How to Leverage Soft Skills to Win Interviews
One immutable truth in a job search is that you have to showcase how your skills match the requirements of an open position. You may dive into your experience and education to hand-pick things you know how to do to make a list of skills to include on your resume. However, there are other skills, known as soft skills, which you can leverage to bulk up your resume and win an interview.
The terms “hard skills” and “soft skills” get thrown around a lot in the resume writing world. But what do they really mean? How do you determine what soft skills you have? How do you use soft skills to win an interview?
What is the difference between hard skills and soft skills?
The things you know how to do based on experience and education are hard skills. They can include everything from performing competitor analysis to writing software code, from generating topography to flying an airplane. Hard skills are quantifiable. This means you can put a number (e.g., $, %) to the achievements associated with a completed task.
Soft skills, on the other hand, are not things you learn in school or at work. They are personality characteristics you have that make you good at what you do. Soft skills are also not measured with numbers; they are qualitative.
Here are a couple of examples of hard and soft skills:
A hard skill for a registered nurse would be the ability to run an IV to provide the patient with much-needed medicine.
A soft skill for a registered nurse would be their ability to effectively educate the patient on recovery times and expectations for healing.
Your resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile, and the way you answer interview questions should always contain a strong mix of hard and soft skills.
The importance of soft skills
Culture in the workplace has become extremely important. The top soft skills often are those that reflect your response to interpersonal, social, and emotional situations. Employers look for candidates who will fit well with the current working conditions and meld with the rest of the team.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, high emotional intelligence is a highly sought-after soft skill, especially for leaders. This trait is evidenced through the following:
Flexibility and adaptability
In short, the capacity for going with the flow has become extremely important to employers. This has been especially true since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many things changed very quickly because of social distancing and quarantine policies. Possessing these two soft skills made people’s lives easier.
You’ve heard the phrase ‘everyone is fighting some battle you don’t know about.’ Being able to empathize with others is the cornerstone of enhancing work relations and building cultures of excellence. The better you can work with someone, the more productive you’ll be.
Self-management is an umbrella phrase for things like accountability, transparency, efficiency, time management, and organization. Demonstrating that you are capable of managing your own day shows hiring managers and recruiters that you know how to be productive and can achieve performance goals.
Can you make autonomous decisions? Do you look at a situation and instantly know how to make things work better? Employers want people with this soft skill to bring fresh eyes to processes.
Obviously, you can’t walk in the door and start trying to change things on day one unless you’re specifically hired to do that. However, by showing that you can exert control over your environment, you’ll become a trusted advisor for your employer.
Soft skills are valuable for entry-level and senior management roles
It doesn’t matter if you’re walking into your first job or have 15 years of experience under your belt; you have to demonstrate soft skills for jobs. Not only do employers want to see that you’re a good fit for their company and team, but soft skills can be the thing that puts you above other job seekers.
Every registered nurse knows how to take patient vitals. It’s a hard skill learned in school and perfected through experience. Perhaps you are known for being able to encounter a patient who hates needles and talk them through a blood draw. Now, you have elevated yourself above another candidate who doesn’t mention interacting with patients on a personal level.
Speaking of talking and interacting on a personal level, did you know that communication is arguably the number one soft skill employers want?
Valuable soft skills
How do you know which soft skills are most important? The short answer is to read the job description. Here’s a sample of the qualifications section of a job description with the soft skills in bold:
Collections Agent-Remote-Work From Home
2+ years’ Collection experience in a call center in-office environment
Ability to be a Goal Crusher and achieve top Quality Assurance scores
Provide excellent verbal and written communication skills in English/Spanish
Effective communication, negotiation, and problem-solving skills
Must be comfortable navigating between multiple computer screens and systems
High School Diploma/ GED required
Must be 18 years of age or older
This snippet is easily only 25% of the full job description; however, there are 6 soft skills listed. Notice how communication is listed more than once?
Of course, other jobs will want to see different soft skills. Some great examples of the type of soft skills employers look for include
What do you do if you’re great at working with a team but have no idea how to effectively resolve conflicts?
Improve your soft skills
Even though soft skills are characteristics or traits you already possess, you can make them better.
Practice makes perfect: Time management and organization may not be your forte. If you make some personal goals for yourself and practice being organized in reaching them, then your time management skills will improve.
Ask for help: If there is someone in your life who you trust implicitly, ask them to provide feedback on how you handle situations.
Take a course: There are a number of online classes you can take to improve your soft skills. Coursera, Udemy, and LinkedIn Learning all offer countless courses on topics like creative thinking, teamwork, and communicating in groups.
Get those soft skills onto your resume
As you may know, Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) will be scanning your resume for keywords. What you might not realize, is that they’re not only programmed to look for technical skills, aka “hard skills”, but they’re also programmed to search out soft skills. So, it is critically important to shine a light on those soft skills when writing your resume.
The easiest place to start including soft skills on your resume is in the ‘Core Competencies’ list. This is a list of 9-12 skills you possess that spotlight what you bring to the table. The great thing about this list is that it is skimmable. It helps you get past the 6-second test.
You don’t want to simply throw a bunch of soft skills into the competencies section and wash your hands of them. Weave soft skills into the profile summary section that appears before the skills list. If the summary section is designed to be your elevator speech, shouldn’t it include soft skills, too?
It doesn’t matter if your professional experience section is a paragraph & bullet (e.g., mixed) layout or contains only bullets; you can insert soft skills. Keep in mind that the bullet points in the professional experience section need to be achievement-based. Since soft skills are qualitative rather than quantitative, the bullets won’t contain a number.
A great example of an achievement-based soft skill bullet is
Chosen by senior leaders to guide full cycle projects that changed reporting processes and improved cross-functional and inter-departmental communication.
The bottom line is that soft skills should appear everywhere.
Avoid using buzzwords to highlight soft skills
It is easy to fall into the trap of using buzzwords to throw soft skills onto your resume. By the way, throwing soft skills onto your resume is exactly the image you’ll portray if you end up with a bunch of eye-roll-inducing buzzwords.
Describing the response in those terms may seem like an exaggeration, but it really isn’t. There simply are a set of words that hiring managers despise seeing. Some of those include
Rather than writing that you are a hard-working software engineer, describe how you are hard-working. You could use verbiage that indicates you’ve "sacrificed personal time" to acquire some new skill as an example.
Instead of using buzzwords, try these:
Words like ‘entrusted’ and ‘ambitious’ are actionable words that bring to light how others perceive you. You may be hard-working but has anyone ever entrusted you with something? The difference between what is portrayed is night and day.
Use soft skills in your cover letter
Cover letters are being read more often today than they have in the past. Much of the change in how frequently they’re read has to do with COVID-19. Hiring managers felt a disconnect with job seekers and found they could feel that again through cover letters.
In addition to providing you a place to talk about any faux pas that appears on your resume, like gaps in employment history, the cover letter is an excellent place to highlight more soft skills. These same ideas apply to both your cover letter and your resume: don’t use buzzwords but do weave your soft skills into the text in a way that makes sense.
As you prepare for your job search, you should be making a list of skills you possess. Consider things you’ve learned in school and skills you’ve acquired at various jobs. Don’t forget to think about the soft skills you possess. They need to be included, too.
Do you have enough soft skills on your resume? Let the ZipJob team review your resume and help you out.
Marsha Hebert, Professional Resume Writer
Marsha is a resume writer with a strong background in marketing and writing. After completing a Business Marketing degree, she discovered that she could combine her passion for writing with a natural talent for marketing. For more than 10 years, Marsha has helped companies and individuals market themselves. Read more advice from Marsha on ZipJob's blog.