As important as it is for a candidate to have the required technical skills for a job, companies are increasingly giving more weight to a potential employee’s soft skills during an interview.
Denise Dudley, behavioral psychologist and founder of SkillPath Seminars, mentions that each candidate she interviews is virtually on the same playing field, or she wouldn’t have agreed to meet them in the first place.
“Once I get them in the interview I’m going to spend pretty much all my time testing soft skills,” Dudley said.
Ladders has outlined how to identify, practice and use soft skills during an interview so that you can secure your dream job.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are desirable qualities that are often learned through environment rather than official education.
Soft skills include communication, leadership ability, critical thinking, creative thinking, coachability, curiosity, time management and work ethic. Emotional intelligence, which encompasses many soft skills, is an extremely helpful skill for candidates to use during interviews.
On the flip side, hard skills are anything from coding to understanding how to work with a content management system. Hard skills are usually what one studies in college, while soft skills have been learned through family and friends. That being said, Dudley stresses that soft skills can indeed be taught and acquired.
“Wherever anyone is on the continuum…we can work with them,” said Dudley, who works with recent graduates to master the use of soft skills during interviews.
How will an interviewer test your soft skills?
As soft skills become increasingly more important, hiring managers are asking specific questions in order to target them. Anecdotal interview questions, which are formally called behavioral interview questions, ask candidates to tell a story about a time they experienced a certain issue and how they handled it.
Pearlie Oni, the senior manager of employee experience at RedPeg, stresses that you should be well organized, listen closely to the questions, and bring any necessary materials.
“You’re being judged for everything, not just your work product,” Oni said.
How to communicate your soft skills during an interview
There are two different facets to the art of expressing soft skills during an interview. First, one must express soft skills through their actions and conversation. Rachel Karitis, the director of marketing for TransitScreen, stresses the importance of pausing to think about questions instead of jumping in before you are truly ready. To avoid rambling, take a few seconds to think about the question and prepare your response.
The second part has to do with the stories one tells while answering behavioral questions. Providing stories that point to strong soft skills is extremely important to acing the interview.
How do you answer behavioral interview questions?
Dudley recommends using the STAR method to prepare answers to behavioral questions. The STAR method allows a candidate to tell a story with a solid beginning, middle and end. Using STAR, you can form a coherent story about a time when you were in a situation, were assigned a task, took action to solve a problem, and reached an impressive end result.
How do you practice behavioral questions?
The key to rocking an interview is preparation, so mock interviews are great ways to practice answering behavioral questions. The first step is to brainstorm situations in which you used soft skills in a professional setting. Next, use examples of anecdotal questions to think of which situations will be useful to discuss during interviews. Write each situation down using the STAR method.
“You can tell the kind of people who have actually thought about who they are in the workplace,” Karitis said, stressing the importance of thoughtful preparation.
Next, you should actually practice telling these stories to someone. If you don’t have a professional to practice with, grab a friend or family member and provide them with a list of behavioral questions to ask you.
Here’s are some examples of behavioral questions to practice while preparing for an interview, provided by Jen Shirkani, Pearlie Oni, and Rachel Karitis:
Q: Have you ever unintentionally offended or upset somebody? Can you describe the details?
Q: Can you tell me about the last time you had to act and there was no formal policy or procedure on how to do so?
Q: Can you tell me about a time that you let someone down? How did you handle it?
Q: What was your relationship with the best boss you ever had?
Q: What’s been the toughest criticism you received so far in your career? What did you do with it?
Q: Can you tell us about a time you took initiative on a project or a task at work?
Q: How do you approach a task that you’ve never done before?
Oni explains that while preparation is key, it’s also important that a candidate doesn’t sound too rehearsed while answering questions during interviews.
“Prepare just enough so you don’t feel like you’re getting put on the spot by every question,” Oni said. “But don’t stress yourself out because nervousness will shine through and it can keep your personality from shining through.”
Why is it important to use soft skills during an interview?
Your resume, which should outline your hard skills, already landed you the interview. In order to land the job, you’ll have to excel beyond your technical skills.
“The soft skills are really your own personal marketing device to convince someone that you are the person for the job,” Dudley said.
Karitis expressed that it’s much easier to train an employee in a technical skill than in a skill like communication. These days, employers are more likely to choose the candidate that already brings soft skills to the table.
How can you continue to use soft skills after an interview?
Sending a thank you email or handwritten note is a common suggestion, but it’s especially important if a candidate wishes to express their soft skills to an employer. A well-written message to an employer showcases that a candidate has strong communication skills, is thoughtful and is willing to go the extra mile.