So, you’ve mastered your program’s technical requirements. In other words, you can do all the things.
You know, the things: if you’re studying film, you know how to construct a compelling narrative and draw up storyboards and set up lighting rigs. If you’re studying culinary arts, you know how to plate meals beautifully and play with flavours and cut vegetables 80 different ways. If you’re…you get it.
You went into your classes first semester, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with no more than a dream and a willingness to learn. And, now, you can do whatever things are necessary to succeed in your dream career (pretty well, if you do say so yourself).
But, despite your mastery of the things, you’re still finding it difficult to shine in an interview.
“Why don’t they seem to like me?” you ask yourself. “I can do the things. I’ve proven I can do the things. Isn’t that enough?”
Well, yes and no.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are any capabilities, experiences, behaviours or attitudes that help you succeed in a given career beyond the job-specific things. Leadership ability is a soft skill. Effective communication is a soft skill. Punctuality is a soft skill. (The list is pretty much endless, TBH, but you get the picture.)
And, soft skills are extremely important to employers. In fact, 92 per cent of talent professionals claim they’re equally or more important than technical skills, according to LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2019 report.
So, you’re right that, to make it in any industry, being able to do the things is important. But to land that dream job, you need to show what else you can bring to the table.
How do I hone my soft skills?
Well, for one, just by living life.
As you move through your classes, ride the waves of your interpersonal relationships and gain work experience, you’ll pick up on some soft skills naturally. Your class projects most likely have due dates—that forces you to learn dependability. When you get in an argument with your friend, you need to rely on conflict resolution strategies to work through it. If you’re working part-time in retail or at a restaurant while you study, you’re learning how to manage your time effectively and operate in a fast-paced environment.
You most likely already have a host of demonstrable soft skills—you just have to look for them.
If you’re looking to refine specific soft skills, though, there are some more purposeful ways to develop them, like:
- Networking with people who are successful in your desired field
- Seeking out extracurricular opportunities
- Taking on leadership roles whenever possible
However you go about honing your soft skills, the most important thing is to emphasize them to employers.
Which soft skills are most important to emphasize in an interview?
Unfortunately, there’s no one answer to that.
Job interviews are tough because you’re trying to prove you have what someone is looking for without knowing what it is they’re looking for. Of course, you’ll usually have access to the job description, which can help you focus your attention. For example, if the job posting indicates the company’s looking for a real team player, you could shine by sharing times you’ve successfully collaborated.
However, even with access to the job posting, there are some soft skills your interviewer will be looking for that you simply won’t know in advance.
Maybe the office is currently ripe with social butterflies and they need someone a bit more reserved to balance things out. Maybe most current team members are overly agreeable and they need someone more willing to challenge the status quo.
The bad news? You can’t know precisely what personality-centred soft skills your interviewer is looking for, even after doing your research on the company. The good news? You shouldn’t want to.
Let’s say you could know in advance what personality traits your interviewer wants and you discover they need someone super extroverted. You’re really introverted but you think, “Hey, I need this job. I can pretend to be more outgoing.” And you do; you nail the interview and land the job.
Are you prepared to keep pretending, for 40 hours a week, for as long as you’re working at the company?
In short: the best soft skills to play up in the interview are the ones most authentic to you.
What’s the recipe for success?
Essentially, hard skills (a.k.a. the things) + constructive soft skills + a good workplace fit.
No one is denying that being able to execute position-relevant skills is important. What we are saying is that, on top of your experience and expertise, you should showcase some competencies that make you an asset to any company’s team. People want to work with people who are good to work with—simple as that.
And, in addition to your hard and soft skills, a sprinkle of authenticity is essential (both for your career and for your general well-being). Just as people naturally have different heights, eye colours and shoe sizes, they’re also inclined towards different sets of soft skills. Some people are naturally flexible and go with the flow; some are born leaders.
Embrace the soft skills that come to you innately, work at the ones you want to improve and apply to places that value you for what you have to offer.
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