‘Many candidates see hard skills as relevant and soft skills as ‘nice to have’ or ten-a-penny. The paradox, of course, is that some of the most difficult tasks are achieved through well-crafted soft skills such as persuading, influencing and negotiating,’ says John Lees, career coach and author of Secrets of Resilient people.
While you may not give much thought to your soft skills, employers value these more highly than you might realise.
‘With many industries facing skills shortages, more employers are willing to train candidates in the technical skills they need – but they can’t ‘teach’ soft skills as these are developed through experience,’ says Emma Sue Prince, author ofThe Advantage: The 7 Soft Skills You Need to Stay One Step Ahead.
So how do you persuade an employer that you have the soft skills they are looking for?
Use your CV to tell a story
It’s not enough to simply label yourself hardworking, passionate or a good team player on your CV, which is what every candidate does.
‘It’s how you write about your soft skills in your CV that will distinguish you from most everyone else,’ asserts Emma Sue.
‘You need to tailor your CV to the role you’re applying for, making sure you demonstrate that you meet the job requirements, and tell a story of who you are, so that people can relate to you as a person. You do this by including your achievements and real-life experiences.’
But what if you’re a new graduate without much work experience?
Most young people have a lot of valuable soft skills but need to package them better. That can only happen if your CV is tailored to the job and gets across what makes you tick.
‘Employers want to see evidence that you have a strong work ethic, commitment, communication skills and team work. Examples don’t have to come from employment – volunteering or community work can demonstrate these too.’
That doesn’t mean divulging your life story! Keep your resume to two pages at most.
‘Keep in mind that CVs hardly get read,’ adds Emma Sue. ‘To find work, you need to be proactive – that means networking, going to the places where your future employers are likely to be and following and chasing leads. That way, when your CV lands on their desk they can put a face to a name.’
Identify your strengths
What if you’re struggling to find stories that reveal your soft skills in action?
‘Look for those moments when you say “things just happened … it all came together at the last minute”, suggests John. ‘Who made it come together? If it was you, how did you do it? The clue for a skill that has value is that something changed because of your involvement.
‘Ask someone who saw the event what it was you did, and then think about how you can build on that experience. Make better connections between the skills you use outside work and what you do best nine to five.
‘Alternatively, tell a friend about a time when you did something important, and ask them to write down the skills mentioned in your story. Every opportunity you can take to get people to remind you of what you do well boosts your confidence.’
Build your confidence
Emma Sue also emphases the importance of developing confidence. Everything, from how you dress and walk into the room to how you shake the interviewer’s hand, will tell them about your soft skills, she says.
‘Focus on your body language, how you sit and make eye contact, and practise “power poses”, as demonstrated by Amy Cuddy, before you enter the room.
‘Standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident, affects testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain and impact how we come across,’ she explains.
During the interview you should continually be looking for opportunities to tell your story. To do that, you need to “listen really, really well,” says Emma Sue.
‘Most of us don’t listen properly because we are nervous. Deal with nerves first by using confidence-building and relaxation techniques and researching the role and company.
‘Then, for example, if your interviewer asks you, “How would you define leadership?” instead of “Tell me about a time you demonstrated leadership?” you can start by making a general statement that answers the question and then launch into your story regardless of whether there is an invitation to tell it.
‘Ultimately, your story will likely be more memorable than your philosophy. So always relate things back to your own experiences. If they ask about working as part of a team or managing complex projects, relate this to when you’ve had to do that – whether that is a voluntary project or something that challenged you in some way.’
Master the art of storytelling by following the STAR format – Situation, Task, Action and Results.
‘Give an overview of the situation and task in 60 seconds or less, what actions you took to address the issues, and then quantify and qualify the results you achieved through your soft skills,’ explains Emma Sue.
‘When preparing for an interview, therefore, have these stories ready and select those that highlight multiple soft skills – being a good team player, for example, means balancing cooperation with initiative and leadership sometimes too.
‘Flexibility usually means problem-solving skills and resourcefulness as well as being adaptable, otherwise flexible sounds like you just go with the flow!’
Finally, employers want people who are adaptable and can deal with uncertainty. If they ask throw you a curve ball question, you need to think on your feet.
‘Be enthusiastic and positive whatever question comes your way. Positive people are the ones that get ahead rather than merely get by,’ says Emma Sue.
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