How can I develop my soft skills for a finance job?
“Soft skills” is a pretty misleading name; for most, developing them can be as hard as it gets. Getting a job in finance is no longer solely dependent on your technical expertise, analytical skills, and education—although these are still essential!
The financial environment is changing rapidly. New systems have emerged which make the day-to-day activities of a finance worker more effective and efficient. The only downside of this is that these fancy new systems have reduced the number of finance jobs available—which is not good news.
So, finance employers are looking for more from their prospective employees. In order to keep up, those wanting a finance job need to develop their soft skills in order to stay competitive.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills refer to a bunch of personal qualities, habits, attitudes and social graces that make someone a good employee who can work well with colleagues and clients. Finance companies value soft skills because research suggests, and experience shows, that they can be just as important as an indicator of job performance as hard skills.
Unlike hard skills, which are about your technical ability and expertise at performing a certain type of task or activity, soft skills relate to your ability to interact and communicate, think differently and bring new ideas to the table.
Some examples of soft skills are:
How can I develop my soft skills?
This is where the hard work comes in because, unless you’re naturally born with these skills, they can take a bit of work to polish up.
Pretty easy to guess what this skill is about! It’s your ability to articulate your thoughts, provide information, respond to others and challenge them.
How do you get it? Use any opportunity to practice presentations, either in seminars at university, or at a club or society you are part of. Ask for feedback and then do it again! Put yourself in situations where you are forced to talk to new people, such as open days, part-time jobs, or networking events.
Flexibility is your ability to react to dramatically changing situations in a short space of time and adapt to meet new needs. This makes you valuable!
How do you get it? Read widely around the financial sector and get to know the business as a whole; this stops you getting blinkered. With this know-how you can be prepared for any area of finance you might be placed in.
If you’ve got good initiative you can independently and instinctively provide fresh ideas and approaches to the way things are done. Don’t just accept the status quo!
How do you get it? This is one of the easier skills to develop. If you have a part time job at a bar you could suggest a way to serve customers faster. You can also show initiative by organizing overseas work during holidays. Doing something outside of normal life is the key.
A very important skill if you want to soar up the financial ladder to managerial positions. Finance employers are looking for people who can lead by example, by being self-motivated, positive, and excellent team-members. It’s all about striking that fine balance between knowing when to follow instructions and when to show initiative.
How do you get it? This can be harder to gain exposure to. However, it can be developed in leading a sports team, driving a project in a part-time or voluntary job or starting a society at university. Any situation where you are driving the vision will give you those crucial leadership skills.
This goes hand in hand with leadership. It is the ability to build (and maintain) relationships with your colleagues. You need to be able to share knowledge and skills, work with other people and know what each person can contribute. It is about bringing out the best in those around you—not just showing off your own skills.
How do you get it? We all work in team situations, whether in part-time jobs, sports teams or group presentations. Think about what you did that made that team succeed and what held it back.
Last but not least, this skill is essential in setting you apart. It means going beyond the status quo and, to coin a well used cliché, “thinking outside the box”. It allows you to solve problems and make changes, and relies on your initiative.
How do you get it? This is a harder skill to develop, but by reading magazines, journals and articles, and keeping up-to-date with the financial field, you can find out what’s changing and how. Engage with creative hobbies, pose new questions, and learn about things outside finance. By thinking creatively in activities outside of finance, you’ll start to think in ways which could one day be applicable to your future career!