The Importance of Soft Skills in the Workplace
Part 2 – Leveraging Soft Skills In A Job Interview
Melissa Varischetti here, owner and founder at FindAJobPA.com.
Happy May! Welcome to the unofficial start of summer. As we get ready for cookouts, pool parties, and family get-togethers, I think you’ll find this month’s blog post topic even more relevant.
If you’ve been following the blog, you may recall that last month I wrote a brief introduction to soft skills. I wrote about how they differ from “hard skills”, and provided a list of a few general soft skills applicable to most jobs.
For our May blog post, I’ll continue this series about soft skills by honing in on a question I get asked a lot as a recruiting and HR professional – how do I leverage soft skills in a job interview?
Folks, I’m going to let you in on a secret about your recruiter(s): they are looking for your soft skills to see if you will be a good fit for the position. If they’re hiring a senior-level accountant to fill a C-level role, it’s not enough to have a CPA certification and 10 years of experience. They also want to make sure you’ll be a good fit for the team, and that you will be able to effectively cast a vision for the organization as you interface with internal and external partners.
Here’s another secret about your recruiter: they won’t ask you about soft skills. The closest they’ll get is with questions like “tell me about a time when you aligned a team of 5 people around a common goal”.
Questions like this can lead one of two ways (and the recruiters know this). The wrong way to answer a question like this is by strictly talking about what you did – “I was in charge of a team tasked with reducing shipping costs by 10% by year-end. The team was made up of various logistics and finance team members. I researched other vendors and by switching from UPS to FedEx we saved 15% per year on shipping. Other team members had prior negative experiences with FedEx and I had to overcome their objections so we could present our findings to management.” That’s not really what the recruiter’s looking for – they want to know WHY you did what you did and HOW you came to your conclusion.
Let’s explore a more robust answer to the question –
“Our CEO asked me to lead a team tasked with reducing overall shipping costs as part of the company’s 5-year growth and scalability strategy. Current shipping costs were too high and would negatively impact future projected gains. Although my team already had diverse viewpoints from people in our logistics and finance teams, the first step in our process was to interview representatives from all other company divisions that used our shipping processes and hear their pain points and perspectives on our current shipping strategy. I knew we needed to understand the whole picture before considering our next step.
Once we’d gathered all our data, we found a common theme was that it was hard to accurately generate and print pre-paid shipping labels. Many times managers would just tell their direct reports to generate a whole new label with a tracking number if one printed incorrectly, resulting in double or even triple shipping payments for the same end goal! No wonder shipping costs were not scalable.
Now that we knew what we were solving for, we started comparing shipping vendor software, and found that for our most frequent users in Marketing and Communications, the native technology from FedEx fit our needs and ensured first-time printing accuracy much more than our existing provider, UPS. Additionally, given our shipping volume, FedEx was able to beat our existing contract rate with even steeper discounts as our volume increased.
One of our senior logistics team members had several family members who worked for UPS. That relationship is how our original contract was drafted with that provider. Although he was initially adamantly opposed to switching providers, the data made such a compelling positive case that even he enthusiastically supported switching when we made our presentation to management.”
Wow, that second answer was a lot more specific than the first one, right? But let’s think about why. It’s not just that the second answer gave the recruiter more insight into WHAT went on (which it did). It’s that the second answer highlighted specific soft skills that the interviewee used to accomplish his objective of aligning a small team around a common goal. He used his critical thinking skills to avoid internal biases and brought in even more diverse perspectives from around his company. He leveraged interpersonal connection by interviewing managers and their direct reports to get a true feel of what was going on at all stages of the shipping process. Finally, he leveraged data analytics to boost his credibility with the reluctant team member and ultimately align him with the team’s goal.
It’s not enough to just list off soft skills and hope the recruiter knows what you’re talking about. Even in a cover letter, if you mention a soft skill, provide an example to ensure there is absolutely no doubt about this particular soft skill. It doesn’t have to be as lengthy as the one above, but you definitely need to make sure nothing gets lost in translation. Plus, providing a small window into soft skill strengths of yours will give the recruiter an opportunity to dig deeper into that skill in your interview, and give you the opportunity to fully describe why you’re great at the skills you mentioned.
Well, that’s about it for this month’s blog post. Be sure to follow FindAJobPA.com on social media and sign up for our email list so you never miss a blog post.
Tune in next month as we continue our series on “the importance of soft skills in the workplace.”
And as always – if you have questions, comments, or concerns, feel free to leave a comment or email me at [email protected].
Until next time,