The Hidden Value of ‘Soft Skills’ for Veterans in the Workplace

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(U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Gabriela Keiser)

When you research leadership, management, entrepreneurship and executive skills, you'll find a long list of competencies to help you advance in the private sector. Called “hard skills,” they include proficiencies in such areas as project management, data analysis, marketing, computer programming and presentation expertise, and they’re in high demand by employers.

But what about soft skills? These qualities aren’t technical or competency-based, so are they valuable as well? Yes!

Let’s look at some of the most important soft skills and how they can boost to career success:

Empathy

Empathy, or the ability to understand the feelings of others, is valuable in the workplace. After the COVID pandemic, employees struggle with return-to-the-office rules, increasing pressure to perform, and balancing work and home. Bringing empathy to work means you can relate to your peers and teams with more compassion and patience, seeing them as human beings with emotions and needs.

Self-awareness

This one is tricky because most people consider themselves self-aware, but few truly are. To be in touch with who you are and how you are means to fully comprehend your strengths and weaknesses, to grasp how your behavior and communication affect others, and to intentionally seek to grow and learn. Are you clear about your motives and feelings in all situations? When you can increase your self-awareness, you can amplify positive interactions with others.

Emotional intelligence

Also known as “EI”, this soft skill is like self-awareness in that you have a keen sense of your intentions and motives. But EI also refers to your ability to modulate your emotions to be responsive and empathetic to those around you. When you have strong emotional intelligence, you’re able to read the room, pivot and adjust your message based on how you’re being received. You’re more sensitive and responsive to the needs and emotions of others.

Growth mindset

A growth mindset is one of the most powerful soft skills. When you have a growth mindset, you’re able to see the potential in situations, people and processes. You’re not focused on limitations. A growth mindset asks, “What if?” instead of insisting something can’t be done. A person with a growth mindset embraces learning, resilience, and possibilities where others might see restrictions and obstacles.

Active listening

Active listening goes beyond just hearing what someone tells you. Instead, you seek to understand all that’s being communicated. Someone skilled at active listening will push past initial assumptions and conclusions about what they believe they’re being told. They will be fully engaged in the meaning of what’s being shared.

Some signals that indicate active listening is taking place include offering verbal feedback (such as saying “I get that” or “tell me more”), non-verbal feedback (such as head nodding in agreement), and deferring judgment. These characteristics are valued in today’s work environment so colleagues can fully understand what’s being communicated and push biases and presumptions aside.

Adaptability

As a veteran, you likely have this trait! Throughout your military career, you learned to adjust, pivot, modulate and adapt to new environments, systems, people and assignments. Leverage this soft skill to show how you can adapt to new roles, situations and people in your civilian career, too.

Creativity

To think creatively means to imagine alternative solutions. A solely analytical approach to a problem could leave out the human element. But a creative worker thinks about how to solve problems so everyone wins and feels good about the outcome.

As you build your skills toolkit for the military-to-civilian transition, spend time brushing up on the soft skills that employers, coworkers and clients find valuable.

The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty” (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication, and reputation risk management.

A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.

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