They come naturally to some but evade others. They are difficult to measure but an essential metric of success. Companies all want them but few provide training to get them. What are they? Soft skills, also known as transferable skills, emotional intelligence or quotient, human strengths, or professional skills. Different than technical job skills or hard skills, soft skills are those aptitudes and characteristics that make you good at what you do--regardless of what you do. And, according to career strategists and researchers, they are in very high demand.

New jobs, meaning those not killed off by automation, require substantially more social skills than the manufacturing and factory jobs that once powered the economy. Robots aren't very good at being friendly or make small talk or calm disgruntled customers, which offers opportunity for us.

As the economy shifts, soft skills--including the ability to get along with others and perform in a reliable and professional manner--have become a high priority for employers. However,  educational institutions and workplace training programs still lag when it comes to helping job seekers and employees develop these skills.

What does this mean for us? It means that we have the opportunity to distinguish ourselves and advance our careers by developing these sought-after skills.

Here are some tips that I found helpful for me and I hope that it will do the same for you.

A robot greeting a girl

Five Tips for Improving Your Soft Skills

1. Take soft skills seriously.

Step one to developing your soft skills is being willing to recognize the need to develop your soft skills.

Because soft skills are often intangible and not easily quantified, it can be tempting to push them aside in favor of pursuing the technical or hard skills that a job requires. But in today’s marketplace, succumbing to this temptation could be a costly career mistake. In the professional development magazine, Training, author Roy Saunderson writes that 77% of human resource professionals assign as much importance to soft skills as they do to hard skills.

2. Engage in honest self-assessment.

Before you begin working on your soft skills, it is important to know where you stand. Everyone has some transferable skills. However, these professional talents come easier to some than to others. To find out where you need to focus your attention as you begin to improve your soft skills, you can take an emotional intelligence assessment or ask your peers or mentors for advice. Then, you can craft a plan to enhance your inherent strengths while shoring up any weaknesses.

3. Understand the basics.

Most soft skills are based on three foundational characteristics: empathy, awareness, and diligence. With empathy, you learn to see others’ perspectives, which will enhance your interpersonal communication skills. Similarly, awareness--both of your environment and yourself--improves your ability to respond appropriately in a particular situation. And, finally, diligence will be your base as you focus on developing professional skills such as punctuality, reliability, and personal responsibility.

4. Work toward specific goals.

Once you’ve established your strengths and weaknesses and understand the basics, you can create a professional development plan just as you would for acquiring hard skills. Set interim and end goals for yourself and create a timeline to help keep you on track.

Use a mix of learning strategies. Most people learn best through a multi-sensory and multi-strategy approach. For soft skills training, your learning may take the form of online courses, books, virtual simulations, situational learning, and one-on-one coaching.

Practice developing your soft skills at work

5. Practice, practice, practice.

Many of the soft skills most valued by employers involve human interaction. To fully develop these skills, you’ll need to practice--on real humans. While simulated environments and group-based instruction can take you part of the way, nothing beats real-world practice to hone your transferable skills. To practice your soft skills, look for opportunities both within your workplace and without. Volunteer organizations, networking groups, and programs such as Toastmasters all provide opportunities for you to learn and practice.

Soft skills alone cannot qualify you for a job but when paired with solid credentials, they can make you a much more attractive candidate for any job.

Give your career a boost by investing in the development of your soft skills

I mentioned at the beginning of this article that soft skills are sometimes called transferable skills. These professional skills carry that name because, once obtained, they accompany you on each step of your career journey. Unlike technical skills that may become obsolete or are role-specific, factors such as your work ethic, leadership abilities, communication, and time management skills are an asset in any role.

Soft skills alone cannot qualify you for a job but when paired with solid credentials, they can make you a much more attractive candidate for any job.

Make a commitment to continually develop and improve your soft skills and watch your career take off.