Education Career Services

April 30, 2009

Job Search Success, Part Two: Selling the Softer Side

Filed under: Career Cafe,Career Development — EducationCS @ 6:02 pm
Tags: , ,

marshmallowYesterday, we defined hard and soft skills and talked about the importance of leading your résumé and cover letter hard…with a clear, compelling discussion of your technical skill set, knowledge base, and professional expertise. Today, we’ll cover how soft skills set you apart…and how to demonstrate them effectively.

Soft with Specificity
Only individuals who have the right hard skills will be considered for a position, but it will often be the soft skills that separate the successful candidate from the also-rans. Because we instinctively know how important these characteristics are, many candidates devote their cover letter and résumé to describing at length what nice, friendly, hard-working people they are.

Unfortunately, these documents will not work!

Discouraging as it may be, a hiring manager doesn’t care about you UNTIL she knows you are a strong candidate to fill the opening. Only after you communicate your hard skills can you discuss the soft skills that make you stand out.

What’s more, mentioning a soft skill doesn’t carry much weight. Everyone says they’re a team player, a quick study, and so on. It is difficult to speak of soft skills without straying into generalities. To be effective, you must PROVE that you possess relevant soft skills through your achievements.

Consider leadership. Saying you’re a capable leader isn’t enough. But what if you list on your résumé the size of the teams you’ve led? What if, during an interview, you tell an anecdote about bringing a group together to reach a specific goal? You’ve backed up a general assertion with specific detail. Now the hiring manager has a basis on which to judge your abilities.

Application or Interview?
As a rule of thumb, focus your résumé, cover letter, and written elements of your application on hard skills. In other words, show the level of competence you’ve reached in your field. Soft skills should play a much smaller role and should only be mentioned 1) if they differentiate you and 2) if you can provide quantifiable achievements to back them up.

The interview will be much the opposite. In all likelihood, your hard skills will be quickly established (by your documents, some technical questions, or any testing process the company may employ). Once you’ve cleared these hurdles, the hiring manager will try to determine if you’re a good “fit” for their team.

This is your time to shine! Demonstrate your soft skills by being a good listener, explaining yourself clearly, and so on. Then seek out opportunities to discuss (with specific examples!) the soft skills that make you the best candidate for the job.

Your Turn
Whatever your mix of talents, you must develop a strategy for making the most important and relevant skills known to a potential employer-in the right way, at the right time. Get started today. Make a list of your top 10 hard skills and your top 5 soft skills. How can you best leverage your documents and your interviews to convey this information?

Have questions? Need some feedback? Talk to us in the comments section.

Amy Lorenzo
Senior Writer
Career Services International –
Education Career Services –

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