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Developing the Soft Skills Needed to Succeed Anywhere

By Loren Germann-McClain
Senior Academic Advisor II, School of STEM

As you browse your academic plan, you may be wondering why your program requires courses based on soft skills. For example, a few of these courses are HRMT101 – Human Relation Communication and MGMT101 – Principles of Supervision.

The reason for these course requirements is that technical skills (hard skills) alone are not enough to be successful in career growth. According to a 2019 survey by LinkedIn, 57% of senior leaders say that “soft skills are more important than hard skills.”

The Five Essential Soft Skills

“Soft skills help you communicate better in your chosen field. Keep in mind that when you start your courses, they are designed to help expand your knowledge and allow you to open yourself up to other worldviews. Going to college helps you gather a variety of information and skills, and soft skills are simply one part of that,” explains Cynthia Goldfish, an Academic Advisor for the School of Security and Global Studies.

There are five soft skills needed to help you succeed at any job – creativity, self-advocacy, adaptability, communication and collaboration, and critical thinking. Here’s why they matter.


Being able to think “outside the box” allows you to bring new perspectives into the workplace. The ability to come up with a new idea or a new way to solve a problem demonstrates that you are able to step outside of your comfort zone and implement one of many possible solutions to a problem.

Taking risks is scary, because there is the possibility that you may fail. However, there is success in failure. You didn’t fail; you simply found one way that didn’t work.


Ryan Word, an Academic Advisor for the School of STEM, encourages students to be self-advocates in their success. He says, “When you learn to advocate for your own needs, you become more independent. As Academic Advisors, we are here to help you and provide you with the resources you will need to succeed.”

The Academic Advising department is always eager to hear about your goals and interests. The more information you share with us about your goals, the better able we are to provide you with resources tailored to help you achieve those goals.  

Andrea Peer, an Account Manager at VanderHouwen, explains that “for the people who have little to no experience advocating for themselves at work, it can be overwhelming and anxiety-producing. Don’t worry; you don’t have to go for the big stuff the first time around. Instead, start with a small but meaningful change.”

Self-reflect and think of a small change at work that can better serve you and help you grow your skillset. For example, do you want to tackle the design and layout of the PowerPoint presentation in order to aid a group project? Ask to do so; use your voice to advocate for yourself in order to showcase your skills.


Being able to adapt quickly to workplace alterations is essential for navigating today’s ever-changing environment. Sometimes you may encounter unusual circumstances or a project that has no explicit instructions. As a result, you’ll need to have enough confidence to make tough judgment calls and decisions.

Maintaining a positive outlook and demeanor can be the spark that leads others to make the conscious decision to look at the pros of any given situation, instead of focusing on the negative aspects. Adapting to change may not be easy, but having a positive perspective can help yourself and others understand the situation and work on solutions as objectively as possible.

Adaptability means you can work without boundaries and open up to finding diverse and unexpected solutions to challenges. Did you make a mistake? Own up to it.

While making a mistake is only human, managing the aftermath and learning from your mistake counts and will help improve your adaptability. Retain what you’ve discovered in order to identify trends or make applicable decisions for the next time a similar situation arises.

Communication and Collaboration

As a student of an online university, you may encounter group projects in your courses. These types of projects are not designed to give you a headache, but are intended to help you develop communication and collaboration skills. As technology grows more complex, effective communication and collaboration will become even more important.

Lucas Miller, Founder of Echelon Copy, LLC, explained in a 2017 Entrepreneur article that the some of the reasons why people are fired does not come from productivity issues, but rather the lack of soft skills. Miller quoted Tayeb Malik, the founder and CEO of Glydr:“Communication is vital in any relationship, not least that between an employee and boss. Even in today’s tech-heavy workplace, the most important communication is still done face-to-face.”

Despite today’s pandemic environment, “in-person” communication is still a major consideration that needs to be addressed, even if that means your communication is via video conference in the evolving work landscape.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a skill and not an automatic thought process. The ability to think critically allows you to analyze a concept objectively, while taking into consideration differing perspectives and using empirical evidence to reach a logical and sound conclusion. Critical thinkers bring valued, creative solutions to the workplace. Here are a few ways to strengthen your critical thinking skills:

  • Ask questions and gather information.
  • Use all available data in order to evaluate the situation from multiple angles.
  • Keep the goal in mind as you brainstorm.
  • Consider both short- and long-term implications of a potential solution.
  • Collaborate and gather feedback from others – keep in mind that different backgrounds will generate different perspectives.

Not only does critical thinking help you solve workplace problems, but it also teaches you how to be an effective communicator. Being able to gather evidence and evaluate it is only part of the battle. Once you have appropriate talking points and evidence to back up your idea, you then have to consider how to communicate an effective proposal. These conversations can further cultivate new ideas, but you have to be able to critically think about and apply this new information in order to make an effective decision for all those who are involved.

Soft Skills May Be Harder to Learn, But They Are Vital to Your Career Success

Soft skills, on a whole, are harder to learn, while technical skills can be mastered with practice and over time. Soft skills are linked to your character and personality, so it will take a conscientious effort and a commitment to develop them. 

Ultimately, the modern workplace values soft skills such as collaboration, communication, creativity and adaptability. The proficiency you bring to the workplace leads to a more effective, productive and healthy work environment.

If you have questions regarding why you see a particular soft skills course on your academic plan, ask your Academic Advising team. They will be able to explain what the course is about, and how it applies to your program and potential career field.

Loren Germann-McClain is currently in her second year as a Senior Academic Advisor II with the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). She holds an M.A. in English – Rhetoric and Composition from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, as well as an M.A. in English Literature from Southern New Hampshire University. Loren previously worked in human resources and public relations at a public library in Indiana, where she helped develop a project to bring mental health first aid and awareness to public and academic libraries across the state. She has earned grants to help develop coding programs for school-age children and develop free, extracurricular activities to help align with the Indiana State standards for computer science, technology, and coding. Her work has helped empower Hoosier students to be equipped with the critical and computational problem-solving skills they will need in order to succeed in a digitally powered and ever-evolving world.

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