The value of soft skills

A recent survey commissioned by Microsoft asked business leaders what they considered to be the most important skills an interview candidate should possess. Interestingly, “soft skills” were considered more important than the “hard skills” of qualifications and work experience.

Soft skills, otherwise known as “people skills”, can be split into two types: personal skills and interpersonal skills. In other words, how you deal with problems, and how you interact with others.

The “Behavioural Interview” is becoming increasingly popular as it provides an unbiased standard interview for all candidates. This format is designed to assess how you cope in certain situations using your “soft skills”. So, if you are short of work experience on your CV, you can draw on your life experiences. This is definitely good news if you are a school leaver, graduate or returning to work after a break.

Most interviews will consist of at least some behavioural questioning, so it’s a good idea to prepare your examples in advance to prevent any head scratching in the interview room! Often you can tell if the interview will be behaviourally based by looking at the job spec. If there is a list of soft skills, or “key competencies” (the terminology can masquerade under many names!), then be prepared to be asked to demonstrate these.

Write down examples of situations, the outcomes, and what you would have done differently with hindsight for each of the following. Find a work related situation preferably, but draw from other areas of your life if your work experience is minimal:

Personal soft skills

Time management. How do you prioritise tasks? In most jobs you will have to do numerous tasks at the same time. Can you demonstrate how you have handled this in the past? You may be required to drop everything and refocus your attentions on another task. Do you have any examples of this?

Coping under pressure. How do you cope with stress? Can you think of an example that demonstrates a high pressure situation you have had to deal with?

Dealing with change. Companies sometimes restructure and require the work force to be flexible and positive about progress. New policies and procedures are always being introduced. Can you give an example of where you have positively embraced or initiated changes?

Problem solving. Think of an example of a time you solved a problem effectively. Did you save a sale/a customer/a life/the company money?

What motivates you? It could be money, job satisfaction, helping others. Have a look at the job description. For example, if you are going for a job in sales, then “money” is the obvious answer!

Decision making. When have you had to make a difficult decision? Was it the right one? What did you do if you realised it wasn’t the best course of action?

Interpersonal soft skills
Teamwork. Where have you worked well in a team? What was your role in that team? With many workplaces being open plan, employers often look for people that will “fit in” and work easily with others. This doesn’t mean you have to think of a sports team you have been involved with, just a situation where you have worked well amongst a group of people.

Motivating others. Do people like being around you? Can you think of a time when you have encouraged or helped others to complete a task?

Leadership. This could be an example of leading a team at work or in your personal life.

Influencing. Can you think of a time when you have persuaded someone round to your way of thinking; where you have convinced others of a good idea?

Communication. Have you had to write reports in the past or give presentations? Do you speak clearly and listen effectively?

Dealing with conflict. Have you resolved/mediated in any disputes? Are you aggressive, assertive or passive?

These are the main soft skills that employers look for, and to be able to confidently rattle off examples of scenarios will greatly improve your chances of landing the job!

Good luck!


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