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5 soft skills for human resources careers

Are you a human resource professional who wants to excel at your job? Soft skills are just as important as hard skills for human resources careers.
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Written by Matthew Sweeney, Contributing Writer on

Skills for human resources careers don't just include hard skills such as interviewing, hiring, and onboarding. Soft skills involving empathy and understanding are important too.

As an HR professional, you need to understand how your soft skills impact your professional interactions. You may even move ahead in your career by caring about and supporting others!

Read on for our guide on the top five soft (or "people") human resources skills you need to succeed in the profession.

Why are people skills important in human resources?

Human resources professionals need strong people skills to properly handle everyday situations they face with employees. In a typical day, a human resources specialist may need to:

  • Lay off an employee
  • Share negative performance feedback
  • Explain to a job applicant why didn't get a position
  • Interview multiple job applicants

These tasks require social skills, self-awareness, and empathy to deal with others calmly while understanding their emotions.

In an HR career, you need to present a human face to your organization, which makes cultivating people skills essential.

5 people skills for human resources

An HR professional's everyday duties involve people skills. The following soft skills may boost your chances of getting noticed when applying to human resource positions.

1. Organization

Organization is vital. Most advanced and entry-level human resources jobs are in offices where you will need to stay on top of mountains of paperwork. Organizational skills allow you to:

  • Coordinate company events
  • File and manage employee documentation
  • Schedule training and development for employees
  • Set up meetings with colleagues and bosses
  • Meet compliance and reporting deadlines
  • Accurately manage employee payroll and benefits

You can build organizational skills by implementing them in your own life. Try using organization apps such as Todoist, Evernote, and Camscanner. Other useful tools include:

  • Dry erase boards
  • Personal journals
  • Sticky notes
  • Calendars

These skills will serve you well should you try for an advanced degree, such as a human resources master's.

2. Cultural sensitivity

Cultural sensitivity allows you to navigate a diverse workplace while showing respect and understanding for employees' cultural, ethnic, and religious differences. In HR, it helps you:

  • Removing bias from recruiting, hiring, and training practices
  • Helping resolve conflicts relating to cultural differences
  • Reducing cross-cultural communication challenges
  • Cultural sensitivity starts with listening to and learning from colleagues and employees.

You can bolster your cultural sensitivity skills by volunteering in a multicultural setting, taking a cultural sensitivity night class, or earning an online human resources certificate featuring a cultural sensitivity course.

3. Confidentiality

Confidentiality is the ability to keep private information secure. Employees expect human resources professionals to keep sensitive information private, such as medical records. You may also have legal obligations to protect certain information depending on your location.

Managers also require human resources to keep sensitive information secure, including:

  • Layoffs or closures
  • Workplace restructuring and expansion
  • Workforce data or reports
  • Lawsuits and other legal matters

You can build your skills by developing awareness of your surroundings when discussing sensitive information, respecting others' boundaries, and handling private materials from others carefully. 

Human resources professionals use locks on cabinets, file rooms, and other storage areas to protect sensitive information.

4. Adaptability

Adaptability is the ability to adjust to change and remain flexible. Becoming more adaptable means being able to pivot in response to organizational changes, such as:

  • New training and development models
  • Introduction of new technology
  • Plant closings and layoffs
  • Changes to roles and responsibilities
  • New regulatory or compliance requirements
  • Mergers and company reorganization

Adaptable workers know there's more than one way to do things and can change tactics when necessary.

You can become more adaptable by taking night classes, attending workshops, or earning an online human resources degree. Most human resources certificates and degrees feature coursework in organizational change, which teaches adaptability techniques such as setting goals and asking for feedback.

5. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share others' emotional states. You need empathy in a human resources job because employees may want support for issues including:

  • Being laid off
  • Health problems
  • Workplace conflicts
  • Loss of a spouse or family member
  • Marital issues
  • Birth and adoption

You need to be able to listen without judgment to employees' problems. You also need to be able to provide emotional support when you need to share negative feedback or lay them off.

You can cultivate skills in empathy through volunteer work, reading literature, or talking to new people.

In conclusion

If you want to pick up skills for human resources careers, challenge yourself by talking to people from different backgrounds than yourself. 

Human resources careers help organizations reduce barriers to communication and understanding. You can get ready for this vocation by reducing those barriers in your own life.

This article was reviewed by Krystal Covington, MBA 

Krystal Covington, a woman with medium-length, curly hair, smiles at the camera.

Krystal Covington, MBA, is a business growth strategist with 15 years of experience in marketing and public relations. Her company, Go Lead Consulting, provides clients foundational tools to build new client and customer relationships. 

Covington founded Women of Denver, one of the largest privately held membership organizations in Denver, Colorado. Her program helps women increase their business acumen, sharpen leadership skills and connect with other high-achieving women. Covington received her MBA from Western Governors University in 2012.

Krystal Covington is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network. 

Last reviewed March 22, 2022.

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