Despite the lack of focus on soft skills in formalized education, most employers hone in on these personality traits during the hiring process. A survey by CareerBuilder of more than 2,000 hiring managers and human resource professionals, and found that 77 percent believe that soft skills are just as important as hard skills when evaluating candidates for a job – 16 percent weigh the importance of soft skills higher than hard skills.
So how do you know if you have what it takes to get the job? Here’s a look at the top five soft skills employers are looking for in today’s market.
1. Willingness to Work
While this may sound like a given if you’re looking for a job, you’d be surprised how many people show up for a job interview ill-prepared and without researching the company they want to work for. “It’s not enough to talk about your personal accomplishments; you have to ask the right questions about the company and show that you’ve done your research, and are enthusiastic about the job,” says Trina Boos, president of Toronto-based recruitment firm Boost Agents.
The CareerBuilder survey found that a strong work ethic, dependability and a positive attitude were the three soft skills most valued by employers. Likewise, the University of Chicago study found that organization, responsibility and a hardworking attitude are the most widely predictive measures of success.
Show up with a smile on your face, positive body language with your arms uncrossed, and show you’ve done your company homework. “The education backgrounds of applicants are all going to look pretty much the same,” says Boos. It’s your enthusiasm, positivity and organization that will set you apart from the crowd.
2. Ability to Communicate
Your interpersonal skills will be evaluated from the moment you walk in the door. How you greet the receptionist, the firmness of your handshake and how you begin conversations are all essential insights into whether you will be able to develop trust in a boardroom or give a compelling presentation.
“You need the intelligence to know if your interviewer wants to engage in small talk or not,” says Boos. Being able to read people is essential to career success. Thoroughly answering each interview question is also key. Show good listening skills and answer calmly. “It’s okay to pause and think through your answers before you speak.” You should always include examples with your answers. If someone asks if you are a team player, don’t just say “yes.” Talk about a situation where you worked as a team to overcome a hurdle.
Companies want team players who are willing to take direction when needed. “When I interview, I watch for people who say ‘I’ all the time,” says Boos. Speak in terms of what you did as a team, and how you worked together to accomplish goals. Most projects are group efforts, so you need to demonstrate that you thrive in a collaborative environment.
Highlight any team sports or activities you have been a part of. Increasingly Boos says companies are looking to hire athletes because elite competition shows the ability to multi-task and work through issues together to achieve goals.
4. Critical Thinking Skills
It’s important to show that you are adaptable and can use your critical thinking to work through problems as they arise. In an interview situation that means doing your homework about the company, and also showcasing situations where you have overcome adversity to reach a goal.
“Don’t be afraid to talk about your failures,” says Boos. Employers love to hear how you handled a situation when something has gone off the rails (because inevitably it always does). This is a great way to showcase your problem-solving skills, and show how you can learn from failures and use critical thinking to approach the situation differently the next time.
5. A Strong Sense of Self
Confidence and charisma are essential ingredients to success – especially for industries where you will need to interact with people on a daily basis. Part of being an engaging person is having a variety of interests and experiences. “Anyone can pay for an education,” says Boos. It’s extracurricular activities and world experiences that add dimension.
Do you volunteer, are you part of any groups or teams, do you have a blog or play music or have a passion for cooking? Well-rounded people are fun to be around, and add an interesting element to an organization.
Please, don’t forget your manners. Go back to what mom taught you in grade school. “Thank you’s are so nice.” It’s about making a good impression, and going the extra mile with a personalized thank you can make all the difference when it comes to landing the job.
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