What Employers Want: Selling Your Soft Skills
Even though I don’t know who you are, I am going to be honest with you. When I graduated from UVM (Go Cats Go!) I had no idea what an employer really wanted, let alone what I wanted to do. When I started writing my resume and prepping for interviews, I struggled to think of what my “skills” were and how I could talk about them during an interview. I was a business finance major, so I knew the basics like how to use Microsoft Excel and read a balance sheet, but whoop-de do; so did all of my classmates. I bloated my resume and cover letters with buzz words like “leadership,” “teamwork,” and “dynamic,” but that was primarily me crossing my fingers that the computer algorithms would flag my resume.
As I progressed through my career, working at a few different companies, changing industries and eventually joining interviewing teams, I began to recognize which soft skills truly make someone a great employee and how to present those skills in an interview.
- Don’t list what you know, but tell a story. The hardest part of interviewing a job candidate, is getting the complete picture of the person sitting in front of me. Companies these days will typically incorporate a behavioral component into the interview process, because we want to know who “you” are. Instead of listing your accomplishments and skills, tell a story which highlights those things. Telling a story about an accomplishment allows you to intertwine personal attributes about yourself that would otherwise never surface. Those subtle insights, give great information to an employer.
- Integrity. There is a reason you will see this word on most companies’ websites. I like to think of integrity as that moment you make a mistake or fail at something and own it. Companies are not dumb and they know people make mistakes and projects fail. Owning up to a mistake and fixing it will often put you in a better position than before. Do not hide your mistakes. You will get fired. I discovered that of the most engaging stories I could tell during my own interviews was about a project I was involved in that failed. It showed I had integrity by being upfront and honest about the mistakes I had made and what I learned from that experience.
- Learning on the fly. When you review job descriptions, you are going to assume the company wants you to do A, B, and C and have X, Y, and Z skills. While in some industries, having those hard skills are vital, a lot of companies are looking for someone who is familiar with the job responsibilities, but most importantly, shows the ability to learn new skills. Try not to say things like, “Yea, I can totally learn that,” but rather, provide examples of when you had to learn a new skill in a short period of time. I always like to reference one of my co-workers and how she told a simple, but great story about learning a new skill: During a college internship, she was tasked to complete a project and realized that there was software that she could use to assist with the effort. The hurdle was that the software required her to learn a programming language she was not familiar with. Since she knew the program would greatly improve the chances of her completing her project successfully, she took it upon herself to learn the new programming language.
Practice and prepare for an interview, then go into it with confidence, knowing that you have what employers want.
Phil Anderson, UVM ’07. Senior Technical Consultant, Galen Healthcare Solutions