Plays Well with Others: How to Show Off Your Soft Skills
Searching for a new job can feel like a Herculean task. Not only must you figure out which technical skills a position requires, but you also need to craft your resume in such a way that an application tracking system picks up those skills—and you need to figure out a way to show off your soft skills, too.
Employers are looking for the total package, so how can you make sure they unwrap all you have to offer?
A quick refresher on soft skills
Soft skills, quite simply, are the interpersonal skills that make it possible for you to “play well with others.” Another way to think about it: Soft skills are the behaviors you started learning in kindergarten (or even earlier). Think sharing, being patient, and treating others with respect. In a professional sense, that means communicating effectively, collaborating professionally, taking ownership of your work, and proactively seeking solutions.
These may all seem like Captain Obvious skills every job applicant or professional should have—but while these skills are transferrable between positions and even professions, they’re notoriously hard to develop. If you’ve got ’em, you’ll want to flaunt ’em (in a mature manner befitting your soft skills, of course).
3 tips for showcasing your soft skills
Think of the job description as a guidebook for what qualities the hiring manager prizes most. Are there references to presentation skills? Frequent mention of organization and project management? Is attention to detail emphasized? Make a list of the soft skills cited in the job description, and start thinking of good examples that display your mastery of these skills.
Remember when your English teacher encouraged you to “show, don’t tell”? That advice applies here, too. A solid example of conflict resolution will be far more memorable than a simple “I’m great at working with others.”
The STAR method is frequently used by job applicants to prepare anecdotes for use in cover letters or in response to interview questions. “S” stands for “Situation.” Begin by setting the scene and providing context for your example.
Next is “T” for “Task.” What was your role in this example? For instance, if you’re demonstrating attention to detail, you could recall the time your current boss had a major presentation due, and you were charged with preparing extensive handouts to go to the printer.
“A” is for “Action.” With Situation and Task, you’ve defined a problem you were charged with solving. Now is the time to present your solution.
Finally, “R” is for “Result.” What was the ultimate outcome, and how did your soft skills support your success?
The STAR method can be useful for writing cover letters, answering interview questions, and even writing thank-you notes. A follow-up thank you that contains a bonus STAR scenario will be memorable. (Once you’ve mastered the STAR method, check out this article for taking it to the next level.)
It’s important to be professional and collegial in all interactions with anyone at your potential workplace. After all, you never know who’s watching. You might cut someone off in the parking lot who happens to be the hiring manager’s lunch buddy. Or HR might swing by the receptionist’s or security guard’s desk to get their take on your demeanor. Again, it may seem obvious, but it bears repeating: Treat everyone with respect, and never think of anyone as beneath you.
Your email and phone communications and social media presence matter, too. Be sure to proofread anything you write, and respond to inquiries promptly. This should continue once you’ve accepted the job offer. You may have landed the job, but you’re still working to make a good impression.
It can be easy to discount the importance of soft skills or brush them aside in favor of your technical skills, but doing so would be a mistake. If you present yourself well and make others feel comfortable and respected, you could easily edge out someone who’s stronger technically but, frankly, a jerk.