Don’t forget the soft skills – employment success requires more than just opportunity

When I was 19, I started my own business–a Spanish summer camp for elementary school students. It would be easy, I thought. I spoke Spanish fluently, I had teaching experience, and I knew how to manage money and paperwork. However, that first summer, only two kids came to my camp, and I made zero profits. Afterwards, I realized that although I had the technical or “hard” skills to run the business, I needed to improve the “soft skills”necessary get parents to sign their children up in the first place.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who needs “soft skills”. Employers around the country report that everyone needs to have these skills, no matter what their job is.

The six soft skill areas* are:

  1. Communication
  2. Enthusiasm and Attitude
  3. Teamwork
  4. Networking
  5. Problem Solving and Critical Thinking
  6. Professionalism

*Click on each of the skill areas above to watch a short video on what these soft skills look like in practice.

One of the soft skills I needed most was the ability to communicate information quickly and enthusiastically to get parents interested in my business. Another was the ability to carry myself like a professional so that they would trust me to take good care of their children.

At first, I had no idea what to do because I didn’t have a soft skills book or class. However, I soon realized that there were soft skills lessons being taught right in front of me every day. For example, would you believe that watching TV taught me how to attract customers? Commercials are perfect examples of how to present a product to someone quickly and enthusiastically. After watching an ad for a Caribbean cruise I realized that my sales pitches were too long and not very interesting. When I met a potential customer I needed to use fewer words, focus on my camp’s exciting activities first, and save the boring details for later. By using these strategies, I was able to capture people’s attention from the get-go and more parents asked for applications.

Did you also know that you can learn how to be a professional just by going to school or to a restaurant? By paying attention to how my teachers dressed and how restaurant servers spoke to customers, I picked up tips for how to present myself in a way that would earn the respect and trust of parents and my campers.

In the end, simply paying attention to how other people used their soft skills made a huge difference. The next two summers my camp went from two campers to 10, and I made a ton of money.

So, as you explore careers that interest you or prepare to get a job, think about the soft skills that you may need and tune in to all of the free lessons going on around you. Going to the doctor, reading a newspaper or watching sports could actually help you prepare to land your dream job!

To learn more about what soft skills look like in real workplace situations, take a few minutes to watch the Skills to Pay the Bills Soft Skills Video series online.

Wondering how to help youth develop soft skills? Skills to Pay the Bills: Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success, a free curriculum and video series developed by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) focuses on teaching “soft” or workforce readiness skills to all youth, including youth with disabilities. The curriculum was created for youth development professionals to use with youth ages 14 to 21 in both inschool and outofschool environments as an introduction to workplace interpersonal and professional skills.

Find more suggestions for how to help youth develop skills they need for workplace success in the following related resources:


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