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Back up Your Soft Skills with Hard Facts

You've probably seen words and phrases like "detail oriented" and "strong communication skills" in job ads. And maybe you've used some of the same wording on your resume. But when it comes to selecting candidates to interview, employers are more likely to look beyond those "soft skills" to whether you have the qualifications to do the job. Sure, soft skills are important, but they're not likely to put you on the short list unless you support them with hard facts.

Although a vague list of soft skills on your resume might not get you an interview, those soft skills can help solidify your chance at getting a job offer once you're in an interview. That's because they indicate how effectively you might fit in with the new employer. Be ready to address them in an interview if the hiring manager asks you one or more behavioral questions that probe past work experiences.

So, you'll need to show - rather than tell - the hiring manager that you are, for example, an effective communicator, a detail-oriented individual, or able to work independently. Imagine this possible exchange in a job interview:

HIRING MANAGER: You have the depth of experience and skills that we're looking for. I need to ask you, though, about the "keen attention to detail" that you state in your resume. Tell me of a time when that attention to detail was beneficial to your company and how it may have scored points with upper management.

INTERVIEWEE: Well, there are a couple of situations that come to mind. One that I remember quite well involved a cost-benefit analysis for a planned purchase of 250 mobile devices - including specialized software - for our sales force. I examined the requirements we needed in the technology, met with representatives from 12 vendors, and asked each of them a very thorough list of questions that I gathered from the sales director and chief of IT. After we narrowed the list of vendors to five, I talked extensively with about 10 customers from among those vendors about their experience with the technology, and was able to confidently make a recommendation on which companies we should negotiate with. In the end, the sales force was very happy and the technology we chose helped boost sales 10 percent. The CFO was so pleased with my work on the deal that I received a generous cash bonus. Did I answer your question adequately?

In this example, the interviewee explains his attention to detail, how it helped his employer, and what the net effect was: a boost in revenue and recognition from one of the company's top officials. And he closes by asking the hiring manager if his answer was satisfactory.

The lesson here for job seekers is that if you're going to include any of these soft skills in your resume, you must be prepared to support them with examples from your work experience. While I was writing this post, I pulled four job ads at random and found these soft skills listed in at least one of them:

  • Results-oriented;
  • Perform effectively in a deadline environment;
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills;
  • Highly organized;
  • Work well under pressure;
  • High energy, enthusiasm, and motivated demeanor.

When you think about your soft skills, be sure to write down - for your own reference - at least one incident from your work experience in which you demonstrated that skill. Then, review those notes before each job interview. The more you can show those values to a potential employer, the less likely you'll be eliminated from consideration for the job.

Have soft skills helped you land a good job? Share your thoughts with us.

RELATED LINKS
Be a Good Storyteller at the Job Interview
How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

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