By John Karras
When I ask clients, workshop participants and job seekers to name the most important quality they would look for in a candidate if they were the final decision-maker on who gets a job, most of the time they answer by giving me a “soft skill” or what I like to call a personal point of marketability. Some examples of soft skills are organizational skills, time management skills, leadership skills, problem solving skills and the ability to work well in a team environment. There are many others.
Employment and career services surveys will also identify these skills as some of the most important attributes decision-makers look for in candidates when making hiring decisions. In fact, “communication skills” is consistently ranked by employers as one of the most important and marketable attributes in these surveys. Yes….even more important than specific experience in many cases. That is not to say that experience isn’t important. Of course it is, but candidates that actually make the interview cut by submitting their resume have already met the minimum qualifications regarding experience, at least on paper or they would have been screened out. Now, the job seeker is competing against other candidates who have also met the minimum experience qualifications. This is the point in the process where the soft skills become critical and can be the determining factor on who gets the actual job offer.
If you review some job postings, you will find that most companies will identify three or four soft skills in the qualifications section. They really do look for these skills! They would not include them in the posting if they did not find them important. All personal points of marketability or soft skills are transferable skills and will be marketable to any new job opportunity. Additionally, the summation of all your soft skills can help create a certain likability factor. For example, people tend to like leaders who have excellent communication skills and present themselves in a professional manner.
It is very important to remember that these soft skills are opinions of yourself and not necessarily facts, at least to the company decision-makers. When using soft skills in an interview to market yourself, you need to prove that these skills are valid and are of significant value by giving an example of a time when you utilized the skill. For example, when asked about your greatest strength in an interview, you can highlight and emphasize that skill by providing one of your experiences. Consider the following:
“I have excellent leadership skills. For example, I was selected by senior management to lead a cross-functional team consisting of three sales representatives, two accounting professionals and the technical staff in the successful implementation of a new sales reporting program.”
By adding this “proof” you make it much easier for the decision-maker to believe that leadership skills is actually a factual statement.
“I feel I have excellent communication skills. For example, I am bilingual in English and Spanish and I know your company conducts operations in many Spanish speaking countries.”
Again, by adding this “proof” you make it easier to turn an opinion into a factual statement that might be very marketable to the job. Job seekers should find themselves using the term “for example” quite a bit in any interview when marketing themselves on soft skills.
The same concept is true when using these soft skills on a resume. I would recommend that you do not simply list a series of soft skills on your resume without linking them to a specific accountability or accomplishment. A well written Professional Summary section should be able to incorporate the soft skills you want to communicate on the resume and satisfy a possible key word search conducted by an Applicant Tracking System, while at the same time linking them to a proof. The point to remember is that you always need to “prove” that the soft skill is correct, or you are simply giving an opinion without verification that the opinion is true.
John Karras, President, Job Transitions, Inc.
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