Why ‘Soft Skills’ Can Be Hard Work

Soft skills are an increasing focus for many companies. These skills include communication, leadership, management, collaboration, adaptability, and emotional intelligence, among others. Soft skills are necessary in most jobs, particularly as you move up the ladder into supervising others and managing complex projects as a team leader or manager.

Most people possess some soft skills naturally or have developed them over time through experience, but many have weaknesses in some areas of soft skills and need help to develop them. For many, soft skills development can be hard work that takes considerable time and effort to develop.

Soft Skills are Deeply Ingrained

Once you are an adult who has had training for your current career, many of the behaviors that encompass soft skills have become ingrained in your personality and way of interacting in the workplace. Some of those behaviors will help your career performance or advancement, while others may be counterproductive and need to be changed to avoid being obstacles to your career.

The good news is that according to research, soft skills can be learned, or in the case of unwanted behaviors, unlearned. Behavioral scientists have managed to break the usual soft skills down into teachable pieces that can be reinforced in a classroom format through role play and practice. With an investment of time and effort, the vast majority of people can build their soft skills in ways that will advance their careers and help them be more effective at work.

Skills Assessments

Employers are increasingly using skills assessments to supplement interviews and resumes when hiring, and some of these assessments measure soft skills. Whether with a formal assessment or feedback from an instructor, assessing your soft skills is the first step to knowing how to build them.

Skills assessments can help you maximize your skill-building because you will know how to best determine where to spend your time and energy so you will not be trying to build skills you already have, but will be targeting your weak areas that need the most help.

Teaching Soft Skills

One of the best ways to teach soft skills is to use examples and situations that employees are likely to face. Seeing these situations play out in commonly ineffective ways and then compared with more effective ones that make use of soft skills will show the benefits of having good soft skills in the workplace as well as showing what effective soft skills look like in practical, hands-on ways.

Role-play is extremely effective in practicing soft skills and gives students a way to try out different behaviors without actually having to put workplace relationships and circumstances to the test right away. By role-playing under the close supervision of the instructor, students can learn what works and what doesn’t work as well before they get into a workplace situation where those soft skills are needed (or at least before the next time).

For information on training that teaches soft skills contact Christa Sterling at 860-832-2277 or csterling@ccsu.edu.

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Improve Your Emotional Intelligence to Further Your Career

Emotional intelligence can be important to your career in many different ways. Those who score high on a scale measuring emotional intelligence make on average $29,000 more a year than those who don’t, so anything you can do to improve this trait could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of your career.

Some people seem to be born with emotional intelligence, but fortunately, it is possible to develop the traits that make up this larger one. The first step is learning about emotional intelligence and determining your strengths and weaknesses in that area.

Emotional Intelligence: The Basics

The first step to emotional intelligence is self-awareness. Those who are self-aware understand their own thoughts and feelings, which gives them the information they need to know why they act the way they do in certain situations. Improving your emotional intelligence also starts with self-awareness because you can’t improve until you understand what’s going on in your mind and heart.

Self-awareness leads to social awareness, which is an understanding of other people’s thoughts and emotions. If you don’t understand why other people are doing what they’re doing, you will be at a disadvantage in figuring out how to communicate with them on their level. Some social awareness comes with time and experience, but it can be taught as well.

Self-management is another part of EI, and it uses your self-understanding to direct your behavior in positive and constructive ways. Finally, relationship management is directing your interactions with others so that they are successful and productive rather than hurtful.

How to Improve Emotional Intelligence

The foundation of EI is understanding yourself, which requires time and thought, and sometimes professional help. Taking a course in EI will help you identify the emotions and thought patterns that drive your behavior and teach you how to journal about them if you wish to do so. If you come across any emotions or behaviors you don’t seem to be able to understand or negative patterns you can’t break, professional counseling may help give more insight.

Learning how to analyze your interactions with others will also help you improve your EI and adopt more advantageous ways of dealing with others, which will be of great benefit in the workplace where relationships are key. It may seem like emotions should have no place in business, but many interactions and decisions are driven by emotions and it is important to understand them and learn how to use them in constructive ways.

Improving your EI because it will help your career is a fine motivation, but greater EI will also make you happier in your personal life, too. It’s a win-win, and well worth working on through courses or other efforts.

CCSU offers many courses to improve your career prospects, including courses on emotional intelligence in the workplace. View our open courses to see how they can benefit your career.

Trends in Continuing Education and How They May Affect Your Career

Like so many things in today’s world, continuing education is continuing to change and evolve in order to be more effective at meeting the needs of those who use it. Many people pursue continuing education in order to enrich or improve their careers, keep skills updated, or pursue beneficial certifications. Trends in continuing education make it even more beneficial to its participants.

Online and Mobile Education

Students now expect online and mobile education platforms as options for continuing education because they have busy careers, children, and other things in their lives that limit their time and availability. The flexibility and convenience of these options make them preferrable to many people, and most continuing education programs could no longer survive without them.

Virtual Conferences

Not everyone can afford to go to conferences in their field that may require travel and hotel stays on top of the conference’s cost. Virtual conferences may be simulcast to many locations or available online, possibly on demand so they can be viewed at participants’ convenience. Networking, which is always an important part of any conference, can be accomplished through chatrooms and social media or email groups specialized to the conference.

Microlearning

Microlearning usually involves video content that is broken up into brief lessons rather than longer ones. Microlearning works well for those who are very busy and don’t have much time for continuing education as well as for those with certain learning styles that work better when learning in short bursts.

Open Courses

Sometimes called MOOCs (massive online open courses), these are typically open to anyone and provide basic information on a topic of interest. Many of them are offered free and only involve a cost if you want to earn a certificate or credential when the course is completed. Some MOOCs can involve thousands of students, so they can be a good option for some, but not for those who need extra help or modifications.

Customized Courses and Help for Those With Learning Disabilities

Courses with smaller enrollments can offer customized lesson plans to fit your needs and can often accommodate modifications for those with learning disabilities who need extra help. Customized courses target information that may be needed for a particular job and ensure that everything is in compliance with requirements that can be specific or different in different areas.

Self-Directed Learning

Similar to customized learning, self-directed learning can be both self-paced and allow each student to determine the learning objectives and outcomes that they most need. Self-directed learning also has the benefit of allowing students to pursue interests that not everyone shares, so that their learning objectives can be met.

CCSU offers many different kinds of continuing education courses that incorporate the latest trends and provide valuable skills to benefit a variety of careers. View open courses to see how CCSU continuing education courses can help you stay up to date or take your career to the next level.

How Continuing Education Helps You Get Ahead

You want your career trajectory to go in one direction–upwards. There are several things you can do to ensure that you keep moving onward and upward, and one of the most important is to pursue continuing education opportunities. You will never run out of courses you can take to enrich your skills, including those related to your career and soft skills that are necessary and transferrable to any job you have in any career.

Continuing Education–Is Your Employer Responsible?

Many employees see continuing education as something their employer should provide, but this is not typically the best way to approach your career. First of all, many employers can’t provide continuing education beyond the most basic training needed to complete daily tasks because their limited budgets don’t allow it.

Second, employers do not always choose the type of continuing education that will advance workers’ careers, either because they’re not interested in promoting from within or because they just don’t know that the worker wants to advance.  You really are not best served by letting your employer control your continuing education, but by self-directed planning that will be more likely to take you in the direction you want to go.

What Skills Do You Need?

When you invest in continuing education, one thing to consider is the skills you want to gain. Knowing where you want to go in your career will help you choose courses that will help you get there, whether it is more knowledge and skills in your field or other necessary skills.

There are all kinds of certificate programs and other courses that can augment or build your skills base in your field and create future opportunities to advance, be promoted or get other, better jobs. There are also courses that teach soft skills, which most employers now consider important criteria in the hiring process.

Interpersonal skills like communication are important for almost every career because of the level of collaboration required in today’s team environment. Other soft skills that are also required for career advancement in many fields are problem solving, evaluation and analysis, which are helpful in troubleshooting problems that occur during projects and maximizing effectiveness in getting them completed.

Continuing Education–More Than Just Advancing Your Skills

Besides advancing all kinds of skills, continuing education also has other benefits for career development as well. Taking courses gives you the opportunity to meet others in your field or other professional contacts that can be helpful to your career in many ways: support, mentorship, and referrals to new jobs, to name a few.

CCSU offers courses in many different career fields including certifications in project management, human resources management, and others. Courses in soft skills are also offered, along with enrichment courses related to many different hobbies that can offer work-life balance or a way to relax. To join the mailing list contact Christa Sterling at csterling@ccsu.edu

 

5 Reasons To Find Your Passion and Fuel Your Life & Career

Having a passion in your life for something good and worthwile is always beneficial, even if you wonder sometimes whether what you are doing matters in your life or those of others. You may already know what you are passionate about, or you may need to work on figuring it out some more.

1.  How Passion Helps Profession (Even When They Seem Unrelated)

Having passion for one thing always translates into other things because passion is exciting and contagious. It isn’t necessarily true that developing a passion will lead directly to a passion for your work, but it’s likely, and it will have positive results in some way, if not directly. Many people find that their passion for charity work or the outdoors or fashion or books–whatever it happens to be–translates into their work in several ways.

2.  Passion energizes you. When you have something in your life that you are passionate about, the energy your passion generates within you will come out in other ways, including in your work. After all, you spend more time at a full-time job than at almost any other thing in your life, except maybe sleeping (and often times, even that). Where else is energy generated by passion going to go, but into your work? At least some of it.

3.  Passion enlarges your perceptions. You begin to see more possibilities in different areas because of the passion in one area and how it changes your perspective on life. At work, this may mean being able to solve problems that stumped you before or just having a more positive attitude about work in general.

4.  Passion spreads joy. When you’re passionate about one thing, you tend to be happier and more joyful about everything in your life, including work.

5.  Passion makes you focused. When you have a passion you want to pursue outside of work, you may be more focused during working hours so work doesn’t cut into your outside passion through overtime or taking longer to get things done.

Your passion may even lead to a new career in that area as you desire to make your passion a bigger part of your life–or its main focus. But even if that doesn’t happen, there are plenty of other positive aspects of finding your passion.

One way to discover your passion is to take continuing education courses on topics that interest you. Continuing education isn’t just for career enrichment; CCSU offers many courses targeted to personal enrichment and interests outside your career. Join the mailing list by contacting Christa Sterling at csterling@ccsu.edu for updated information about everything we offer.

Professional Development Plus a Mentor Equals a Winning Combination

A mentor can be an important part of your career development plan and can work together with continuing education courses to help you reach your career goals for advancement and promotion. Having a mentor can help you with aspects of career development that you can’t accomplish on your own and can give you wise counsel that you couldn’t get otherwise.

Where to Find a Mentor

According to Chronus, more than 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies now have a mentoring program in place, and many smaller yet growing companies are following suit. Having a mentor from your workplace can be ideal in helping you figure out office culture and how to get ahead in your particular area. If there is no formal mentoring program at your company, you can suggest it to human resources as a good program to start, or you can try to find your own mentor informally.

When choosing a mentor, look carefully at people who are already doing the job you aspire to do in the future, and who you admire for their work habits and personal qualities. Look for someone well-respected by others and that has a good reputation both in their workplace and outside it.

If your company doesn’t have a suitable mentor, look elsewhere within your field. Just be sure not to reveal any private company information to a mentor if they work for one of your company’s competitors. While most mentors will treat such revelations ethically, it’s best not to take the chance that you might have misjudged someone or that you just don’t know them as well as you think.

You can also find a mentor at professional conferences or continuing education courses that you take for professional development. Having a mentor and taking courses to further your education is a powerful combination for a few reasons.

How Mentors and Courses Complement Each Other

Professional development courses offer the latest information on the topic they cover and are meant to keep your skills and knowledge up to date. A mentor can be someone to share information with and can be a sounding board for what you’re learning in a course, and can also give you a different perspective at time from their own experiences.

A mentor can also help you set goals and hold you accountable, including goals for continuing your education more formally with an advanced degree, certificate, or courses. Most mentors take a personal interest in your successes and want to see you advance in your career. If they didn’t want this, they wouldn’t bother to be a mentor in the first place.

Both mentors and professional development courses can help you grow in your field, and together their effects are compounded to be even more than each one would be alone.

CCSU offers continuing education courses in a wide variety of career fields, some of which can lead to certifications or be used to satisfy continuing education requirements imposed by employers. Join our mailing list for information on our upcoming courses and available offerings.

Hard Data on ‘Soft’ Skills Learned in Professional Development

It is extremely rare that any employee has sufficient technical or professional skill to excuse them from the need for so-called “soft” skills like a positive communication style. Whatever your profession, you can safely assume that you will have more success if your technical skills are accompanied by excellent soft skills like listening ability, professional courtesy, and emotional intelligence.

Seventy-seven percent of employers in a CareerBuilder study said they valued soft skills as much as technical skills, and 16 percent said they valued soft skills even more. Soft skills are important to 93 percent of employers, according to this study, and should not be ignored in your career development.

Some people seem to be born with soft skills. They naturally relate well to people, communicate effectively, and people just like them. While having soft skills can be a natural thing for some, there is still hope for you, even if you are not the type of person who has natural people skills.

Soft Skills Employers Want

The soft skill most in demand by today’s employers is outstanding communication with colleagues and customers. Poor communication causes many problems in the workplace and is way too common a problem for many employers. Without good communication, misunderstandings occur that may cause mistakes, hurt professional relationships, and in general, get in the way of work being done. Employers know that there is a relationship between communication skills and productivity that can’t be ignored.

Leadership ability is another soft skill highly sought by employers, who want to promote from within when they can. Knowing how to lead a team, even when you aren’t the official leader, is a valuable soft skill that helps get the job done.

Other soft skills employers look for when hiring include time management, flexibility, professionalism, and motivation. Organizational skills are highly sought-after as well. These skills make a big difference in how work is accomplished and can mean the difference between know what you’re doing in a job and actually getting the job done.

Soft Skills Can Be Learned

Fortunately, many continuing education and professional development courses address these critical soft skills, which are just as important to maintain as technical skills. If soft skills don’t come naturally to you, there are ways to develop them so your lack of soft skills doesn’t hold you back in your career and make it harder for you to succeed.

Courses in soft skills may involve not only the presentation of information, but also modeling, role playing, and other techniques that allow you to see these skills in action and develop them yourself. As you learn more about these skills and their importance, you will want to add them to your growing skill set in order to make yourself a more valuable employee.

Soft skills courses are offered at CCSU for personal and professional development. To join the mailing list contact Christa Sterling at csterling@ccsu.edu.

 

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