Why employers emphasize soft skills -- and why you should too
Most job seekers are familiar with soft skills -- the broad set of capabilities related to communication, leadership, collaboration and creative problem-solving. In short, they are all the nontechnical skills you bring to your work and your professional relationships. But because soft skills are hard to measure, job seekers often think of them as "nice to have" complements to their core abilities. That would be a fine attitude about soft skills if most hiring managers shared it. They don't.
Why soft skills are critical
For most openings these days, employers can choose from multiple candidates who have comparable "hard" qualifications. That's why the decision often comes down to identifying the job seeker who will fit best with the team and can work easily with others, motivate colleagues, respond calmly to crises and provide exactly the kind of help that's needed. Individuals with well-developed soft skills benefit the company in ways that, while hard to measure, are impossible to ignore.
Job candidates with strong soft skills also have the greatest potential to deliver more value over time. Employees who can educate others -- and be educated by them in turn -- build their knowledge, forge stronger collaborative relationships and become leaders and motivators.
Job seekers' underestimation of soft skills may stem from a belief that technological advancements have lessened the importance of interpersonal interactions. To the contrary, technology has increased the pace and volume of interaction with colleagues not only within your own department but also throughout the company (and sometimes the world), many of whom don't share your background or expectations. Soft skills are the key to that increased communication and collaboration more productive. The ability to build strong relationships, even with people you rarely or never see, has become indispensable for many roles.
Show, don't just tell
Highlighting your soft skills on your résumé is worthwhile, especially if you can cite specific examples of ways they've benefited past employers. But what most hiring managers really want is firsthand proof of those capabilities, and that's something they can get only from interacting with you.
Those interactions aren't limited to interviews, of course. If your résumé includes a host of impressive but irrelevant information, for example, it might suggest that you haven't really considered the employer's needs or time constraints. That bodes poorly for your future interactions with co-workers at the company.
Don't overlook factors that aren't normally associated with communication. Dressing appropriately for every visit to the office, for example, conveys a sense of awareness about the way you present yourself to others.
In-person interviews tend to be your best opportunity to showcase your soft skills because they let you demonstrate them while talking about them. Employers want a sense not only of how well you can articulate your value but also of how well you respond to questions and nonverbal cues. Do you seem engaged in the conversation, or are you just waiting for your turn to speak?
A genuine connection with the interviewer is more likely to make a lasting impression than a well-rehearsed pitch. If you seem stuck on a prerecorded message -- a common interview pitfall -- you're unlikely to come across as someone who's able to identify and provide what your manager and co-workers need.
Use your own voice
Great soft skills aren't the exclusive domain of the naturally gregarious. In fact, some of the most effective teammates and motivators are soft-spoken individuals who lead mostly by example. Altering your personality in an attempt to seem more personable will only come across as insincere. A simple, confident greeting and handshake, followed by genuine attention to what the other person is saying, go a long way.
Shifting your attention from your rock-solid achievements and accolades toward intangible skills can feel uncomfortable. But doing so gives you a chance to get an edge on the competition. By considering and articulating all the ways you can help employers, you make it easier for them to take the full measure of your value.
Robert Half International is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 400 staffing and consulting locations worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit www.roberthalf.com. For additional career advice, view our career bloopers video series at www.roberthalf.com/bloopers or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/roberthalf.
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