Business management jobs offer up exciting possibilities, generous salaries and unique opportunities to influence people and companies, but they can be highly competitive. Aspiring professionals leverage networking connections, enrol in skill-building courses and apply for business and management degrees to get a leg up on the competition. Despite their efforts, many candidates still fail to advertise an essential set of skills that recruiters seek.
Recruiters and companies hiring talent are looking for candidates that meet the basic requirements such as years of experience, education, work history and accreditations, but they are also looking for professionals with a robust set of business soft skills.
In an ever-evolving world, business degrees such as an online MBA teach students how to strengthen soft skills to increase their employability through soft-skill training. What is soft skills training? Education programme developers now include soft skills training in the form of critical skills workshops.
Learn more about what experts and researchers agree are the most in-demand soft skills required in the business world.
What Are Soft Skills?
The business world is evolving and hard skills change in response to this transformation. In 2020, the top hard skills include cloud computing, artificial intelligence, analytical reasoning and blockchain. Blockchain was only introduced in 2011, demonstrating that hard skills suit the times and can change unexpectedly.
Hard skills include a person’s knowledge, experience and professional background, whereas, soft skills are character traits and interpersonal abilities that supplement hard skills.
Unlike hard professional skills, most business soft skills are timeless. Professionals working in the business world value employees who demonstrate soft skills like effective communication, leadership and creative thinking.
In Yuval Noah Harari’s book “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” he says, “experts argue that schools should switch to teaching “the four Cs” — critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.” He went on to say that, “schools should downplay technical skills and emphasise general-purpose life skills.”
Technical skills continue to be valuable in the modern business world, but more recruiters are looking for the following ten business soft skills to contribute to organisational success.
What makes a great leader? Although some people believe that successful individuals are born great leaders, leadership is a teachable skill that professionals can generate. MBA programmes now teach students how to build competencies to think and act like a leader.
Executives offer unique leadership styles, but experts generally agree that certain qualities are necessary for effective leadership. According to Inc., great leaders are:
- Clear communicators
- Willing to listen and learn
Leadership is an essential soft skill that is backed by an array of qualities and behaviours. The following business soft skills all contribute to the development of a more influential leader in the business world.
Communication has the most significant impact on personal and professional relationships. At its most basic level, communication is the act of exchanging information. In its real complexity, communication involves conveying meaning, expressing emotion, persuading others, teaching, presenting, writing and other core elements of human interaction.
Soft skills training teaches professionals how to communicate effectively by engaging in the following:
- Keep open communication in the workplace
- Be direct and clear
- Listen to the input of others
- Use storytelling to present information
- Affirm what you say with action
Listening can be just as relevant in communication as verbalising information. A great business management leader treats professional relationships as a respectful exchange that allows all parties to contribute to the conversation.
3. Change Management
The impact of COVID-19 and its ripple effect across the business world teaches leaders that no one is immune to change. Change management allows leaders to remain agile and prepared in the face of unprecedented change.
Courses, such as those in an online MBA programme, teach professionals how to prepare for change, from natural disasters to market failure. Change management is otherwise known as “crisis management.” McKinsey & Company says that five leadership practices help leaders respond to a crisis or unforeseen change:
- Organising via a network of teams
- Displaying deliberate calm and bounded optimism
- Making decisions amid uncertainty
- Demonstrating empathy
- Communicating effectively
Once a leader demonstrates their capacity to respond to change effectively, they can instil confidence in their team and validate their business management competence.
4. Ethical Awareness
Consumers demand transparency and ethical standards from today’s businesses and executives have a responsibility to bring ethical awareness to the workplace. Ethical awareness is “the system of moral and ethical beliefs that guides the values, behaviours, and decisions of a business organisation and the individuals within that organisation is known as business ethics.”
Ethical behaviour can result in benefits such as a better reputation for the business, an attractive incentive for investors and stakeholders and an opportunity to make a positive impact on the world.
Ethical companies also perform better. LinkedIn observed that the most ethical companies outperformed the US Large Cap Index by 4.88% in 2018, and in 2019, that gap rose to 10.5%. Leaders who prioritise a company’s ethical standpoint are often playing the long game and building sustainable business models while reducing harm inflicted by careless decisions.
If leaders don't believe in themselves, they make it hard for their team to believe in them. Self-confidence is the ability to trust in one’s skills and demonstrate this trust through better judgement and character.
In the Forbes article “Why Confidence Is Always A Leader's Best Friend”, leadership strategy expert Victor Lipman says, “In hard or uncertain times, of which there are many, employees want to be guided by a leader who projects confidence. It sends the right calming message, as do its close first cousins, resilience and optimism.”
Programmes like an online MBA help business students build hard skills that nurture their sense of confidence so they too can create a sense of reliance as a leader in the business world.
6. Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is one of the “four Cs” Yuval Noah Harari referenced in his book. This soft skill is ageless because it is one’s ability to analyse and assess an issue to reach a judgment. This skill remains relevant across industries, regardless of the times.
The ability to think critically is crucial for decision making in business management. Entrepreneur breaks down the act of critical thinking into four simple steps:
- Learn the basics: Take courses, watch videos, listen to successful leaders and build an understanding of how world-class experts engage in critical thinking.
- Learn with your team: Create a workplace culture where critical thinking is valued and encouraged.
- Journal: Write down thoughts and decisions constantly and review your musings with a critical eye.
- Question assumptions: Stay curious and stop accepting information as factual without thinking critically about it first.
LinkedIn released a list of the top five soft skills that companies need most in 2020, and creativity was top of the list. Creativity also topped LinkedIn’s list in 2018 and 2019. Creativity is the energy that fuels big ideas, challenges the status quo and leads organisations to innovation.
Professionals can train themselves to be better communicators and educate themselves about ethical standards in business, but can they learn how to be creative? Yes, creativity can be nurtured and supported. Inc. even outlined “25 Ways to Be More Creative,” and the list ranges from asking lots of questions to building something physical (even Lego).
Decision-making is an underrated skill that differentiates leaders from followers. Leaders can make hard decisions after weighing the benefits and consequences of the outcome for team members and the business at large.
Online MBA programmes teach students decision-making tools such as SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Business leaders can analyse judgement calls after outlining these four areas.
Business management leaders can also use techniques such as a cost-benefit analysis or decision-matrix to create a numerical, data-informed decision. Leaders can combine their decision-making training, common sense and experience in past situations to formulate thoughtful decisions.
9. Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the latest soft skill to land on LinkedIn’s in-demand list. Daniel Goleman, author of the 1995 best-seller “Emotional Intelligence”, popularised this term in business and management and defined emotional intelligence as a mix of self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness and relationship management.
In sum, emotional intelligence is the ability to recognise your own emotions, identify the feelings of people around you and factor emotions into the decision-making process. Professionals don’t just work with numbers or figures, they work with complex human beings. Individuals with high emotional intelligence are better business leaders because they create better person-to-person relationships with their stakeholders, their clients and their team.
An essential soft skill recruiters used to look for was “teamwork.” However, the skill that makes a capable team player is collaboration. Teamwork and collaboration both involve working with others to produce something. Teamwork is the combining of individual efforts to complete a project, whereas collaboration involves working together collectively through exercises like brainstorming, group discussion and a shared consensus.
The business and management world is full of collaboration, from creating a business plan in the boardroom to improving workplace culture. Deloitte’s “Future of Work” survey finds that 65% of the C-Level executives surveyed focus on connectivity, communication and collaboration to enhance the organisational structure. Executives also said that collaboration led to higher levels of the following:
- 57 percent cited identifying and exploiting new business opportunities.
- 48 percent cited increasing rates of innovation.
- 41 percent cited accelerating time to market.
- 41 percent cited improving customer loyalty.
The Aston Online MBA
Aston University’s online MBA programme is an advanced business degree designed to transform experienced business professionals into executives, top-performing leaders and experts in their field.
The online MBA programme includes both hard and soft skills for business management, from global business and finance to change management and ethical awareness. Although there are numerous MBA programmes available to students, Aston University is the only MBA programme that offers the Aston Edge.
The Aston Edge helps students bridge the gap from the classroom to the modern business world. The courses allow students to transform business theory into applicable skills that can help increase employability and ease the transition into relevant jobs. The Aston Edge is three phases of skill-building courses that teach students the following:
1. Critical Skills Workshops
- Improve your interpersonal and negotiation skills
- Increase your inter-cultural awareness
- Grow your confidence
- Enhance your creativity and performance
2. Networking and Relationship-Building Activities
- Employer speed networking
- One-to-one mentoring
- Networking dinners
- Industry speaker events
3. Experience Project
- Undertake a live consultancy project for a client
- Write a business plan for a start-up
- Conduct a themed research project
- Complete a report on an in-company internship in the UK or abroad
- Study at one of our partner institutions and undertake a related extended project
Students graduating from Aston University’s online MBA programme will not only be recognised by employers for their experience at a triple-accredited UK school, but they will also gain access to a global network of alumni of more than 90,000.
With this programme being AMBA-accredited, you are eligible to free membership to AMBA. This means you have access to business schools and MBA employers throughout the world. You also have global networking opportunities with corporate partners, online or in person, opening up your career possibilities as well as access to world-class events and training.
There’s no better place to build soft skills and put them into practice as a business management leader.
Are you ready to advance your business career? Explore how an MBA may be your next step.