A few weeks ago, I posted an article on LinkedIn, titled What do Employers Really Want in a Candidate? which seemed to really catch the attention of job seekers and employers alike. It described some of the unexpected skills which large employers such as Google and Apple value in candidates. The skills were surprisingly “soft”, focusing on personality traits and behaviours (which are generally more difficult to assess and identify), rather than the traditional (more measurable) “hard” skills such as technical abilities and knowledge.
- the ability to learn as you go
- taking initiative when appropriate
- humility and self-criticalness
- ownership / responsibility
In the responses to my article, a number of job seekers asked how they could convince potential employers that they have the requisite soft skills. A few employers also commented, wondering what they could do to identify these in candidates. The discussion was so robust that I thought I’d share some of the ideas in this follow-up post.
Identifying and evaluating personal attributes is not an easy task. For employers, the concern is whether candidates are being honest about their abilities, or whether – in their desperation to find work – candidates are telling employers whatever they think the employer would like to hear. Candidates on the other hand, worry about how to ensure that employers will be able to discover their soft skills and whether their skills will be genuinely valued.
Drawn from the comments to my original post, here are recommendations to help employers identify candidates who can bring the best personal attributes to a job, as well as tips to help job seekers communicate those skills to employers:
1. A well thought through and detailed job posting which clearly describes the preferences, values and priorities of the employer, both in terms of hard and soft skills is an important first step. It allows candidates to self-select based on the qualifications listed in the posting, as well as to begin thinking what they might want to share with employers. While some employers express reluctance to list the soft skills (calling them “obvious”), candidates and recruiters seem to appreciate this insight into corporate culture and values.
[Job seekers: take careful note of the wording, priorities and even the order in which the qualifications are listed in the posting. Make sure that your resume and cover letter address the listed qualifications very specifically. Start thinking of examples of your work that demonstrate the priority skills.]
2. Resumes are the first opportunity for candidates to share their vision of themselves in their own words. However, a number of employers and recruiters remarked that the computerized Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), which are commonly used to scan resumes for keywords, often do not include the soft skills, and cautioned employers to rethink their methods of sorting through applicants if they want to identify these types of personal skills.
[Job seekers: think carefully through your soft skills and identify 3-5 skills about which you feel most confident; make sure to include them on your resume, both in your profile summary as well as in descriptions of your duties and examples of achievements in your various jobs.]
3. A personal referral from a well-respected colleague or employee is probably the most effective way for employers to learn more about the personality and soft skills of a candidate. The simple act of referral comes with an implicit recommendation for the candidate’s personal as well as technical skills.
[Job seekers: network actively, especially with people who already know your work and character. Remember that referrals are meaningless (and unlikely) if they come from people who don’t know you well enough to attest to your character. Take opportunities such as volunteering to showcase your abilities to people from whom you could get referrals and recommendations later.]
4. Thoughtful Interviews, which encourage candidates to share specific and concrete examples from their work history to demonstrate their skills, are the most effective way for employers to get to know candidates better and to assess their soft skills. A number of employers and recruiters recommended that interviewers ask open-ended behavioural type questions such as: “What is it that you can count on from yourself to always get you through tough situations, no matter what? Can you give us an example of when this worked for you?” or, “What irritates you about yourself?” to encourage candidates to be more open.
Also, the ways in which candidates handle the interview is also very telling about their attitude and personality, including their punctuality, how they handle difficult questions, their ability to solve problems in the interview, whether they are able to be self-critical and or able to accept feedback.
[Job seekers: think through how you would answer behavioural questions, including questions about your weaknesses and strengths. Remember to identify examples from your work history that demonstrate your strengths, especially those that refer to your soft personal skills, such as the ones listed here. Practice telling the stories that demonstrate those skills. Also, remember that how you behave during an interview speaks louder than words: demonstrate your friendliness, your ability to be self-critical yet confident, your enthusiasm. Finally, consider asking employers which skills and attributes they value in a candidate, and ask for feedback about how well you fit with their expectations.]
5. Reference checks can be an opportunity for employers to ask questions about the attitude and personality of the candidate. Questions about the candidate’s relationships on the job, their teamwork style, as well as a description of their weaknesses are particularly useful to help clarify soft skills.
[Job seekers: choose your referees carefully and communicate with them once you have provided their names to potential employers. Make sure they understand which skills and personality traits are important to you and the employer, and — if possible — help them identify examples from your work that demonstrate your personal strengths. Also, gather LinkedIn Recommendations which speak about your personality — ask the people who are recommending you to mention your soft skills].
Ultimately, an ideal hiring process would encourage mutual openness and dialog to enable employers to see beyond resumes and keywords into candidates’ authentic character and values. Many of us, both job seekers and employers, are encouraged to see that companies such as Apple and Google are beginning to do just that. Let’s hope this trend continues to grow and be adopted by more companies of all sizes and industries.