Soft skills are critical to success in today’s workforce. Here’s how you can show that you have what it takes.
BY STEPHANIE VOZZA
Having an in-demand hard skill, such as proficiency in a certain technology, may get your foot in the door when you’re searching for a job, but if you want to land it, employers want to see your soft skills. Unfortunately, traits such as being a team player or problem solver are not as easy to convey.
“Often the best predictors of future job success are the hardest to measure,” says Joe Essenfeld, vice president of strategy at iCIMS, a recruitment software provider. “On paper, job candidates do—and should—list relevant past experience, technical, and hard skills that level up nicely to the position they want. But what most candidates overlook is the need to outline soft skills and how they ladder up to future success in the position.”
Soft skills are critical to success in today’s workforce, says Michelle Armer, chief people officer at CareerBuilder. “A lot of that is because the way that people work together has changed to be more team-oriented and service-oriented,” she says. “It’s not just about completing a task anymore, and hiring managers are focused on skills that are interpersonal and relational.”
A recent study by Adobe found that communication is the most sought-after soft skill, followed by creativity and collaboration. Nearly three-quarters of job postings list communication as a necessary skill, while 50% list creativity, but just 25% of applicants include those skills on their résumés.
Adding words to a résumé is a start, but showcasing those skills during an interview stage is how you can bring your soft skills to life. Here’s how to do it:
A great way to demonstrate your communications skills is to create conversation and connect with the interview panel, says Maya Marcus, vice president of people for the cybersecurity company Palo Alto Networks.
“When I’m assessing new talent, I want to see how the individual can create ease in a room, connect quickly with peers, and demonstrate capability,” she says. “All of that is done through soft skills of conversation starting, putting people at ease, creating an environment that leads to productivity. It means waiting for your interviewer to finish their sentences before starting, being introspective about the answer, and connecting with them as a person.”
“Though interviews can be rehearsed, a good conversation is one of the strongest indicators that a candidate has the soft skills needed to excel in a given position,” says Essenfeld.
Communication skills involve more than words, adds Ayana Champagne, vice president and chief human resources officer of Ferring Pharmaceuticals. “Many times, interviewers are not paying attention to every word you’re saying,” she says. “It’s important to be aware of your eye contact, body language, how you articulate your answers through tone and style, and if you are able to respond to a question in a way that paints a picture, provides a solid example, and can be understood clearly and concisely.”
Behavioral or situational questions hiring managers ask during an interview offer a way for you to share your creative thinking skills, says Archer. When you’re asked to talk about a problem you solved or a difficult coworker or customer you had to handle, don’t just talk about the end result; explain your thinking process. Archer recommends sharing the information by starting with the event, then talking about your action and then the result—the EAR formula.
“You can say to the interviewer, ‘Here’s what the situation was. Here’s what I did. And here’s the outcome,’” says Archer. “Then share how your soft skills contributed to the outcome.”
Use examples of your creative thinking soft skills in your storytelling, suggests Debora Roland, vice president of human resources for CareerArc, an outplacement and social recruiting firm. Creative thinking is often demonstrated in how well you solve problems.
“You can say ‘I had zero turnover in my department for the last two years,’ but adding ‘if there was ever a conflict amongst team members, I made sure to listen to the issues and resolve them in a collaborative way that allowed everyone to feel valued,” she says. “That gives you a little more depth in your answer.”
If you’re a great collaborator, you can demonstrate this soft skill during your interview by providing an example of where and how well you worked with others.
“If you’re talking about teamwork, make sure that you’re using the right language, such as how you all contributed—not just your own personal contribution,” says Melanie Tinto, chief human resources officer at the payment solution system WEX. “This demonstrates that you are thinking beyond yourself and that you do, in fact, have a team-oriented mindset.”
Collaboration is shown in results. It can take a solid background in this soft skill to accomplish ambitious goals, says Marcus, who recommends helping your interviewer connect the dots behind your contributions. “When you’re speaking to a project you managed, talk about how you managed conflict resolution within the team,” she says. “When you’re discussing how you’d get started at the organization, talk about how you would make people feel comfortable and build connections.”
While it helps to be intentional, you will demonstrate some soft skills during an interview without even realizing it, says Roland. “Having clear communication, listening skills, and a positive attitude are examples of soft skills that will reveal themselves naturally,” she says.