How and why your soft skills matter

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Kevin Yousie, Assistant Professor of Strategic Management at UTM.

I wasn’t very involved in high school. Actually, I was (and still am) an introvert. I drew energy from creating time for myself, which in high school meant whenever I was off work and out of school because I didn’t see the value in extra-curricular activities.

For those of you who know me now, you know that my attitude with regards to extra-curricular activities has changed. I had a real wake-up call when I started university and found that being a well-rounded person can often go further than just having top-notch grades.

Not only do employers value people who pursue their passions outside of school, but as an individual you need to balance school/work with some fun if you want to avoid burning out. Further, activities outside of school can be the most enjoyable and memorable experiences you take away from your university experience. They can enhance your personal and professional development, too.

After realizing that, I started putting in a conscious effort to expand my social circle, and taking part in extracurriculars. At first it was a little uncomfortable to go out of my comfort zone of keeping to myself but slowly I made new friends. This included my mentors and LAUNCH leader, who introduced me to great experiences on campus.

If you think about it, the cycle is never-ending. In most cases, involved and “successful” people have had someone help them along the way and, in turn, they give back by assisting the next (younger) cohort.

This focus of working towards improving my social skills came from a place of identifying my weaknesses, and wanting to seem like a well-rounded person. Also, because I wanted to have fun during my time at school.

Having great grades cannot be overemphasized but there’s something to be said for having strong soft skills that draw people to you when there are equally qualified candidates.

The term “soft skills” is a misnomer. The connotation of the deceptive term implies that these skills are easier to acquire over “hard skills” or technical training. It is important to differentiate that technical knowledge can easily be learned. However, people skills are things that are more difficult (but not impossible) to acquire – as in my case.

Abe Patricio, senior project manager at Stantec and a guest and panelist at a recent Management conference, said something that I have been thinking about since. To paraphrase, he mentioned that most people in life will fall on a bell curve. Most people end up doing well or average by society’s standards. Some fall below the average, and a few lucky ones manage to push through, exceed standards, and do extremely well.

What you’ll find, however, is that exceptional performers aren’t very different from average folks. The difference being that exceptional people make and take advantage of opportunities as they come, and develop themselves personally and professionally in order to be qualified for the next step when the opportunity presents itself.

Sometimes luck plays a role when it comes to finding work or the next opportunity, but I think we can make our own luck as well by working towards things we want to achieve and letting things work out as they will. Your transferable or people skills can have a huge effect on the outcome.

Sean McGuckin, former CFO of Scotiabank and the keynote speaker at the Management conference, left me with this:

“You’ll need to continue to work on your soft skills, including leadership, curiosity, and being a team player.”

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Sean McGuckin, former CFO of Scotiabank, and the keynote speaker.

People prefer to work with others that they like. Take, for example, randomly assigned group work. I am relieved when I read the name of someone that I know will pull their weight of the work, and someone whose personality I can work with.

How are you being perceived? What do people really think about you? These are tough questions to ask and answer, but people skills also tie into personal brand and how you come across to others.

Be confident that you are presenting your best self and be honest enough with yourself to know and work on things that you want to improve.

Now that I am wrapping up my last weeks in undergrad, I can tell you that I’ve come a long way from the person I was, but I’m still a work-in-progress. And that’s okay! Make the necessary changes, meet people, and have fun doing it.

Who knows? You might find yourself on the upper end of the curve.

Sarah Girgis,
University of Toronto Mississauga, Class of 2019
B.Comm. Accounting Specialist, Economics Major

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