Commentary: Knowing your 'soft skills' vital to your career

Discovering what really motivates you can help unlock potential

[caption id="attachment_18871" align="alignleft" width="108" caption="Nigel Hartley"][/caption]

Before you even think about applying for your next position you should take some time to take inventory of your natural skills, traits and characteristics.

Given that the next generation could have up to eight careers during their working life and you are highly unlikely to spend your entire career with one company/industry, you better choose wisely.

Historically the majority of us have chosen careers by considering what we are good at, what we've been told to do, what we think we enjoy and what our societal or cultural conditions dictate.

However you are increasingly going to see companies base their hiring more on "personality," "culture fit," etc. Why is this so?

Your success in a job is only 20 percent due to your technical (hard) skills and over 80 percent due to your intangible (soft) skills. The point of this article is to explain what soft skills are and how to apply that to your present or future career.

In my practice I use assessment tools to evaluate these unique hierarchies, but there is also a wealth of free information available on the Web.

So what are soft skills? We are talking about your natural skills, qualities, traits and characteristics. You are a unique combination of your genetic wiring and external environment. You are born with certain innate abilities. Combining your innate abilities with a supportive external environment is crucial to realizing your full potential.

These natural key skills and abilities are in both your internal thought process and in your relationship to your outside world. By knowing these skills and tendencies, you will be able to monitor and adjust your actions to meet the demands of your current environment.

Let's start with our personality "genetic code."

How do you relate to other people?  Are you extrovert or introvert?

How do you relate and process information? Are you a realist (hard facts) or a generalist (intuition)?

How do you approach and make decisions? Are you compassionate or logical?

Lastly, how do you relate to your life as a whole? Are you flexible or structured?

These are very important to your happiness in your career and in life so take inventory before making any change. Without doing this your career search is fraught with danger.

Increasingly we are also seeing people dramatically change careers later in life. That is in part due to our evolving economy, but it is also because our general traits and behaviors change over time. A great example is successful business people who turn to the nonprofit world.

Now, the cynics among you might see this as remorse, but in reality it is the maturing process taking shape with compassion being the last trait to develop.

From birth through your mid-teens your primary personality trait is developed. Between your teens and early 30s we develop our secondary trait. This is the major personality change we notice and is generally called "maturing" or "growing up." From our 30s to mid to late 40s we develop our third trait. This is when that mid-life crisis develops and we realize that we may not be living the most enjoyable life. Finally, in our golden years our final trait develops.

Next let's look at career and life satisfiers. We all want to do something we love, but sometimes we get stuck in a well-paying position that we hate. A good example is the Wall Street executive who went through this process and found that he was best suited to being a car mechanic.

Now, the reality is that a Wall Street executive makes a lot more than a mechanic and so it was not realistic for him to consider this career. However he was very unhappy and, after much soul searching, decided to downsize his house and use some of the equity to buy a high-end vintage car restoration company. He made that lifestyle change and was able to meet both his career and life satisfiers.

These first two steps are all based on genetics. Now let's look at our environment and your key strengths, weaknesses and core motivators.

There are no good motivators or bad motivators. It is more about what creates excitement and what does not. The workplace is the best environment to see this in action. Many times managers will initiate a new strategy that drives some to high achievement while totally demoralizing others in the workplace.

Why is that?

Very simply, the manager has unwittingly discovered some people's primary motivators and some people's primary de-motivators.

Briefly there are six motivators ranging from a quest for knowledge (Albert Einstein), the need to serve society (Mother Teresa), harmony and aesthetics in life (Martha Stewart), living life by a set of rules (Ronald Regan), needing to win (Rudy Giuliani), and a return on their investment (Sam Walton). So would Mother Teresa make a stock trader, and could you see Sam Walton with a cooking show? These people all were successful because their careers matched their motivators.

When it comes to motivators the opinion of others is actually more revealing than your own feelings, so it can be helpful to get outside opinions.

Now that you have a better idea on who you are, go forth and find that perfect career.

I truly understand that in this difficult economy, other factors may come into play now, but not accounting for these natural skills, qualities, traits and characteristics will almost certainly have a negative impact on your future


Nigel Hartley is the president of Commonwealth Advisors and is an accredited associate of the Institute for Independent Business, a CMT senior mentor and a certified coach (behaviors and careers).  To unlock your potential, call Nigel at 707-573-7154, or you can e-mail him at

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