Soft or intangible skills are the personal qualities or attributes that you need to succeed in your career. Employers are increasingly looking at the soft skills of their applicants, recognizing that while hard skills like lesson planning or classroom management can be taught, soft skills are often much harder to develop and quantify. They represent your unique selling point and help differentiate you from other candidates with similar training.
Nowhere is this truer than in the world of education. We’ve all had good teachers and bad teachers, and the difference is usually in their attitudes and personal qualities, not in their writing or grading skills. So, here are some of the soft skills that are in demand from teachers, faculty, and those working in education:
Teaching is a stressful and exhausting career, so passion for the wellbeing of students, the subject matter, and teaching in general is essential. And, with the field of education in a stage of transition, teachers also need an enthusiasm for learning about new methods and incorporating them into the classroom.
One way that interviewers pick up on passion is by looking for teachers who go above and beyond the call of duty, whether that’s professional development, volunteer work, or participating in extracurricular activities. The way you talk about past teaching experiences, your goals for the future, and your work in general can also give employers a hint about your level of enthusiasm.
Empathy is essentially the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, and is a vital skill for working with students and colleagues alike. Teachers need patience and compassion for the struggles that students face, and a willingness to put in the extra effort to help them.
Interviewers may use behavioral questions about how you would handle students who are bullied, troubled or acting out, to see if you bring a sense of empathy to your classroom problem-solving.
Interpersonal ability encompasses several qualities and skills, but it is essentially about how you connect and work with others. Are you able to build a positive connection with your students and rapport with their parents? Do you have a good sense of humour, and do you work well with a team?
Your communications during the hiring process will be the first demonstration of your interpersonal skills, and interviewers may ask questions about your experiences interacting with parents and colleagues.
We’ve already talked about the need to adapt to the rapidly changing nature of education, but flexibility has always been a key quality for teachers. The ability to adjust your instruction to the different needs of students, classrooms and schools, teach courses and accept responsibilities outside of your direct expertise and deal with the unexpected, is much sought-after.
Interviewers may try to assess your flexibility with questions about your past experiences, so try to work in examples of times you exhibited adaptability and be sure to practice it throughout the interview process.
Closely related to empathy is emotional intelligence, or EQ, the ability to recognize and manage your emotions, and identify the emotions of others. It includes emotional awareness, the capacity to harness and regulate your own emotions, and the ability to exert a positive influence on others, for example, cheering them up or helping to calm them down.
Emotional intelligence is essential for working with any team, and for a teacher it is a vital soft skill when working with students, especially in challenging environments. Again, you’ll want to demonstrate it throughout the hiring process and work in examples during the interview.
The diversity of North American classrooms is expected to increase significantly in the future, and if you work abroad it’s a given that you’ll need cultural awareness. Institutions are looking for teachers who demonstrate appreciation and sensitivity towards different cultures, and who possess the ability to facilitate positive discussions and expressions of culture in their students.
Experience working or volunteering with diverse groups will be a definite advantage on your resume, and you’ll want to demonstrate cultural awareness throughout the interview process.