Show Your “Soft” Side on Your Résumé

Dear, Anita,

I recently heard the term “adaptive skills” and that I should add these to my résumé. What are they, exactly?

Dear, Mad Skillz,

In human resources jargon, an adaptive skill is a general skill necessary to succeed at any job. More commonly referred to as “soft skills,” these are subjective personal qualities and abilities that are more difficult to quantify than “hard skills” or such job-specific occupational skills as typing speed, forklift certification, or event management, to give a random sampling. Sometimes there is a third category – transferable skills, which are abilities you can perform in different environments. Think of it this way:
– Soft Skills are “I AM” skills such as reliability, cooperation,  positive attitude, and friendliness.
– Hard Skills are “I KNOW” skills such as web design, foreign languages, or accounting practices.
– Transferable Skills are “I CAN” skills such as researching, teaching, or budgeting.
To pinpoint adaptive abilities you can boast about, check out this expansive list of soft skills at About Careers.

Soft skills concept on whiteMany soft skills are more visible in the interview process, but you have to actually land that interview to show off your enthusiasm, verbal communication skills, or artistic flair. A cover letter may be the best place to highlight those nebulous adaptive skills. Some companies don’t read cover letters though.  While you definitely want to hit the hard skills the employer is looking for when you tailor your résumé, be sure to include soft skills here too. Whenever possible, back up soft skills with hard facts. Quantify your accomplishments using time frames, number of people, and/or dollar amounts.  If you are highly persuasive person applying for a sales job, tell the story with some statistics about how many signatures you got on a recent community petition. Work well under pressure? Outline some specific project deadlines that you met or exceeded.  Did your attention to detail uncover an invoicing discrepancy that saved your company thousands of dollars? Boast about it on paper!

While the hard skills may be the first criteria an HR manager will evaluate, backing up specific job proficiencies with your soft skills may give you an edge in the hiring game.

Readers: How do you best highlight your soft skills on your résumé? Paste your best résumé blurb in the “Leave a Reply” area below.

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sharron
    Nov 03, 2014 @ 16:15:06

    I’m trying to work out who to use as a referee. As some places ask for two and others three. I am qualified in early childhood (previous position) and primary teaching. I need work and am applying for anything in these two area’s.
    Referee for EC I have but I have limited experience in Primary only starting casual teaching this year and moving from school to school.
    Any suggestions of how to work out some referees?


    • anitaclew
      Nov 03, 2014 @ 16:30:06

      If you are looking for references, think of anyone with whom you have worked and had positive interaction while teaching this year. College professors may also serve as good references. In a pinch, a family friend in the business community could also testify to your character.


  2. Sharron
    Nov 03, 2014 @ 16:11:49

    I was made redundant after four years with one company. (As there are less then 15 employees there is no payout). Not many people know this clause. I have to move on I need to work out a resume.


  3. Tiffany Lieu
    Oct 07, 2014 @ 12:07:23

    I did not even know we have transferable skills category existing till now. Prior reading this article, I was somewhat familiar with soft skills but not enough though. The definition on adaptive skills helped me to understand better. The way I put my resume together over the years has been pretty much hard skills most of the time and some transferable skills terms that I did not know were transferable skills. I wonder whether transferable skills terms might have at times looked too generic to some employers. They often have a typical resume detail look.


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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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