I take any opportunity I can to speak to employers to get their perspectives on the hiring process. My favourite topic is to get them to describe their most important factors when making the final choice of a candidate, after the interviewing stage. Employers tell me that they first choose to interview candidates with the best hard skills — that is, the best specific knowledge and abilities needed to do the job (e.g. computer software, or specific information, technical and/or product knowledge) — they want to know WHAT you can do. But, they also say that once they have interviewed candidates, decisions are almost always based on soft skills (sometimes described as transferable or employability skills), which refer to HOW and WHY people perform their job duties, rather than just what they do.
What are Soft Skills?
An entry on Wikipedia describes Soft Skills as “behavioural competencies”. Employers tend to prefer certain personality types, behaviour styles and values when they make the final choice about a candidate. These skills are transferable from job to job and, even, from career to career. They are the personal strengths that you bring with you from your own life and background, and which have worked on and improved — both at your jobs and in your life. They include organisational skills, interpersonal abilities, as well as many others.
Interpersonal skills are very important to employers, as one once remarked to me: “I have to work, side by side, with this person, for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week … almost more time than I spend with my wife and children, so it has to be someone whose company I enjoy”.
Commenting on the importance of other Soft Skills, such as flexibility, team work and creativity, another employer, a senior executive who recruits IT professionals for a major Canadian bank, once made a comment that impressed me so much that I wrote it down: “I can always send someone for training in a software package, but it doesn’t matter what I do, I can’t train someone to be a team player, to be more flexible, open-minded or creative. I wish they would tell me or, even better, demonstrate these in an interview, so I could choose to hire them first”.
I believe that this is very good news for the average job searcher. Most of us come to the workplace with certain inherent strengths about which we feel good — and it’s good to know that employers actually value them as important. You just need to figure out which strengths are valued by potential employers, and to ensure that you communicate them clearly when applying for a job.
Which soft skills are important to employers?
The term Employability Skills, which refers to transferable soft skills needed to succeed in the workplace, comes from the Conference Board of Canada in a report titled Employability Skills 2000+, which was developed by over 70 of the largest public and private Canadian employers.
In this report, they detail these skills, dividing them into three categories:
1. Fundamental Skills –– to help in the daily activities, including your ability to:
- manage information
- work with numbers
- think and solve problems
2. Personal Management Skills — your attitudes and behaviours, including:
- be positive, both in attitude and behaviours
- behave responsibly
- be adaptable
- have a commitment to life long learning
- work safely
3. Teamwork Skills — your ability and commitment to:
- work with others
- participate in projects and tasks
Assessing your employability skills:
The government of Canada has created an online Employability Skills Assessment, where you can evaluate your abilities and figure out which skills you are confident using and which you might want to improve. Try it out and identify which skills you feel are your strongest.
Now that you know your soft skills, how do you make sure employers learn about them?
- Make sure to include in your resume those skills that you feel are your strongest
- When you introduce yourself to employers in cover letters and interviews, include your skills in your description of yourself
- Be prepared to discuss your strengths with employers in the interview, using examples from past jobs (or volunteer work) where you used those skills
Remember that the most effective way to convince an employer about your skills is to demonstrate them in they way you conduct yourself during the job search process — be positive, be organised and accountable and use your best communication abilities.