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One of my mentors once told me as I asked for advice about how to advance my career, “You don’t know what you don’t know and you think you know.”  Ouch.  My pride was a little bruised, but I knew he knew what he was talking about so it was in my best interest to listen up. 

In my work as a keynote speaker at some of the largest companies and organizations around the country, I’ve noticed a common theme.  Many companies say employees know how to do their jobs, but don’t understand the importance of the soft skills that are needed to really climb the ladder of success.  Do you have the soft skills that will take you to the top?  Use this short list to where you might have an opportunity to enhance your soft skills and boost your career:

1.  Let people get to know you.

Building a strong network is about making authentic connections.  People want to know you. And the only way they know you is if you let them take a peek into your world.  Notice I said a “peek.” This doesn’t mean you need to share all of your personal business at work, but opening up about what you enjoy, hobbies, and interests can help you others find common ground with you beyond the job.

2.  Be interested in others.

Likewise, take an interest in the lives of those you want to build professional relationships with. Remember their interests, tidbits about their family, and what makes them human beyond the work they do.  Reach out rather than always waiting for others to initiate conversation and opportunities.  By being willing to approach others, you become more approachable.

3.  Hone your communication skills.

Look at just about any person who has ascended the ranks in business and you will find a common theme – communications skills. In many instances, communication can be even more important that technical skills when it comes to advancement.  If your ability to communicate and influence others is lacking, make it a goal to actively improve. Practice. Buy books. Join Toastmasters. Get some coaching.

4.  Ask questions and listen.

The most successful people are always asking questions. They are open to learning. They assume they don’t know it all, so they seek out people who know more and they observe and listen.  Who could you learn from? Who’s “been there, done that” and has wisdom that would benefit you?  Shorten your learning curve by asking questions.


Valorie Burton is  a life coach and bestselling author of several books, including What’s Really Holding You Back? and Successful Women Think Differently.  Read more of her advice and subscribe to her weekly e-newsletter at


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2 thoughts on “Do you have the “soft skills” to get ahead at work?

  1. shawntabg on said:

    I have been applying for jobs for about 5months now, without signs of even an interview. I am applying for positions I am qualified for, but I keep getting rejection letters. I think maybe I am competing against 10 or more years of experience considering I am only 22, but that would not be far for young adults trying to build a career or make money for the family? Where is the article about that?

  2. sick and tired of the BS on said:

    Nice article, but it is seriously lacking in balance. Unless you are willing to round out these discussions with thorough mentions of employment/hiring discrimination, the deliberate misleading of aggregate job boards (Monster, Indeed, posting scams, outdated and non- existent jobs, resume-phishing, recruiters for staffing agencies putting forward fake job ads to get applicants, among many other items done to derail and frustrate the unemployed, we don’t need any more “advice”.

    There is absolutely NO transparency, and seemingly no integrity, in the job application and recruitment process when those desperate for work have no alternative but to depend on it to gather the means to survive. Clean this up, and then there may be room to discuss tactics of what amounts to be “making people comfortable” around “us”.

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