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Soft skills: The surprising secret behind career success

"Soft skills" are a key to advancing in the workplace — and in turn, helping to build your retirement savings. Do you have what it takes?

Value your career? Want to move up? And hoping for a comfortable retirement? Then demonstrating "soft skills" — solid interpersonal skills — in the workplace may be the ticket to get you there.

Skills worth honing

For many employers, interpersonal skills today trump technical expertise, especially the higher up the company ladder you climb. They are intrinsic abilities that may help you get a job, earn a promotion or boost your earnings potential. Soft skills can include:

  • Professionalism or work ethic
  • Oral and written communication
  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Critical thinking or problem-solving
  • Enthusiasm and optimism
  • Friendliness
  • Flexibility and adaptability

Before you dismiss these as unimportant, consider that the Carnegie Institute of Technology has long found that 85 percent of financial success comes down to personality and the ability to communicate, negotiate and lead.[1]

"These are skills you need to complement your hard skills," says Peggy Klaus, communications expert and author of The Hard Truth About Soft Skills (HarperBusiness, 2008). "The factual knowledge, the technical expertise — absolutely they're essential to doing your job. But if you do not have the soft skills, you will not succeed in the way you wish. You will stall, or you will derail."

Matching skills to the workplace

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers[2], the most valued quality in an employee is the ability to be a team player. Soft skills are vital in an increasingly service-based economy as well as in multicultural work environments where old conceptions no longer apply.

"It comes down to self-awareness: understanding yourself, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and being open to other people's skills and values. Because that's how you eventually lead people," says Jeff Bieganek, director of the Omnium Global Executive MBA Program at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

Translating skills into savings

Polish the skills that are most valued in today's workplace and you'll likely improve the odds for increasing your earnings — something that can have a long-term impact on your retirement savings power. Here are some ways to capitalize on your success:

  • With each new promotion or salary increase, consider increasing the percentage of income you devote to savings.
  • Maximize your organization's retirement plan as your income increases, particularly if you receive a matching contribution from your organization or employer.
  • If your promotions come mid-career, take the opportunity to make catch-up contributions. If you're 50 or older, you may be able to contribute more to your organization's retirement plan (may not be a feature of all plans) or an Individual Retirement Account.*
  • As your retirement goals evolve, talk with a financial professional, and discuss opportunities to reallocate savings or add new financial vehicles to the mix.

Take action

Interested in seeing the potential for how increased earnings may help impact your plans for retirement?

Use our interactive retirement planning tool.

 

[1]
http://www.forbes.com/sites/keldjensen/2012/04/12/intelligence-is-overrated-what-you-really-need-to-succeed/
[2]
Job Outlook 2012, National Association of Colleges and Employers

* In 2012, the catch-up limit for 401(k) and 403(b) plans is $5,500. For IRAs, it is $1,000.

While this communication may be used to promote or market a transaction or an idea that is discussed in the publication, it is intended to provide general information about the subject matter covered, and is provided with the understanding that none of the member companies of the Principal Financial Group® are rendering legal, accounting, or tax advice. It is not a marketed opinion and may not be used to avoid penalties under the Internal Revenue Code. You should consult with appropriate counsel or other advisors on all matters pertaining to legal, tax, or accounting obligations and requirements.

Insurance products and plan administrative services are provided by Principal Life Insurance Company, a member of the Principal Financial Group® (The Principal®), Des Moines, IA 50392.

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