Webinar: How to learn soft skills

Watch the full recording of “How to learn soft skills” as part of our Skills For Tomorrow initiative.

As part of Devex’s Skills for Tomorrow initiative, November’s career webinar featured guest speakers from the Duke Center for International Development and the University of California San Diego’s School of Global Policy & Strategy, who shared their insights and tips on how to gain, develop, and measure your soft skills.

While degree courses may provide you with technical knowledge and skills, soft skills can be a lot harder to learn and illustrate — yet they are crucial to a successful global development career.

Some of the most sought after soft skills in development include flexibility and adaptability, cross-cultural sensitivity, and verbal and written communication. Our speakers outlined many more skills in this webinar, as well as how to acquire and learn these soft skills.

Here are three key takeaways from the webinar.

1. What’s in a name: Soft skills or ‘power skills?’

The term “soft” can automatically categorize something less important than “hard,” said David Robertson, director of career services at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy & Strategy — referring to soft and hard skills.

“Myself and many others are really looking to change the way we talk about soft skills, and refer to them really as ‘power skills,’” Robertson said.

Throughout the webinar, both the speakers and audience addressed soft skills as power skills.

2. How to learn soft skills

Identify and prioritize two or three power skills that you want to improve. DCID’s Cheryl Bailey, assistant director of the Master of International Development Policy, said that assessment tools — many are available online — or asking those around you who know you well about which skills you could improve can be useful.

Once you know the skills you want to work on, break down achieving them into smaller goals. “Make a plan as to how you will improve those skills, including a timeline and concrete goals — just like you would do if you were learning technical or hard skills,” Bailey said.

“Practice, practice, practice. It takes a lot of time to hone and develop these soft skills,” she said. “I’ve heard that it takes up to 20 hours to achieve competency in any particular subject,” she said.

3. How to measure improvement

Even with an action plan, measuring your successes and improvements in soft skills remains complex. Robertson suggested identifying specific end goals that you can work toward and achieve.

First, ask yourself: “What will be different when I master or improve this skill?” That way, you have an indication to go by when you do.

Second, make sure to share your plan with someone. It can be a family member, colleague, or even a mentor, but as long as someone else knows about it, they will ask about it and help to ensure you follow through, advised Robertson.

In the webinar, Robertson also offered insights on how to seek out a mentor and which mentor profiles to look for.

If you missed the webinar, there’s still a chance to catch up. Watch the full webinar recording above to find out more of our experts’ advice on how to learn and improve your soft skills.

For more coverage on professional development, visit the Skills For Tomorrow site here.

About the author

  • Lottie Watters

    Lottie Watters formerly covered career and hiring trends, tips, and insights. Lottie has a background in geography and journalism, taking a particular interest in grassroots international development projects. She has worked with organizations delivering clean water and sanitation projects globally.