Soft skills: The key to getting and staying employed

Illustration of a handshake with soft skills listed in bubbles: communication, local language, small talk, negotiation, presentation skills, flexibility, accepting criticism, business etiquette, and leadership.

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Many newcomers, especially those who are experienced and were already senior employees back in their home countries, become confused when they are turned down for a job. Despite having all the credentials, technical training and years of experience, they fail due to a lack of “Canadian Experience”.

According to communication expert Nick Noorani, when employers look for “Canadian Experience”, what they are really looking for are soft skills. Soft skills predict whether you will be a good a fit for the company. These skills can also gauge if you will stay in the company for good.

What exactly are soft skills?

Soft skills are often mentioned interchangeably with “essential” or “transferrable” skills. However, soft skills relate more to the abilities of a person to interact with others and how they adapt to their work environment. These skills cannot be measured; they include intangible traits such as patience, positive attitude, and dependability. There are many soft skills. They range from communication skills to emotional intelligence.

Meanwhile, your technical know-how and credentials – such as your ability to draft construction plans, compute taxes, treat illness, or cook – are called hard skills. Hard skills are important because they equip you to actually perform your job correctly. However, in the Canadian context, employers place a higher value on soft skills because for them, “a candidate with the right hard skills but poor soft skills won’t be able to learn the soft skills required quickly enough. But a person with the right soft skills has the potential to acquire any hard skills they may lack” (Nick Noorani, 9 Soft Skills No Immigrant Should be Without, p. 3).

So which soft skills should you have?

The following are the nine important soft skills that Canadian employers are looking for based on Nick Noorani’s 9 Soft Skills No Immigrant Should be Without:

  1. Communication skills – English and French are Canada’s official languages. Your proficiency in either (or both) of these languages is vital to becoming a productive member of the work force. This involves not only verbal communication skills but listening, speaking and reading skills as well. In addition, Nick Noorani suggests learning non-verbal cues. These are accepted body language, such as looking into a person’s eyes when you speak to show respect.
  2. Local language – this refers both to business language as well as the unique language used in Canada. Learning the jargon specific to your profession will help you understand and perform your job better. Meanwhile, learning “Can-speak” will help you fit into the community.
  3. Presentation skills – the ability to present well and speak to groups indicate confidence. Good presenters are also seen as prospective leaders. Read: 5 steps to an engaging presentation.
  4. Small talk – this is a common practice in Canadian workplaces. Participating in friendly banter is an opportunity to exchange pleasantries with co-workers (and the boss). It also indicates that you want to belong. People usually talk about the weather, sports, current events – or any topic that is not too personal. Read: 5 big ideas for better small talk.
  5. Leadership and initiative – this means stepping up and being proactive about your career. Examples are initiating or taking the lead in a project, or raising a suggestion or an idea to make work more efficient. These tasks require that you become a more assertive team player.
  6. Conflict resolution and negotiation – this requires having the following soft skills: being open minded, diplomatic, and knowing how to negotiate.
  7. Accepting constructive criticism – nobody’s perfect! Learning to accept constructive criticism graciously will help you become a better employee, even a better person in the long run. It can be hard, but remember that everything is a learning opportunity.
  8. Flexibility – this means being open to change and showing your willingness to adapt. This does not only mean adapting to Canadian culture, but to the rapid pace of change of technology and various business processes as well.
  9. Business etiquette – Learning proper business etiquette – handshaking, eye contact, and having the right demeanor (smiling, greeting people pleasantly, etc.) and being polite- is the key to making a good impression.

Before applying for a job, you can read 10 ways newcomers can be job-ready by Murali Murthy from Canadian Immigrant Magazine. The article will show you how to effectively communicate to prospective employers that you have the necessary soft skills when you are writing your resume or answering questions in a job interview.

9 Soft Skills No Immigrant Should be Without is adapted with the permission of the author Nick Noorani.

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Community Resources

You can also download Nick Noorani’s 9 Soft Skills No Immigrant Should be Without from the Prepare for Canada site for a practical guide and reference.

Read the article How to excel in your new job and watch Dr. Lionel Laroche’s video (“How to Succeed in Canada”) to know more about soft skills.

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Soft skills: The key to getting and staying employed

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