What Are Soft Skills?

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When  preparing for your upcoming mid or senior-level interview, working to identify and then incorporate your soft skills into your responses is absolutely necessary to position yourself as a strong contender – to give insight into your potential managerial and leadership ability.

 The phrase “soft skill” is a buzzword that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. The phrase originated from the U.S. Military, somewhere between 1968 and 1972. Training personnel needed a way to define and differentiate between skills that were in contrast to the hard skills that involved working with machines. The military invented the term “hard skill” to create a more objective or strategic way of training, to measure how well troops were performing. 

Hard skills in a position can be defined as objective – they can be taught; accounting, finance, project management, business expertise. Often requiring additional certification; MBA’s, CPA, etc.

Soft skills are a combination of people skills, social skills and communication skills – they are non-technical skills. They are often innate personality traits – some which we all possess and practice. Understanding what is expected of you as a candidate is tough. Both hard and soft skills are important to possess as a candidate. Knowing how and when to communicate those skills in your interview is even more critical. Most soft skills are not taught well in school and are learned through experience or trial and error.

In addition to knowledge, expertise and experience – candidates need to possess these qualities and attributes to relate, engage and demonstrate trust as a mentor, manager or leader. 

Some of the more sought-after soft skills are:

  • Teamwork
  • Flexibility
  • Leadership
  • Adaptability
  • Problem-solving
  • Integrity
  • Effective communication skills
  • Dependability
  • Creativity

Preparing for an interview is an ideal time to assess your own soft skills. Developing self-awareness and being honest with your soft skills strengths as well as the areas where you do not excel is an excellent use of time and attention to add a layer of depth to your responses. 

If you reflect back on your career and think of a manager or mentor you really liked or perhaps identified or invested time in your professional growth, likely had a strong foundation of multiple soft skills. A strong manager exudes character traits that allow relationships to form easily and trust to be established quickly. Their innate (or developed) skills allows them to read people easily.

Interviewers will not usually or typically ask outright if you have soft skills. Rather, they will present questions or situations and ask what you would do to assess whether you possess these skills.

How to highlight your Soft SKills?

As you’re preparing for your interview, make a list of the soft skills that you possess that are relevant to the job. You can weave these through the examples or stories you use to communicate your competencies. You can also demonstrate them in your interview by being friendly and approachable. Paying close attention while the interviewer is speaking and maintaining eye contact  – these actions demonstrate your listening skills ability. Below are some examples of the way an interviewer may pose a question in search of the soft skills you possess:

Adaptability

“Can you give me an example of a time something did not go according to plan?”

 Interviewers are looking to hear how you coped, adjusted, or shifted. How did you work through, or not, meeting the goal, deadline, lost contract. The outcome does not have to be positive – it’s how you handled the situation, whether the final results were negative or positive.

Integrity

“Tell us about a time where you had to comply with a policy you didn’t agree with?”

“What does integrity mean to you?”

Integrity means being honest, no matter the situation. Admitting a mistake versus blaming it on others and doing the right thing for the company – not for your personal benefit. Making the moral decision whatever the temptation.

Creativity

“Can you give an example of how you took a creative approach to solve a problem?”

“When have you had to think outside the box to solve a problem?”

Creativity is a thinking/doing skill. It can be thought of as converting hard work into smart work by understanding the cause and effects of an action. This is a skill strengthened through experience.

Communicating your soft skills means communicating how you will demonstrate and share your human-side; your caring qualities in your role. Do you listen, share, admit mistakes, relate, see the potential in another, delegate? The interviewers want to relate and connect with you as much as they are looking for you to do the same in the position you are interviewing for.

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