The American Psychological Association recently published the results of a study that compared two interviewing tactics side-by-side: self-promotion and likeability. Turns out employers prefer to hire likable employees compared with those who are self-promotional, even of their hard skills. So what does this mean for those in the middle of a career transition? While it’s important to showcase hard skills and abilities, applicants should work to improve and convey soft skills too.
In fact, the Missouri Community College Association ran a study that found only 44% of business owners are satisfied with the pool of qualified workers, and 60% say they have difficulty finding candidates with the desired soft skills. This means that jobseekers undergoing career transition should hone their soft skills during transition from one job to another and focus on promoting and mastering soft skills during interviews, on your resume, and at networking events.
So, just what are these soft skills? According to a study of The Student Employment Gap, by Millennial Branding and Experience, Inc., the soft skills employers identify as hardest to find, but most important to have as employees of their companies include:
- Communication Skills (91%)
- Positive Attitude (85%)
- Adaptable to change (85%)
- Teamwork skills (82%)
- Strategic thinking and analysis (78%)
Let’s look at each of these skills individually and review their importance in work environments.
Communication skills are your most important asset, and one of the soft skills most commonly identified as important by recruiters and HR professionals. Improving your communication skills will ensure you’re ready to not just talk about your abilities and qualifications, but to also have a clear and thoughtful conversation about the company, the industry, and other influencing factors of business with a recruiter. . Author Marlene Chism argues that “..your communication skills brand you as competent or incompetent: in the know or out of touch.”
That being said, you don’t need to be a brilliant writer or public speaker to have strong communication skills. However, you do need to sound professional and know the basic business communication norms for speaking and writing. If you’re not comfortable with your abilities, practice them to improve. Read industry magazines, write in a journal daily and tell your professional value proposition to friends and family as a way to improve your presentation skills and to gain confidence. Your capacity to communicate clearly and concisely will serve you well during formal interviews and networking opportunities, and a little practice will help you to fluently articulate your points when writing and speaking.
As part of your improved communication skills, you’ll want to be responsive and professional in your business dealings. Build a reputation as a good communicator by adhering to these simple business communication norms:
- Keep current on voicemail and email communications
- Practice being a good listener without interrupting
- Stay succinct and avoid long, rambling stories
- Be positive and appreciative
You have the unique opportunity to brand yourself with your ability to communicate—so be sure to present your very best version of yourself.
A positive attitude isn’t a “nice-to-have” or a simply personality trait —it’s actually been linked to higher business and management success. One Harvard Business Review article details the power of positive outlooks in the workplace. Research has shown that expressing feelings of warmth and establishing positive relationships have more impact on improving employee loyalty and satisfaction than increasing the size of a paycheck. The article goes on to explain how positive attitudes among employees are linked to the levels of empathy and trust throughout the workplace. As organizations are focusing on improving workplace cultures and employee engagement, they’ll be searching for job candidates who display positivity and enthusiasm in their communications with the company.
Don’t fall into the trap of complaining about your last employer. As difficult as your last role may have been, no employer wants to think that you might walk out the door and complain about your experience once you leave. Portraying a positive attitude starts the minute you first connect with a recruiter or prospective employer, and shouldn’t end even after you start a new job.
If you are taking an interview, lean in on stories that reveal how you collaborated with team members and added value to your former employers. Even if you’re asked direct questions about your last position and why you left, put a positive spin on your answers. Any indication of a negative attitude, even during an initial interview, might be perceived as an all-around negative attitude that you’d bring with you to any new job.
HR directors have predicted that the ability of a candidate to deal with change will be a major recruitment goal by 2018. Employees—and their ability to change and grow—are the driving force behind an organization’s ability to stay agile and competitive in today’s always-changing business landscape.
Fortunately for those in the market for a new job, it’s possible to build your aptitude for adaptability as a soft skill. Career coach Jeff Boss recommends taking an improv class to learn how to fill the gap of uncertainty and react quickly to whatever comes your way. Another way to teach yourself adaptability is to stay curious and up to date with the latest trends across your industry, and open to applying new concepts and technologies to your own work.
If you’ve been in the workforce before, you likely understand the value of having colleagues you can collaborate with and depend on. From working on a project together to supporting each other to get tasks completed, good teamwork can make or break a modern business. Recently, Google conducted an intensive survey and analysis to discover what makes a team work well together. Psychological safety was one of the key elements required to foster better teamwork. In short, being nice is a soft skill that will help carry you from interview through your tenure with a company as you work on teams to achieve goals.
The ability to be a team player and collaborate with others across a company is an important soft skill for most employers and one for which they are actively screening candidates. During an interview, you can showcase your ability to be a team player by describing a project you completed with a colleague and the results you achieved as part of a highly effective team. While you’re talking about your own abilities, be sure to give credit to those members of your team that helped you achieve your goals.
Strategic Thinking and Analysis
Although strategic thinking might be a tough soft skill to improve, it is critical to career progression and long-term success. There is no quick fix to becoming a more strategic thinker. It requires constant, steady change over time and might require breaking old habits and patterns.
To improve strategic thinking skills, begin by examining what you know and how well you apply it to your job. Try these few easy techniques to become a more strategic thinker:
- Take more time to make decisions. Instead of relying on a gut feeling, leverage information and data you have to make informed decisions that will serve you better in the long run.
- Make learning and analysis a regular part of your life. Strategic thinking doesn’t happen organically. Like building any new habit, you must make enough time for it. Try blocking time on your calendar to read and learn about new industry trends, weigh the pros and cons of a decision, or absorb information that might make you more effective in a current or future job.
- Engage with a mentor. Ask your manager for a reference, or reach out to someone you believe thinks strategically and request a few minutes of their time. If you spend time engaging with someone who thinks strategically, it will begin to feel normal to ask “why” and think more strategically to challenge the status quo.
Whether you’re in the midst of a career transition or considering how to learn and grow in your current role, developing your soft skills is as necessary as gaining new hard skills and experience. The more time you put into building and growing skills like adaptability and communication, the more suitable you’ll become for open job positions. While competition may be fierce, organizations are paying attention to the soft skills you possess—from a positive attitude to your ability to think critically – which all factor in to your likability. Don’t underestimate the value these skills add to your resume, and your future.