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Working in diverse teams
Working in diverse teams

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3 What is a ‘soft skill’?

When you are applying for a job, employers are interested in both your ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills. The hard skills tend to be the job specific skills that you may have gained from education, training programmes or ‘on the job’ training. An example of this is being able to use Excel spreadsheets if you are applying for a job in an administrative role.

Soft skills, on the other hand, are more related to your personal qualities and attitudes, and can be harder to define and evidence. They are the skills that can help you work well with others and make a positive contribution to the organisation you are working for. These include communicating, organising skills and team work.

Image of people in office communicating with each other.
Figure 2 Image of people in office communicating with each other.

A lack of soft skills has been identified as an issue in the UK and it is estimated that if nothing was done to rectify this, it would end up costing the UK economy £8.4 billion by 2020 (Clarke, 2016).

The issue however is not just that employers are finding that their employees don’t have good team-working skills when they start working for them, but also that potentially good employees do not get the job they apply for because they are not able to sell this skill during the recruitment process. This means that highly skilled individuals, who may have great academic credentials or experience, are not in the jobs that they are qualified and trained to do. One in five applicants are not confident in describing their soft skills like teamwork to an employer and more than half of them have never included these skills in their CVs (Clarke, 2016).

Two problems have been identified here:

  1. There aren’t enough employees who have adequate team skills
  2. Job applicants are not good at marketing their soft skills like teamwork in their applications and at interview, even if they do have them.

Activity 2 Marketing your teamwork skills

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Think about a job you have applied for recently, or a job for which you would like to apply. What would you say to an employer about your team-working skills? If you have a CV, then have a look at it at this point and consider how you are marketing this skill. Have you mentioned it at all? Record your thoughts so that you can review them later.

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If you have not mentioned team-working, or feel that you would have little to say about your experience of working in teams, then don’t worry you are in the right place. By the end of this course you will have a clearer idea of what you could say to an employer to market this skill or what you could do now to improve on your experience of working in teams.

Next you will consider what distinguishes a team from a group.