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Soft Skills Set You Apart

Sarah Steimer

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Don’t neglect promoting your intangible skills such as creativity, adaptability and time management in your job search. Companies desire them more than ever.

Hard skills, the experience and abilities listed on your résumé, are often what land you an interview. But soft skills are what make you stand out from other candidates in the interview process. Soft skills shine through when you answer the stereotypical but telling questions of, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”, “Can you tell me about a time you overcame a challenge?” or “Do you have any questions for us?”

“Everybody coming in for the interview is qualified,” says Theresa Merrill, a career coach who helps job seekers market themselves on LinkedIn. “How you separate yourself is your soft skills.”

According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report, 80% of surveyed talent professionals say soft skills are increasingly important to the success of a company. Based on the data, the top soft skills in high demand relative to their supply are, in order: creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and time management. Ninety-two percent of survey respondents also say that soft skills matter as much or more than hard skills and 89% say bad hires typically lack soft skills.

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You should be clear about what soft skills you have and how to showcase them before submitting your résumé and heading to an interview. “Most of us wouldn’t have gotten our jobs if we didn’t have the hard skills and relevant experience on our résumés,” says Kate O’Sullivan, an executive coach. “The soft skills, however, are what … make you great at your job.”

Self-Awareness

Before you can hype your soft skills, you need to identify what they are. When Merrill works with clients on their personal brands, she suggests they ask their own clients and colleagues to describe their top soft skills. “It’s interesting, they always come back with things they didn’t [originally] have on their list.”

O’Sullivan agrees with asking the people around you. She also suggests keeping a running list of accomplishments. “These can, of course, include hard skills, but most complex projects will include both hard and soft skills,” she says.

There are certain soft skills that O’Sullivan says are key for marketers to exhibit, particularly the ability to tell a great story. “We are all so inundated with ‘buy this, do that’ types of messages, that great storytelling helps you stand apart from the competition,” she says. “I also think it helps to make your message relatable and personal. Stories are a really effective way to do that.”

She also recommends that marketers highlight their ability to influence people—including colleagues and external customers—in a way that caters to what they care about.

It’s worth spending time determining what your soft skills are and how to put them on display. “Your self-awareness of them and your ability to highlight and to tap into them, that’s … maybe why you got the job or moved forward as opposed to someone else,” Merrill says.

How to Showcase Your Soft Skills

The soft skills worth highlighting can typically be pulled directly from a job description or from a company’s mission statement. But be prepared to showcase those skills by example. Soft skills land squarely in the “show, don’t tell” category of your interview. You can’t say you’re a good communicator without being able to communicate well.

“Everything you’re doing should be highlighting the different skills that you possess,” Merrill says. “If you show up late, if you’re not organized, those things are already portraying that you don’t have those kinds of skills. But conversely, if you’re really on top of things and you’re detailed in the way that you communicate back and forth, they’re already thinking that you possess those skills.”

Even the ability to describe the projects you work on can highlight a very important soft skill: communication. Consider how you would explain your approach and execution to someone else. “A really solid example would probably include what you accomplished—the output—and how you got there, which would highlight the soft skills,” O’Sullivan says.

Merrill also recommends coming to an interview with something of your own agenda. You should know what soft skills you want to highlight and answer questions by incorporating stories that reflect those skills. “If they ask you, ‘Tell me about a challenge you had in the workplace —how did you handle that?’ and you know that adaptability is an important skill [for the job], you want to convey in that answer how you adapted to a change that occurred.” Provide a story that demonstrates how you used that skill to solve a problem.

Sarah Steimer is managing editor of Marketing News. She may be reached at ssteimer@ama.org or on Twitter at @sarah_steimer.