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The essential skills for high performers

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The skills you’re learning while you study will be important for doing your job when you start your career. But there are other key skills that you’ll need to thrive in working life.

During your further studies, you’re learning ‘what’ you need to know to do your job. These skills, like accounting, programming or human resources, are known as technical skills. However, some of the most valuable skills you’ll need to succeed in the workplace are ‘how’ to do your job, or Human skills (otherwise known as soft skills/people skills).

Knowing how to navigate and solve complex challenges and work with people from diverse backgrounds is almost more important than having the technical skills to do your job. High performing companies have shifted focus from traditional capabilities and put more emphasis on human skills like self-awareness, communication and resilience. The prediction is that 67% of jobs will require well developed human skills in the next decade. This change in focus reflects the skills that will be required in the rapidly changing world of work caused by huge advancements in technology and automation, and companies knowing that humans solving complex problems together is the best way to remain profitable.

Teamwork will always be important in large organisations. Recently, new ways of working have emerged, Agile teams that are multi-disciplinary, relatively small and project oriented. Working productively as, for example, an accountant in a team beside an engineer, production expert and marketer on a new product design requires different attitudes and approaches than working with 10 fellow accountants preparing an audit. In the Agile world, the quality of your accounting qualifications is just as important as knowing how to play the game to help your cross-functional team perform at a high level. It doesn’t matter how qualified you are if you can’t work with others to get the job done.

Let’s look at an example of how soft skills come into play in the workplace. Paul completed a business degree three years ago and is working as a business analyst at a large insurance company. In a recent discussion with his manager, Paul was given feedback that his ability to deal with change had limited his performance and, subsequently, his potential for further reward and promotion. His manager provided several examples where Paul’s documentation had been outstanding, but he became difficult to work with and at times had responded with anger when the requirements changed. Paul felt lost and confused because while he knew that he was not great with change, he didn’t know what he could do about it. No one had ever told him that this would be important at work. Paul committed to learning about how to better respond to ambiguity and change. The result was that Paul was able to empathise with his work mates when requirements changed and he was able to better respond in a positive, proactive way.

Some of the most common human skills you’ll need in the workplace include:

· Dealing with rapid change and “not knowing” yet still achieving results
· Self-awareness so you can quickly use your strengths and know how to work with your weaknesses
· Communicating your ideas so they get heard and you feel like you are contributing
· Being able to work through conflict and with people very different to you
· Delivering on your commitments when there are many things to focus on at once

Mastering these skills takes many years, and in fact will be a constant evolution for many people. But having a basic understanding and awareness of them will improve your inter-personal skills and better position you to become a high performer.

You can expect to work with many different types of people and teams even in the one company. Getting started on developing your human skills while you study will help you be better prepared for the changing word of work and ability to succeed and grow when you get there.