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Columbia Business Monthly

Building Your Personal Brand: The Hard Truth About Soft Skills

Jul 05, 2018 12:04PM ● By Kathleen Maris
By Emily S. Ward

South Carolina’s economic upswing has created a market where job seekers can likely find a job. In fact, we have the lowest unemployment rate in 18 years. That’s good news. 

However, a growing challenge is in matching qualified applicants and employees with jobs where they bring not only proficiency, but also the attributes that make an employee a team player, a problem solver— not a problem creator. 

There’s nothing weak about these power tools
Career success depends on not only knowing the hard skills, but understanding the finer points of how to collaborate, communicate, and get along with co-workers, supervisors, clients, and customers. Given two equally skilled employees, management seeks the one with people skills, the ability to think critically, the problem solver who adapts to various work and social environments. These workers shine in interviews and receive promotions. Success requires soft skills and proficiency. 

Mastering soft skills is crucial to developing a personal brand
A brand sets you apart. Just as smart businesses build and protect their brands, new hires striving to be noticed, employees climbing the ladder, and lower level employees vying to keep their jobs must hone skills that speak to their work savviness and social intelligence. 

Firms know that the higher you progress within their ranks, the broader your exposure to customers and co-workers. The importance of a comprehensive, robust skill set rises with each promotion.  

Hard skills may land the job. Soft skills clinch the promotion.
Hard skills are a job’s nuts and bolts, learned via education, training, and experience. IT professionals can write code. Accountants can read balance sheets. Carpenters can frame buildings. Without hard skills, the chances of landing and keeping a job are scarce.

Soft skills don’t follow a set learning path. They combine life experiences, emotional intelligence, and social savviness. When I started in my career 20 years ago on the client side, I worked with advertising agencies who rarely let their “creative types” meet clients. The contact was the account executive...a bright, interesting, and socially capable “front” person, with skills, of course, but more important, who could represent the firm well and interface productively with clients. The team members I rarely met were equally bright and probably interesting, but were not considered socially adept. They were pigeonholed while the AE was promoted.

This is not a scenario confined to creative industries. As important as it is to know how to do the job, it’s equally important to know what makes you indispensable and promoteable. When you possess both skill sets, you have a personal brand.   

Where does your brand rank?  
If you’re job hunting, job keeping, or promotion seeking, success depends on soft skills coupled with technical abilities. Having only half of this equation isn’t enough in a competitive setting. Take a hard look. Does your brand enable you to stand out as a catalyst for your organization’s success?

Check where you stand:

- Listening - Do you listen closely before responding? Are conversations with you always conversations about you?
- Critical thinking - Do you assess information historically and objectively before projecting a path forward?
- Writing - Can you craft letters, emails, tweets, and proposals accurately and clearly?  Are grammar and punctuation priorities or annoyances?
- Speaking - Can you speak to one person or hundreds with clarity and poise?
- Persuading - Can you attract others to your ideas?
- Leading - Are you working on leadership skills? Do you model behavior you want to see in others?
- Compassion - Do you treat others as you wish to be treated?
- Social graces - How are your manners? Do you know protocols for all social and dining situations? 
- Accountability - Are you willing to admit when you make a mistake? Convert constructive criticism into corrective action? 
- Integrity - Is your honesty and work ethic above reproach? Do you have a moral compass?
- Approachability - Are you open to new ideas and ways of handling tasks? 
- Creativity - Are you innovative and flexible? Do you see change as invigorating?
- Appearance - Is it a priority that your personal appearance and clothing are always exemplary and appropriate?
- Presence - Do you have a seat at the table? Are you leaning in? 

Build your brand. It’s worth it. 

Look honestly at how you measure up, regardless of what career stage you are in. Building your brand takes work...and time…and commitment. Refining soft skills adds power to your technical skills. Work on areas with deficiencies and reap the benefits of a personal brand that sets you apart.
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