Why do some of the smartest professionals fail as team leaders? There are those who convert more deals than others, even with same kind of experience. Why does an in-depth knowledge of coding or law or graphic design not seem enough to land that coveted job?
Simple answer? It’s the interpersonal skills that are missing! Or not convincing enough for someone across the hiring table.
Often termed as soft skills, they are in fact anything but. Yes, they are intangible, but the ability to communicate, lead, listen, negotiate and even keep your cool are prized qualities in the workplace.
Soft skills will always separate the front-runners from the contenders!
But acknowledging the value of soft skills is only a starting point. The real question is – how do you prove that you possess them on a resume or during an interview?
How to ace soft skills in resumes & interviews – 15 expert tips from hiring pros, business owners and career coaches.
Show to Tell
Soft skills have to be seen to be believed – and stories are the best way to do this. Have you juggled deadlines? Achieved project success? Done any troubleshooting? Organized events?
Don’t forget to mention the notable ones in your resume.
James Rice, Head of Digital Marketing at WikiJob feels that while hard skills can be shown via qualifications, soft skills are slightly more slippery. “Remember to show,” he suggests. “Don’t tell. Simply stating that you are a great communicator, for example, can have the ironic effect of undermining the very soft skill you are claiming to have.”
You should reinforce any claims with examples drawn from professional, personal or academic experiences, he adds.
Dr. Dawn D. Boyer, CEO of D. Boyer Consulting, a professional resume writer, and past HR manager & recruiter, does not encourage specific listings of ’soft skills’ by the resume writer, because they are essentially ‘how wonderful I am’ statements with zero ‘documentability.’
Recruiters want real info – what documentable and verifiable hard skills and experience do you have?
“Showcase achievements that use subjective soft skills, so recruiters can read between the lines,” she says.
Use action words like Conducted, Created, Achieved, Mentored etc. for maximising impact in a tangible way.
Boyer shares suggestions. “Examples could be – coordinated employee morale events monthly for birthday recognition or awards ceremonies. Worked as a partnership liaison for events and external organisations. This illustrates not only hard skills for scheduling and working with people, but also showcases team-member participation (people skills), stick-to-it-ness (diligence skills), and ability to outreach for a diverse set of project management (branding and marketing cold-call skills).”
Think Personal Brand, Not Job
Melanie Lundberg, AVP of Talent Management and Corporate Communications at Combined Insurance says that recruiters look simultaneously at both the LinkedIn profile and the resume to assess a candidate’s fit for the position. She recommends being consistent in what you share in those.
Lundberg also suggests picking 3-5 top soft skills that you believe to be your strongest and aim to associate the most with your personal brand, and amplify those throughout your LinkedIn summary.
“The goal,” she says, “is for an individual to create a strong ‘story’ about who you are your key strengths, and ensuring that each profile reads consistently and cohesively.”
Bridge the Gaps
Crystal Olivarria, Founder & CEO at Career Conversationalist “One of the most common challenges people face with crafting a resume is they don’t think they have a lot of experience because they forget to mention their soft skills,” she adds.
Lack of experience is often an issue for women making career comebacks or pivots as well as with new college graduates, so sharing your soft skills can give you an advantage.
Share your PTO experiences and community experiences. But keep it specific e.g. chaired the school annual fund-raiser (goal: $5K) for 3 straight years.
Cover it Well
A cover letter can be a great tool to talk about yourself with more detail, and in a conversational style. The perfect cover letter is short, concise and one page, max.
April Klimkiewicz from Bliss Evolution recommends an important way women can showcase soft skills is through a cover letter. “In a cover letter, rather than a quick snapshot of projects like you would share on a resume, you actually have the time to showcase one or two important projects in detail. You can include information about leading a team or working in one.”
“Your voice in your cover letter is a great way for them to discover how you communicate.”
Ian McClarty of PhoenixNAP Global IT Services actually prefers to see a cover letter. “Resumes tend to be very dry, but a cover letter allows me to learn a bit more about the individual. It should be personalized, not generic. Sure, they are all project management jobs, but focus on the job description to uncover these details. If it says ‘detailed approach to handling project data and analytics, make sure that your skills at setting up and tracking a project data and analytics are mentioned in your cover letter. Also, include your qualifications and end with a call to action.”
Align with Job Description
Even if you believe that you’re strong in multiple skills, highlight the ones that are the best fit for the role.
As a business owner who hires regularly, Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation says that they often look for soft skills on resumes based on job description. She suggests sharing those genuinely and with a realistic tone. “If there’s a lot of puffing and exaggeration in the descriptions, it often seems fake or unrealistic,” she says. “It appears that these people are making up for something they are lacking.”
Ian McCarty also cautions against sending generic resumes. “Candidates often make the mistake of ‘perfecting’ their resume and then sending the same resume to every potential job. But each job requires a unique set of skills.”
A few minutes customizing your resume can make the difference between getting an interview or not, he adds.
Share Volunteer Work
While Volunteering per se isn’t a soft skill, it takes a special person to offer up their time and resources. It also tells employers what causes you care about and how well you can work with people who like you, are sharing their time and resources.
“We had an applicant who shared experience not only in the workplace, but also volunteer experience,” adds Sweeney. “It was useful to see an added dimension to that individual. It showed a balanced person, and often a balanced person brings with them great soft skills to any position.”
Build Social Proof
“It’s easy to say you interact well with others, anyone and everyone can jot this down on their CV, but it’s not so easy to prove,” offers Steve Pritchard, Founder of Cuuver. Building up your network on LinkedIn and on social media are good ways to show future employers that you are personable and have been a valid asset to a team in the past, and want to continue this into the future.
If previous bosses have rewarded you for your ability, and have actively told you they are happy to give you a reference, don’t be afraid to ask them for a recommendation on LinkedIn. The more proof you have on ‘paper’ that you are liked and respected, the more chance you will be invited to an interview in the first place.
Nowadays, social media helps employers find out more about a candidate, both before and after they’ve set foot in their office. So, share your achievements as well as proof of interaction with not only your friends, but influencers and organizations too.”
Share the Applause
Laura Handrick, a human resources staff writer at Fit Small Business recommends being proactive on this.
“Share a link to your Linkedin profile with reference to the section where you have Featured Skills and Endorsements. If someone has 35 endorsements for Leadership skills, it says more about their leadership skills than they ever could.”
She has another great recommendation. “Use LinkedIn’s Ask to be recommended feature, and let your satisfied clients, appreciative bosses, and co-workers tell about your leadership skills for you. I download my recommendations as a PDF, and send them to the interviewer in advance of the interview, so they don’t have to hunt for them on my LinkedIn profile. They can then look at the PDF file that shows what others have said about me. Nothing is more valuable than a first hand testimonial!”
But getting testimonials isn’t always easy.
“Don’t ask someone to endorse or recommend you, unless they have first hand experience with that soft skills,” Handrick cautions, “otherwise, you may risk damaging the relationship with them.”
Her trick – follow through on positive feedback.
“I typically only ask for a recommendation at the time I receive a sincere compliment from a colleague. I will follow up by saying something like, your compliment meant so much to me! Would you mind doing me a favor since I’m in the job market? Would you post a recommendation on LinkedIn saying what you just told me?”
Alina Josef walked into an interview with a firm at midtown Manhattan and quipped – well, now I can brag to my friends that I saw CentralPark from the swankiest building in the Plaza District! The laughter that followed worked as an icebreaker. And her subtle confidence set the tone for what was a high-stakes interview.
Valeriya Donchik, Recruiter at Sigma Software says she often uses a question like “can you give an example of a funny situation at work?”
It’s a great idea to prepare for questions like these, because interviewers are looking to glean insights about you from this. “Answers can be different.” Donchik adds, “And you can learn about a candidate’s communication skills, about the tasks he or she performed, their social circle, range of interests, motivation etc.”
The Devil in Details
I have a seen a resume which said bogus instead of bonus – incredible difference! Or a typo like Dear Idiot on a cover letter will not endear you to Dear Odette.
“The most essential way to show your attention to detail is to proofread ruthlessly, and eliminate any typos,” suggests James Rice. “An interview is your first chance to show your interpersonal skills to your prospective employers. Be professional, make eye contact, shake hands, listen closely to the questions and answer them fully.”
Affiliations and Memberships
It’s not just about what you’ve achieved, what also counts is where you belong. Many organizations offer opportunities to learn and network. It also shows your commitment to your industry or chosen discipline.
Anna D managed to land a job with a leading design firm – what helped her was membership in a Facebook Group for Designers, known for its very exacting scrutiny before they accepted anyone.
John Crossman of Crossman & Company looks for trade association memberships, particularly when when hiring college students. “It shows a commitment to the industry,” he says. “If they are spending their own money to go to marketing events after hours, they probably have soft skills.
Talk the Talk
Crystal Olivarria, Founder & CEO at Career Conversationalist feels that the most valued amongst soft skills is good communication. She recommends highlighting experiences on a resume that showcase this by using words like communicate, collaborate, and mention.
Sometimes, it’s tempting to share a whole story or incident to show off – bad idea!
It’s better to keep your answers brief and wait for followup queries, instead of rattling it all in one go. Prepare some sound bites for the oft asked questions, which will help you appear more articulate.
Grant van der Harst, Managing Director for Anglo Liners adds, “Do. Don’t just say. If you’ve stated on your CV that you’re a strong team player, you need to prove this in an interview. Small hints are just as effective as grand gestures in an interview, so really think about how you can show-off your skill set, without being too much of an extrovert. Show you are a confident people person by introducing yourself to the team. It’s important that you converse with others who work for the company you are interviewing for. Why? Because it shows you are interested in the bigger picture, and not just ‘a job’.
Make an effort to greet staff, or ask them light-hearted, sociable questions, and approach people in a friendly but professional manner,” he adds.
Reel with a Hook
Sometimes an interesting bit of info can be a great talking point during a job interview. I once reviewed over 250 resumes of students from a leading university for an technology internship.
While most were impressive and read well, there was one that stayed with me. It was from a young woman, who mentioned collecting safety pins as a hobby. She made the shortlist and not surprisingly, the panel also asked her questions about her choice. And that’s where her creativity and sense of fun came through.
Jake Tully from Truck Driving Jobs has hired several employees for various freelance projects and short-term campaigns, looking over both their technical skills as well as more practical skills they may use in their position.
He recommends putting a line on your resume on team accomplishments to demonstrate what you did. “When your involvement in a team or project comes up in the interview, you can sell what you contributed and share specifics,” he advises. “It’s better than a simple statement on paper or saying that boilerplate answer aloud.”
Another great way he suggests is through the means of a portfolio. Portfolios are typically a format reserved for displaying more technical skills, one can use it to create a story about the job or project, especially if it’s a team effort.
Share Strong and Positive Vibes
Another key is the ability to look pleasant and happy during the interview – no matter how the job seeker feels the interview is going, recommends Boyer. “Force yourself to ‘laugh’ for about five minutes before walking into the interview (privately in the car or on the street). One will raise the good endorphins and make you feel more relaxed walking into the interview and the expression on the job seeker’s face will come across as more pleasant than unwittingly having what the job seeker feels may be a serious look, but actually comes across as a scowl.”
We hire people for their skills. But the whole person shows up, Chester Barnard once said.
The flip side – be the one they can truly assess, like and hire.
Your soft skills speak for you. Share examples that showcase yours and use them to show a potential employer that you not only belong in their organization, but will be a valuable asset too.
Pooja Krishna is an Entrepreneur, Consultant and Mom. She has worked both in large corporates and managed startups over the last 20+ years. A co-founder of Maroon Oak, she’s also founded Win Thinks, a small business consulting company, and Trading Paces, which educates amateur and pro stock traders. She blogs and teaches workshops about Brand Strategy, Social Media & Future ready Career Solutions. She loves being a Classroom Mentor and teaching students across the U.S. about Job Skills and Entrepreneurship. Read her interview on Huffington Post.
A trivia buff and yoga & hula hoop enthusiast, Pooja loves spending time with her family playing board games and watching documentaries.
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