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The soft side of your CV

“being smart will mean something completely different”

Harvard Business Review

Don’t get me wrong, it will be a long time (if ever) that a double first from Oxbridge fails to be a “stand-out” on the CV but the new world won’t just judge you on your educational grades but also on your ability to prove that you can adapt your current skills to any situation.

The Soft Approach

“Soft skills get little respect but will make or break your career”

Peggy Klaus

Transferable or portable skills are the most usual words to describe these abilities that you can sell to employers regardless of the job or industry you are applying to but before you dig them out and dust them off, you need to establish what they are and how they apply to you.

There are no definitive categories (only communication being omnipresent), and they are endlessly mutated, (even the National Careers Service is re-building its web page on the subject) the most useful site that we have found is  a well-thought-out jargon-free approach, full of useful advice.

A Transferable Skill Checklist

  • Concentration
  • Discrimination
  • Organisation
  • Innovation
  • Communication


The action or power of focusing all one’s attention –  includes listening skills, understanding and carrying out instructions, performing clerical and administrative tasks and learning new procedures


The ability to recognise and understand the difference between one thing and another - includes assessing your own and others’ performances and providing constructive criticism of people, jobs and situations


The quality of being systematic and efficient – includes coordinating your own actions and those of others, motivating yourself and others, leading, delegating and collaborating


The introduction of a new method, idea or product – includes researching, setting goals, generating and developing ideas or policies


The successful conveying and sharing of ideas and information – includes internal and external negotiating, persuading and influencing, problem solving, languages, developing relationships and being a team player

Understanding your relationship with these skills is vital and the more tools in the box, the more useful you are and the wider you can cast your net. In some areas, you will already be up to speed, but there are others which you will be able to work on even if they seem daunting, to begin with. Most of this is a combination of common sense and confidence, and one skill often leads naturally to another.

The Soft Sell

Even the most intelligent websites fall into the trap of advising you to describe yourself as “a pro-active, dynamic, self-motivated team player”, which can mean precisely nothing and just put you into the same box as every other would be employee. Instead, identify your strengths and describe them in your own words making sure that you emphasise the ones that each employer is likely to consider important for your new role.

The hard or technical skills needed for a particular job will always be essential, but increasingly employers are looking for the added value that you can bring from the skills learnt in education, employment and life experiences.

The secret as Peggy Klaus expressed in her prescient 2004 book “Brag! The art of tooting your own horn without blowing it” is to demonstrate that you can deal with a wide range of work situations without resorting to buzz words to make your point.


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