticism often catches people off guard and threatens their self-confidence - they feel attacked and feel pushed out of their comfort zone. However, criticism usually has a justified origin; those who know how to deal with it and use it constructively will tend to be more successful.

Knowledge of human nature

People skills is a rather vague term. In essence, it describes the ability to assess people as correctly as possible on the basis of certain indications. As a judge of character, you are more likely to achieve the desired result through your social actions. At the same time, you anticipate the actions and reactions of your fellow human beings very accurately. This ability is extremely practical in everyday life. A high degree of people skills is particularly advantageous in professions where you work directly with customers, patients or clients.

Ability to work in a team

Working in a team is the main feature of many jobs. As a team player, you can deal with a division of labour, group communication, authority and many other aspects that are important when working with other people. It is easy for them to contribute competently. The ability to work in a team also requires you to be able to use other social skills profitably. People who are able to work in a team usually have a whole range of soft skills that help them in any workplace. In the modern world of work, the ability to work in a team is one of the most sought-after skills, and applicants are deliberately tested for it.

Interpersonal style

Interpersonal style is your inherent way of dealing with people. There are people who often joke and thus create a relaxed atmosphere, but sometimes run the risk of not being taken seriously. On the other hand, there are people who are very serious in the workplace and place a high value on purposeful communication - these come across as professional at best, and stiff at worst.

A 'good' manners style is located in the golden mean of this spectrum. You come across as competent and reliable without being boring or uptight. Your social style, therefore, influences to a large extent the effect you have on other people.

Methodical competence

This category comes closest to hard skills because methodological competencies often manifest themselves in concrete professional knowledge. Nevertheless, these skills are not so easy to demonstrate: They are often, in a sense, a basic prerequisite for acquiring demonstrable hard skills. For example, the soft skill 'presentation techniques' is an essential basis for the hard skill 'PowerPoint', while problem-solving competence is necessary for learning programming languages.

Methodological competences (e.g. stress resistance) also often overlap with personal competences (e.g. resilience). Nevertheless, methodological competences belong in a category of their own because they do not only cover the personal spectrum but much more directly support or even define professional skills.

Analytical skills

Analysis means uncovering the mechanisms behind a complex issue and breaking it down into its most important components. Your analytical skills make you a close observer who puts the insights gained into practice and constantly improves himself, his method and his team. It is particularly important to use your analytical skills in the case of failures because this is the only way you can learn from defeats. A certain degree of self-reflection and communication skills helps immensely.

Organisational talent

Everyday work often involves many different tasks that cannot all be completed at the same time. The ability to organise a multitude of tasks wisely makes you a reliable person. If you have strong organisational skills, you can prioritise things sensibly and structure your day-to-day work and that of any employees you may have in such a way that work is done as efficiently as possible. Organisational ability is a soft skill that becomes more important the more independently you work and the broader your range of tasks.

Presentation skills

You have a confident demeanour and master an engaging speaking style, so you can give excellent presentations. Whether it's a PowerPoint presentation to introduce a specific project or a summary of work progress in a team meeting, your presentation skills ensure that the issues are communicated in an understandable way. This soft skill increases in importance the higher up you are in the company hierarchy.

Problem-solving skills

This soft skill is closely related to your analytical skills. Problem-solving requires an appropriate strategy, and to find it, you need to have accurately grasped and analysed the problem. As a competent problem solver, you face any challenging development with an alert mind and, at times, creative ideas. No matter what the problem is: You find its origin, recognise the consequences and develop a suitable strategy through which the problem can be solved. This ability can be trained very easily in a playful way, for example through challenging computer games or mental sports.

Stress resistance

The ability to deal with stress comes primarily from your personal skills. Resilience, personal responsibility and motivation work together to reliably master the often unpredictable challenges of everyday life. There are many techniques for coping with stress, but stress resistance feeds on a strong character. As a methodical competence, it also concerns the gift of nipping possible stress in the bud through a high degree of discipline, self-organisation and self-reflection.

Dealing with new media

Today's digital landscape offers many opportunities, but also many dangers. Dealing skilfully and sensitively with the so-called new media (social networks, online platforms, business networks, etc.) is an important soft skill for presenting not only oneself but also one's fellow men and the company well to the outside world. Careless use of these media can cause significant damage, e.g. if you reveal company secrets via private accounts or complain about your workplace on social networks.

Be aware that social networks in particular have thoroughly changed our public appearance. So use them in a way that does not damage your reputation or that of your company. In general, you should develop a media sensitivity that enables you to use your personal and social skills profitably online as well.


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