Our "soft skills" — or personal qualities, habits, attitudes, and social graces that make it possible for us to interact with others effectively — show up in every interaction we have. The hiring process, with its many stages and touchpoints, is no exception.
As you move through a hiring process, you have opportunities to not only mention your soft skills but also to demonstrate them to your prospective employer. In this article, we'll point out and prepare you for these opportunities with practical advice.
Why Soft Skills Matter
Technical skills, or "hard skills," are the skills that make you capable of successfully doing a job. Soft skills go a step deeper into how you work, what it's like to work with you, and the effect you have on others in your work. Employers care about these skills because they affect your success and the company culture.
When seeking to bring soft skills into your application, start by looking at the listing to identify the qualities your prospective employer is looking for. As examples, here are some qualifications found in real ZipRecruiter job descriptions:
Expresses information and ideas clearly
Problem solves without explicit direction
Detail-oriented, organized, and strong time-management skills
All of these qualifications fall squarely under the category of soft skills.
Soft Skills in Your Application
Think of your application as needing to tell a cohesive, holistic story. Each element of your application needs to provide factual information about your qualifications for the role, as well as offer a glimpse of who you are as a professional.
Some best practices for resumes and cover letters are directly related to the demonstration of soft skills. For example, it's always wise to avoid typos or other errors in your application, but especially so if attention to detail is a critical qualification for the role.
By the same token, you always want to make your resume easy to read at a glance, especially so if the job listing calls for the ability to express information clearly. In practice, this means being as clear and concise as possible, eliminating unnecessary, wordy language, and using white space wisely for a visually-appealing final product.
Additionally, take the opportunity to describe your soft skills through concise anecdotes in your cover letter. The STAR method of answering interview questions applies to cover letters as well.
Soft Skills in Interviews
A job interview is an opportunity to let your soft skills shine. In some cases, the interviewer is already "sold" on your technical skills and is focused primarily on your soft skills. For this reason, it's especially important to be mindful of how you're presenting yourself.
Interviews can feel intimidating or one-sided, as if it's your job as the applicant to impress the interviewer. In reality, you'll be more successful if you approach the interview as a normal conversation. After all, you're interviewing your prospective employer just as much as they're interviewing you. Be confident, cordial, and natural. If you find yourself struggling or becoming nervous, take a deep breath and keep going! Here are some other important tips to consider:
Use body language and nonverbal cues. Make eye contact, smile, and use confident, open body language to show your communication and interpersonal skills.
You should also practice active listening. During the interview, be sure to listen carefully to the interviewer's questions and show that you are paying attention by nodding and making appropriate responses. In active listening, you're not simply waiting for your turn to speak. You're engaging and participating in a true dialogue.
The STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) is a helpful way to structure your answers to behavioral interview questions. This method allows you to describe a specific situation where you demonstrated a particular soft skill and how your actions resulted in a positive outcome.
Soft Skills in Other Steps of the Hiring Process
Here are some additional examples of how you can demonstrate soft skills throughout the hiring process:
Taking initiative. You can demonstrate the soft skill of taking initiative by offering feedback and ideas related to the role you're applying for. (Keep in mind that in doing so, you may be giving the company free labor.)
Resilience. The ability to recover smoothly from a setback is more important than ever in the workplace. In any hiring process, there's a possibility of setbacks like scheduling snafus or technical difficulties. Handle these with grace, and prospective employers will take notice!
Empathy. You can show your empathy by asking an interviewer thoughtful questions about their own experience, either in the interview or in your follow-up/thank-you email. For example, you might ask the interviewer about the biggest challenge they face in their role and then include an insight related to that challenge in your thank-you note.
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