What are soft skills?

About our writer

Emilia Persson is a current undergraduate of Cambridge University reading HSPS (Human, Social, and Political Science), and is an alumnus of the Cambridge Immerse 2014 Summer Programme where she studied the International Relations course.

The ability to interact with other people can be the difference between success and failure in education and later life. Soft skills, otherwise known as ‘transferable skills’  are the character traits that enable such interaction to be positive and efficient. These skills are innumerable but include body language, eye contact, personal habits, friendliness, use of language, optimism, time management, organisational skills, confidence and leadership.

These skills are often innate for some people. However, for those who are shy or lacking in confidence, soft skills can be taught and acquired in order to achieve success at university and beyond.

The basis of excellence in education, of course, lies in hard skills. Hard skills are professional competencies that are based in fact such as grades, languages spoken, experience and computer skills. Hard skills form the basis of a successful student but soft skills make the student flourish. Hard skills are the what and soft skills are the how. Often hard skills are not enough to excel and succeed; having the technical capacity to perform well must be accompanied by an interpersonal skillset and a certain mentality.

The courses at top universities are so intensive that having strong organisational skills is imperative in meeting the incessant deadlines and preparing efficiently and diligently for the next task. Furthermore, tutorial environments necessitate good “people skills” – indeed, at interview, tutors often look beyond pure scholastic competency and look for a teachable candidate with whom they can discuss and explore their subject. Finally, confidence and leadership are two invaluable soft skills in order to thrive at university and in later life. A student must be independent and able to discover new elements of a subject, case, text or rule- and it requires a certain level of self-confidence and the courage to push their scholarly endeavours beyond the syllabus and reading lists.

So, how can you acquire these soft skills and succeed at university? The key is practice.

Communicating with people and learning from your experience is the most effective way to develop soft skills.

Learning to listen and absorb information is an important skill within the lecture and tutorial system in higher education so becoming an “active listener” is a real asset at university – don’t interrupt others; only ask questions at a natural break in conversation and for clarification purposes; and take notes converting the information given into your own words.

Making relationships wherever possible will enable you to improve the way you come across in conversations – work on your open body language; always try to smile and put the other person at ease; make eye contact in a manner that shows interest and passion.

Becoming a leader will come from taking the initiative and placing yourself in positions of responsibility, even if they are out of your comfort zone – challenge yourself wherever possible; take on more responsibility at school or in your free time; pursue educational interests beyond your school syllabus.

The Cambridge Immerse provides an unique opportunity to take the initiative and develop your transferable skills through a range of unique academic and leadership experiences. Tutorials and seminars enables students to debate and engage with the contentious issues surrounding the discipline(s) that they choose to study, and  to become a more efficient, rounded and successful individual. The programme focusses upon stimulating academic enquiry, giving you the chance to increase your intellectual prowess and providing you the confidence and motivation to succeed.

Cambridge Immerse is a summer school programme set in one of central Cambridge university’s most beautiful and historic colleges. The programme offers a range of courses, allowing students to choose a combination of up to two subjects- subjects include Economics & Management, as well as Politics and Law. The breadth of choice is incredibly diverse yet high quality teaching in small groups ensures a balance between a memorable and international experience, and one that is academically rigorous.

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