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 Use Your Soft Skills to Your Advantage

By Joe Stein

I see it all the time with Job Seekers.  There is a complete focus on education level or years of experience, while completely ignoring what is often the differentiator in a hiring decision – showing off your “soft skills”.  This especially occurs when an applicant did not receive a position he/she was seeking in an internal promotional situation.  In this case, you know who received the job and can do a comparison of your qualifications compared to the person who received the position.

What you may be forgetting, however, when you do this comparison is how important “soft skills” are to a great many positions.  The factoring of “soft skills” has become increasingly important for employers who want employees that will have the right attitude and fit into the current company culture.  Now if you are bypassed, this does not necessarily mean you were a “bad” candidate for the position. It might possibly mean that you were, perhaps, just not a good fit for that particular company.

At this point, you may be wondering what type of “soft skills” are in demand.  This can vary some by employer and what they particularly value, but below are some of the most common attributes that are coveted in a candidate.
• Oral Communication Skills – You will be judged for most positions on your oral communication skills.  If you can speak clearly and concisely while making eye contact, you will give yourself a definite competitive advantage.

• Written Communication Skills – Similarly like oral communication skills, this is quickly becoming a lost art.  With the use of e-mail, texting, and tweets, the use of proper grammar, spelling, and good sentence structure is becoming rare.

• People Skills – A generic term, but generally means whether the Hiring Manager can project you working well with the overall team.    You will be assessed regarding whether you are friendly, likeable, and (as noted above) able to effectively communicate. Describe how you have been a team player working well with a group, either in a daily setting or on a work project.  State how important it is to you that the team is working towards the achievement of a collective goal.

• Sense of Humor – A good sense of humor goes a long way to projecting likability.  Now a sense of humor can have some risk, but I believe it is safe to assume that no one reading this would do anything off-color or offensive.  You can also display a sense of humor by smiling or chuckling when a comment is made by the Hiring Manager that is humorous.

• Good Listener – This really goes hand-in-hand with being a strong oral communicator, as it is hard to reach that level when you don’t listen well.  Focus intently in the interview and check for understanding if you are unsure of any questions.  Body language can also project good listening skills, such as leaning forward and nodding when someone speaks.

• Self-Motivated – A Hiring Manger would prefer not to hire someone that they know they will have to manage closely.  In a perfect world, employees will always take the initiative to achieve his or her daily tasks with little oversight. Similarly, you always want to display how you have at least basic analytical skills that will allow you to problem-solve within your scope of authority

• Adaptable – Most business move very quickly in today’s world.  Employers need people that are open to change and willing to assist in achieving it (even suggesting ways to improve!).  If you appear rigid to these types of opportunities, you may be passed on for someone more flexible.  Don’t hesitate to tell the Hiring Manager how you have been on project teams that instituted a change.  You may also want to describe how you have easily learned new processes or procedures.

• Leadership Skills – Even if you are not going to have direct reports, a Manager loves to see someone who is a leader.  When you have strong leadership skills, you take ownership and are willing to be held accountable.  You also usually have a strong work ethic and overall desire.  Provide examples in your interview of times you displayed the skills of a leader, either within your Department or a work group you were part of.

• Self-Depreciating – It is hard to like someone who comes across as arrogant.  While you certainly want to be confident, there is nothing wrong with appearing to be human.  If you are asked regarding your biggest developmental item, don’t respond by saying “nothing”.  A Manager wants to see that you will take ownership and learn from your mistakes, but coming across as perfect will not do that.

This is a pretty lengthy list and it is doubtful that anyone has a strength in each of these areas (well…maybe no one but me).  The more that you can place a checkmark by, the better your chances of having your “soft skills” separate your candidacy from the rest.  There are times when an employer has to have a certain skill or experience, but usually once the basic requirements are met, they are seeking the person with the best “soft skills”