What do employers want most from job candidates today? Interpersonal soft skills, like strong communication and collaboration, top the list. As digital transformation and automation sweep virtually every industry, employers have filled many entry-level technical tasks with software. Now, they’re prioritizing employees who can work well on a team, problem-solve creatively, and multitask.
With the current labor shortage, employers are also thinking more about longevity and seeking employees who will grow with the company and possibly move into leadership positions to lead and mentor others—responsibilities that require a high level of interpersonal expertise. Some of these skills are more like personality traits, and others come from experience in different situations. The point is, they can’t be easily taught, and not everyone has them. The candidates who do are in high demand.
If you’re in the market for a new job and you have strong soft skills, it’s time to show them off. But how? Unlike technical skills, soft skills are hard to measure and challenging to demonstrate on job applications. Go beyond the words on your résumé to showcase your soft skills with the following strategies:
Show your commitment to continuous improvement
You might not be able to demonstrate soft skills on a résumé, but you can list a certificate or accreditation that shows your commitment to keeping those skills sharp. If employers are looking for candidates who can grow and evolve with the company, they’ll also appreciate seeing your appetite for learning and improving.
Even if you’re currently out of a job, you can be sharpening your skills and learning new things. For example, scrum and project management are both skills that require a high degree of collaboration and communication to ensure teams complete projects with maximum value. And online programs like Google’s career certificate in project management can help you develop these skills conveniently and affordably.
User story-mapping is another skill you can learn online that demonstrates high interpersonal expertise. Managers and staff use this process to study, understand, define, and ultimately amplify the user experience for their products and services. It’s about understanding the customer, which requires a collaborative, communicative, and empathetic approach.
Record yourself answering interview questions
A challenging yet common occurrence in many interviews is going into autopilot and answering each question like you’re reading it off a script. People get nervous, want to make sure they say the right things, and don’t want to seem unprofessional. It’s a natural behavior, but interviewers won’t want to see it. Responding to questions on autopilot mode might make you seem stiffer and more forced than how you’d usually respond to questions and interact with people in the job environment.
To ensure employers get a feel for your real personality and communication style, create an online portfolio with video footage of you answering common interview questions. At my company, a nonprofit that provides free tech skilling, we’ve been piloting a software called Thumbraise to help students showcase interpersonal skills to companies that are interviewing remotely. The software is free, and users can create their own video pitches to send to potential employers and even use it as a networking tool.
Recording yourself answering interview questions is also a great way to practice getting out of autopilot mode for interviews. Many things you might not notice in the moment, like facial expressions and hand gestures, you can catch on video and even out to ensure that you make a lively and active connection with an employer during an interview.
Tell your story with the “S.T.A.R.” method
Because a résumé or even a LinkedIn page with tons of work history and engagement can’t convey soft skills, job seekers must be able to tell stories of their experiences that demonstrate how existing interpersonal expertise will transfer into their next role. We tell our students to use the STAR method when answering behavioral-based interview questions to ensure they get the full scope of their soft skills across.
The STAR method is a storytelling approach that starts with discussing the context and challenges of a specific situation, the task or responsibility one held in the situation or in overcoming the challenge, the action they took to address the situation, and the results. The most telling elements of the story will be the action and results, so highlight how your soft skills, such as communication and teamwork, played into overcoming a challenge and producing positive results. If you don’t have much direct experience in the field you’re applying for, think of other situations or challenges (in past work, volunteer, or even academic experiences) that you needed interpersonal skills to overcome.
Demonstrating soft skills in the job search has never been an easy task, and with the current virtual nature of the world and the prevalence of remote interviews, it’s harder than ever. But it’s also more important than ever as employers seek candidates who can help their companies grow and evolve into the future. Demonstrate your commitment to learning and growing, practice getting your true personality across, and tell a story that goes beyond your résumé to stand out.
Jeff Mazur is the executive director for LaunchCode, a nonprofit aiming to fill the gap in tech talent by matching companies with trained individuals.