It seems a rather odd thing to emphasize, but I thought my past experience as a broker could be turned into a positive rather than a moot point.
Do PhD admissions committees take into account soft skill development as a factor, and how heavily do you think they wieght this? Should I note my sales experience in the application, or ignore it?
My field is finance, or potentially economics depending on which program I can get in; I'll have degrees in both at the time of application.
Yes, it would help to have a brief but powerful mention of your past experience. Break down the benefits of working as a broker and what skills you learnt, then compare these against the strengths and personal qualities you are going to need. Showing that your experience is worth something helps paint a picture of your skills as an individual. Experience is one of the least often mentioned things when applying for PHD's but it really shouldn't be as it shows that you have an idea of how to apply your knowledge in real-world situations. You've not simply "ended up" doing a PHD as part of a series of next steps after school; you'd made the conscious decision to pursue a PHD and knowledge over a career in brokering. This is a huge advantage for your application.
With every application it's important to put it into perspective: Who will see your application? Who is running this PHD? Have you met them? With their background, how will they view your past experience, and which aspects of that should you exemplify? Having a meal with a potential mentor / supervisor, doing some real networking is a fantastic way to get to know who you feel you can get on with or work well enough with. It also puts a face to your application; you're no longer "app number 245" you are "oh it's James! He had some great views on my recent paper.". Look at their results as that's the biggest truth you can find. You get to choose your supervisor in most cases so network.
I should add here that as this is my first post on this site, that my experience comes from helping run a family business which focuses on training people to apply for positions in medicine, mostly medicinal and surgical applications for PHDs in the UK. I also train people for interviews and take them through highly competitive, multi-stage processes. Recently our business helped one of our clients achieve their lifetime goal of becoming the Lead Paediatric Surgeon at one of the UKs most well known children's hospitals.