Burning Glass Technologies research shows that those who possess so-called soft skills are more likely to rake in more hard cash. But a couple things are not so clear: What exactly are soft skills? And which ones are most needed in particular careers – such as sales careers, for example?

Whether you are looking for a sales job or a student anticipating entering the workplace, it helps to think of soft skills as foundational knowledge. We’re talking about writing, for example, as well as the ability to organize, manage time properly and even build relationships. Creativity is another “soft” baseline skill.

However you define these skills, our research shows employers want them and are having a difficult time finding enough people who possess them. (For a broader look at baseline skills, read our report, The Human Factor: The Hard Time Employers Have Finding Soft Skills).

In sales careers, for example, it’s not surprising that the most-sought soft skill is the ability to communicate. Number two is customer service, followed by organizational skills, writing and at No. 5, the ability to build effective relationships. Rounding out the top 10 are the ability to work in the Word and Office suite, problem solving, computer skills and typing, Microsoft Excel and, at No. 10, time management.

Top 10 Baseline Skills in Sales Careers

  1. Communication skills
  2. Customer Service
  3. Organizational skills
  4. Writing
  5. Building Effective Relationships
  6. Microsoft Word/Office
  7. Problem Solving
  8. Computer Skills/Typing
  9. Microsoft Excel
  10. Time Management

Another way to look at these issues is to consider the gaps – meaning, the difference between what employers want and what they’re getting. The less they’re getting, the bigger the gap. One way to get a sense of this is to pay attention to job postings. When employers devote sizeable space in postings to ask for base­line skills, it suggests that these skills are highly valued and under-supplied.

To accurately assess whether a gap exists and to get a sense of the gap’s mag­nitude, we compared how often employers requested the skill in ads against it’s the skill’s importance as measured by O*NET job profiles, a federally sponsored industrial-organizational occupa­tional inventory.

In sales the biggest gap is time management, which makes sense. Salespeople often work independently, they’re always juggling leads and now many must learn and use Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools. While CRM systems can save time and make salespeople more effective, they are also “one more thing” the salesperson has to do, and they must be learned. Doing all this efficiently can make a huge difference.

Our research also shows that writing has the largest overall gap among the baseline skills studies in our report. Writing is in consistently high demand across all kinds of jobs, including occupations that are not typically thought of as requiring the ability to put words together coherently and persuasively. It is the second-most-requested baseline skill for Engineering and IT occupations, for example, and even among so-called “low skill” jobs our research shows it comes in fourth.

Communication, writing and organizational skills are commonly requested across nearly all jobs families and skill levels. They are the top three requested baseline skills overall and fall in the top five skills for every occupation family.

So whether you’re in sales or are pursuing another career path, remember that soft skills count.

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