Interviewing is nerve-wracking at the best of times, and trying to balance showcasing your technical skills can often leave highlighting your soft skills in second place. Although technical skills are crucial for performing the hands-on aspects of a role, soft skills are just as important in today's work environment. In fact, they can often be the deciding factor between candidates with similar qualifications.
In LinkedIn's Global Talent Report , 92% of talent acquisition professionals reported that soft skills are equally or more important to hire for than hard skills. Additionally, 89% said that when a new hire doesn’t work out, it’s because they lack critical soft skills. In an analysis of new employees who didn't meet expectations during the first 18 months on the job, 23% failed due to low emotional intelligence. So, how can we define, highlight, and showcase our soft skills in the interview process?
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are a combination of personality traits, attitudes, people skills, communication skills, social intelligence, and emotional intelligence.
According to Pushfar, the top soft skills employers are assessing are:
- Positive Attitude
Often, soft skills can't be measured quantitatively, leading to the challenge of assessing them. Interviewers often opt for behavioural or situational-based questions so you're able to showcase these skills grounded in your working life.
By breaking these skills down one by one, we can understand which situations in our work and extracurriculars we can highlight to best showcase our skills.
Communication is a key soft skill for businesses moving at a pace, like Cleo. Collaboration, failing fast, and learning at speed (one of Cleo’s core values) all rely on communication at the core. Clarity and conciseness are one thing, but active listening or 3rd tier listening without our own agenda clouding it is fundamental to cohesion and being able to resolve differences in opinion and keeping progress on track.
Referring to research you’ve conducted on the company, asking clarification questions, and referring back to what the interviewers have said previously can all contribute to great communication skills.
Keeping your communication style clear and concise; a stream of consciousness might not always work in your favor. Keep your notes close by or stuck to your laptop screen. Don’t be afraid to let your interviewers know you have notes and may be referring to them. You’re not expected to remember every detail of every answer in advance.
Closely linked with communication, teamwork brings in the best of radical candour, being able to have challenging conversations, leaving ego to the side. Being able to craft the balance of driving our opinions while being able to elevate and support others is paramount. Sharing knowledge, being mindful of others’ workload, and collaborating on tasks with others can all contribute to great teamwork.
Sharing an example of where you’ve worked with people outside of your team or function, or worked cross-functionally to hit a common goal.
Who did you work with?
What was the task at hand?
What was your role?
How did you collaborate?
What was the outcome?
Can you bring in statistics here?
Showcasing a positive attitude when nerves are rife and trying to balance professional conduct with good vibes can be a challenge, especially with those you've never met.
Think about how much of your personality you can bring to the table in an interview scenario. Tone of voice, language use, and body language can all contribute to how we are perceived. Non-verbal communication can account for 55% of someone's first impression, 38% for the first words, and 7% for the actual words you say, so it's a lot more holistic than you might think.
It's not only our tone, language, and body language that contribute. Examples of a "yes" attitude can really highlight your positivity in a demonstrable way to interviewers. Taking on extra tasks, supporting someone else alongside your workload, and getting involved with events in your workplace.
Adaptability links closely with a positive attitude when things change, and approaching that positively could tick two things off the list.
Giving an example of when work priorities have changed quickly and you approached it with a positive and proactive mindset is a winner.
No matter your role or industry, being able to pivot when business calls for change is an incredibly useful skill. In start-ups and during times of economic change, this can manifest as changing priorities, dropped projects, and even team reorganisation. Without getting too philosophical, change is the only constant in life, so it's incredibly important to have a personal strategy in place for those times.
Process changes and their impact on you specifically, your team, and your areas of focus. Asking clarifying questions to understand the how and the why can reduce assumptions and quick reactions, which can sometimes be negative.
Write down your immediate thoughts and assumptions and use CBT techniques to see if you're using any particular filter to view the situation or if your assumptions are really true. Are you missing any context, and how can you find that out?
Next would be to ask yourself what the best version of yourself would do and how they would respond. With that, you can make a plan for how you're going to approach it.
You'd think this goes without saying. However, when having an opinion challenged, if things aren't happening on premeditated timelines or when the proverbial hits the fan, it can be natural to go on the defensive; we're only human, after all. But when dealing with others, showcasing respect for their time, their opinions, and abilities will ultimately lead to a quicker and balanced outcome.
This skill links very closely with communication. Seeking to understand, active listening, and challenging someone with care all go hand in hand. Remembering that other people have lives, priorities, and circumstances you might be blissfully unaware of will remind you that compassion has a big place in your work life.
When did someone challenge your opinion or approach, and how did you respond?
What would you do if you requested someone to complete a task, and they declined?
If someone changes their demeanor towards you without explanation, how do you respond?
These are all great questions to reflect on to understand how you can think differently or more openly in challenging situations.
Even in individual contributor roles, leadership skills are important when driving decisions forward and managing projects. Bringing empathy and coaching skills into your role can be a superpower when human nature can be a blocker.
Understanding your leadership style can help you articulate where your strengths lie. There are hundreds of resources online to question and narrow down your leadership style. Building relationships with others, motivating your team, making data-backed decisions, negotiation, and critical thinking all play a part in effective leadership.
If you are an individual contributor, have you mentored others, shared others' successes, created areas of responsibility, or had transparent and challenging conversations to work towards a common goal?
These are great things to pull into your answers to demonstrate your leadership capability.
Synopsis of tips for highlighting your soft skills in an interview:
- Show, don't tell - provide concrete examples of when you've displayed these skills in your working or extracurricular life.
- Prepare examples in advance and use the STAR framework (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to give you structure, ensure you're covering your bases, and make your examples easier to remember.
- Tailor your answers to the company you're applying for - What are their company values? How can you tie your examples to those values?
- Practice active listening - also known as third-tier listening without our own agenda clouding it. This is fundamental to cohesion and being able to resolve differences in opinion and keep progress on track. Without words, you can show you value someone's input and can communicate effectively.
- Ask thoughtful questions - bring in your research, what your interviewers have shared during your interview, and your curiosity about the company's future. This can showcase your ability to think critically.
What about neurodiversity?
Certain soft skills may be a challenge for neurodiverse people. Neurodiversity isn't always genetic. From ASD, Tourette's, and ADHD to Anxiety, Depression, and Dyslexia, information processing is complex and shouldn't be treated as one size fits all.
It can be a common phenotype for those with ASD to feel uncomfortable with change, communicate differently, and prefer literal communication to implied. For those with anxiety disorders, leadership and adaptability could cause unease.
Tips for people who are neurodivergent:
- Although you're not required to disclose your neurodiversity to a potential employer, sharing this information, practicing self-advocacy and being prepared to discuss your neurodivergence and the accommodations you may need in the workplace shows that you're proactive and aware of your needs. If you need things such as additional time to process questions or a quiet environment, access to interview questions beforehand or a slightly different method or task, don’t be afraid to ask! It could really help you showcase the best of your skills in a way that makes you feel comfortable. Making interviewers aware of how you do things differently can ensure they're not assessing you under a neurotypical lens and give you the chance to shine.
- Self-awareness: Your ways of thinking differently can be your superpower. Your anxiety could give you more time to reflect and respond rather than react. Your ASD could allow you to link things together that others might have missed. Your Tourette's may lead you to have higher levels of empathy and acute perceptibility for leadership. Dyslexia could allow you to think outside the box more often. Develop an awareness of your strengths and the challenges related to your neurodivergence. This will help you to identify what you excel at and areas that might need attention. Tie your different views and behaviours to core soft skills with an example.
- Develop strategies to compensate for challenges: If your neurodivergence presents challenges in certain soft skills areas, explain the strategies you use to address these challenges. For example, if you have difficulty with social cues, discuss how you actively seek feedback or use written communication to ensure clarity.
- Practice answering common interview questions and seek feedback from trusted friends or find a mentor. This will help you become more comfortable and confident in discussing your soft skills.
- Practice relaxation techniques or develop a pre-interview routine to help you stay calm and focused during the interview. Box breathing, meditation, journaling, therapy, and coaching are all fantastic ways to get into a great headspace.
- Be patient and persistent: Remember that the job search process can be challenging for everyone. Stay positive, and don't be discouraged by setbacks. Find online organisations or communities to connect with others for support, guidance, and to celebrate each other's successes. Your unique perspectives are invaluable assets in today's diverse workforce.