Secret Weapon in the Job Hunt Today: Personality

Your interpersonal skills can make or break your chances of getting a job offer — even in such a technical field as finance.

The point was made very clear recently in a survey by finance staffing firm Accountemps. More than 1,400 CFOs were asked: "If two candidates for an accounting or finance position had similar skills, which one the following additional qualifications would you find most valuable?" Topping the list was "personality or people skills" with 31% of the votes. 

People skills trumped "software/technology skills," "industry-specific experience," and "certification or advanced degree." 

I wouldn't be surprised if results were similar for most other functions in any given company.

"Job seekers who show they possess not just the right technical skills but also the right personality enjoy greater marketability among prospective employers," says Susan Afan, a district president with Robert Half International, the parent company of Accountemps.

"Cultural fit often is a key criterion for hiring managers, who want to bring in staff who will work well with their current team."

It's not enough to be a technology whiz or have the most enviable degree — especially in today's tight job market. That may seem obvious now, but it wasn't the case five years ago, according to the Accountemps survey. People skills ranked near the bottom when CFOs were asked the same question in 2004.

So if you're relatively new to job searching, these tips may be especially important:

1. Make sure your resumes and cover letters are error-free. "These documents typically are the first chance for the employer to form an impression about you and your interpersonal skills, so make sure these materials are carefully written, project the image you hope, and don’t contain mistakes," says Afan.

2. Aim to build rapport with hiring managers. Afan adds, "Be yourself, and let your personality shine. Also pay attention to your body language. Offer a firm handshake, look the interviewer in the eye when you speak and practice good posture."

3. Be respectful to everyone you meet in the interview process. "It’s common for hiring managers to ask their administrative assistants for their impression of applicants, for example, so don’t think you only need to impress the potential boss."

4. After the interview, send a thank-you note to those you met. "This will highlight your professional courtesy and enthusiasm for the position," Afan says.

The hints above are also great reminders for everyone. The impression that lasts is a personal one, not a flash of technical knowhow.

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