Soft skills: The role of 'emotional intelligence' in development careers

International development professionals chat with recruiters at the Devex D.C. Career Fair in 2010. Photo by: Devex

In development, soft skills can just as easily come into play during challenges in the field as when navigating office politics.

“Technical skills are very important, but if you’re missing soft skills, you’re missing a critical ingredient for success,” said Shana Montesol Johnson, a career and leadership coach who works with development professionals. “Some soft skills have to deal with managing yourself — self-awareness, optimism, assertiveness, resilience and independence.”

The term “soft skills,” often associated with a person’s emotional intelligence, refers to the interpersonal abilities that enhance an individual’s interactions with others, career prospects and performance on the job. And human resource leaders, recruiters and career experts emphasize the importance of these proficiencies for global development professionals.

Kelly Tobin, recruitment manager for Engility, said her team uses a rigorous interview process to make sure candidates have strong soft skills. Although somebody might be able to show a positive attitude during the first interview and perhaps maintain it throughout that first meeting, this might not be the case during a second interview.

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About the author

  • Ingridphoto

    Ingrid Ahlgren

    Ingrid is a Devex correspondent based in New York City. She worked as a staff writer for from 2007 to 2009, helping to write guidebooks, including the "Vault Guide to the Top Government and Nonprofit Employers." Before moving to New York, she was a researcher for National Geographic Traveler magazine in Washington, D.C. Ingrid holds a master's in journalism from the University of Missouri. As the daughter of a U.S. diplomat, she grew up all over the world.