In today's economy, it takes a lot more than meeting job requirements and possessing the right technical skills to get and keep a job. Of course, a good resume will reflect your education, training and experience. However, there is more to your overall qualifications than that. Your soft skills are an important part of the whole package.
Director of career services Barbara J. Schafer, and human resources coordinator Carilyn Penrod work daily helping students and graduates at Brown Mackie College in Boise to be ready to enter today’s workforce or preparing them to enhance their professional status.
They agree that no matter what field interests you, it is beneficial to include your soft skills in your pitch. "Before you can market your soft skills, you must know what they are," says Schafer. "Soft skills are personality traits; the things that make you who you are. You seldom learn soft skills in trade school or college. They are life skills that you develop through your experiences."
Two other directors of career services, Ricardo Estevez of The Art Institute of Washington and Don Stewart of The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, offer some tips for identifying and utilizing your soft skills, whether for an interview or on the job.
"Soft skills are really, really critical," insists Estevez, who has worked in both career services and recruiting. "When talking to students and graduates, I call it the 'It' factor" - the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication skills, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that employers look for in a candidate.
A New Level of Competition
"It's almost like a reset button got hit, and it’s no longer just the best and most talented person who gets the job," explains Estevez. "Competition is fierce and highly sought positions are being given to those with the strongest capabilities that meet both hard and soft skill requirements." Soft skills are undoubtedly the other half of the equation and can set a candidate apart from the pool of jobseekers and assist employees in keeping their jobs during periods of downsizing or restructuring.
Stewart coaches graduates daily on ‘'likability,' and he's not talking about Facebook posts. He's referring to whether an interviewer feels like they 'clicked' with you or not. "You are constantly being assessed in an interview. Whether they realize it or not, interviewers record in a mental file things like how you dress, if you combed your hair, how you carried on a conversation, if you were on time, how your listening and critical thinking skills were, whether you would work well in a team, and how motivated or passionate you were."
Consider not only how you come across in an interview, Stewart adds, but also how you come across in a presentation, over the phone, in a virtual environment, and even when emailing and using LinkedIn. It's the undertone of your communications and actions that can come across loud and clear.
Given the vast array of soft skills, jobseekers and employees should strive to master five primary areas:
Professionalism: "The main items I look for in interviewee, apart from hard skills, are self-confidence, eye contact and a firm handshake," says Penrod. Those soft skills, combined with integrity, appropriate dress and good grammar, can be collectively defined as professionalism.
Listening: "Listening skills matter," asserts Penrod. "Is the candidate paying attention to what I’m saying? Is the candidate providing thoughtful responses?" All of these attributes combine to create an element of trust between employer and applicant. Watch for cues and use simple techniques such as asking yourself, "Am I talking too much or too little?"
Your listening skills go hand in hand with another soft skill: receiving criticism. Listen intently and don’t react right away to criticism. Take your time to process, even if it takes several days, and then respond.
Communication: Be honest and genuine while being tactful all at the same time. If you’re yourself, you will be less likely to give what sounds like a prerecorded answer or stutter in an interview.
Critical Thinking and Decision Making: Given a set of challenges, be creative about ways to produce solutions based on research. Fine-tune large-scale projects by checking back with managers or team members regularly to course-correct and stay on track. Their feedback can save you time and money.
Confidence and Attitude: "Confidence and a positive attitude are important soft skills that many employers value as much as technical ability," says Penrod. Examples of other soft skills include a strong work ethic, flexibility, time management skills, and working well in a team environment. You may already have some of these characteristics listed on your resume without realizing that you are marketing your soft skills.
Fitting in Softly
Estevez believes that identifying your soft skills will also help jobseekers choose an employer or company that fits who they are. He says that one can crash their own opportunities and ruin their chances for success from the very start by trying to fit into a company that isn’t for them and doesn’t match their goals, personality, or soft skill sets.
"It’s the square-peg round-hole theory," he says. "If you need structure and quiet, it’s probably not a great idea to work at a company that is creative, relaxed, and where the employees play miniature golf down a long carpet alley of cubicles."
Communicate Your Strengths
Listing your soft skills on a resume is a good way to introduce them to a prospective employer. However, you will need to prove you actually have them by providing examples of how each manifests in your work. "If you say you have good communication skills, you must be able to explain this well in an interview," says Schafer. "Failure to do so will convince the employer that you really don't have good communication skills. This holds true with any skill, hard or soft. Know yourself and address it confidently with the employer."
The initial interest a prospective employer will have in you will be for your hard skills, your ability to perform the technical part of the job,” she explains. "In the end, however, the things that will help you seal the deal on that interview will be your ability to market your soft skills and match them to the position."
Courtesy of ARAContent