With the first report card received in kindergarten, students begin to learn the consequences of bad grades and the rewards of good grades. This trend continues into high school, where students are taught the relationship between academic skills and a high grade point average -- and even acceptance in college. While schools explicitly teach academic skills, functional soft skills are often left to chance, yet these skills are vital for success.

Defining Soft Skills

While the definition of functional soft skills varies among colleges and industries, some competencies related to personal qualities contribute heavily to an individual’s success. According to a paper presented at the Proceedings of the International Conference on Intellectual Capital, Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning in January 2013, soft skills include problem solving, resilience, collaboration, communication, multiculturalism, planning, professionalism, time management, stress management, information management and decision making. Mastery of the soft skills is required to be functional in university and business settings.

Communication and Collaboration

High school and college years are the time to begin working on functional soft skills such as communication, collaboration and problem solving. According to a report published in “Education Digest” in February 2013, students can develop communication skills by preparing presentations and leading discussions about their progress with parents and others. Students should also add depth and complexity to their assignments by doing research and forming study groups to build collaborative skills and problem solving. Time management can also be cultivated by using a planner to keep up with due dates and deadlines.


Self-advocacy is also a functional soft skill that students must use often. The “Education Digest” report also stated that students in college can expect to deal with issues concerning roommates and others. Therefore, communication skills to navigate through adversity are part of the normal transition to college and the workforce. For example, a student can learn to stand up for himself with tact by engaging in role playing activities involving common scenarios such as discussing a low grade with a professor or talking about boundaries with a roommate.

Toot Your Own Horn

Human resource specialists are charged with finding candidates who have hard skills that fit the industry and soft skills that allow the candidate to work well with others. While hard skills can be proved with degrees and certifications, soft skills are harder to ascertain. According to a study in the “Journal of Business Economics and Management” in May 2012, soft skills are the most required attributes in the selection process. However, recent graduates normally do not have job experience so the only things they have to offer are their grades and their personality. Since human resource specialists use various questions to dig for soft skills, it is up to the interviewee to relate past experiences to initiative, decision making, communication, planning and other soft skills.

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About the Author

Shelley McKinley has experience as a principal, assistant principal, science teacher and central office administrator. She began writing education-related articles in 2011 and was referenced in the Journal of the National Association for Alternative Certification in 2012. McKinley holds a Doctor of Education in curriculum and instruction from Texas Southern University.