When applying to jobs, you have most likely had to discuss the top skills that make you stand out. In addition to technical skills, many hiring managers require you to have certain ‘soft-skills’ or ‘professional skills’, and these can be harder to talk about. How do you go about demonstrating that you’re a good communicator, flexible, or work well in a team?

If a job requires you to have particular soft skills, then they will often specify this in the job advert. However, for many jobs it is not so clear. You often have to take an educated guess at what kind of skills employers are looking for. This can often lead to misinterpretation and can also be very daunting. We have put together this guide to help you identify and sell your top skills when job hunting. We have broken it down into three parts:

  1. How to tell which skills would be applicable for a role?
  2. Which skills do employers look for?
  3. How to demonstrate that you have those skills?

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How do I tell which skills are applicable for this role?

So, you’ve found a job you would like to apply for, and you have the appropriate technical skills. However, the job advert doesn’t mention what soft skills they are looking for. What should you do?

Firstly, there are often many clues and indications written into the job advert. Sometimes these are quite obvious, for example:

“The successful candidate will work in a small but multi-disciplined team of designers and developers.”

As this mentions the word “team” it is fairly obvious that teamwork is going to be the top skill the hiring manager is looking for. Additionally, other important skills can also be extracted from this. The fact that the team is “small but multi-disciplined” means they want someone flexible and willing to adapt. You may be required to learn new skills to support the team so you should be willing to learn.

The job advert may say something like:

“Assist with producing and maintaining key reports and dashboards.”

As well as providing information about technical ability, this also provides lots of information about desirable soft skills. Effective time management and the ability to work to deadlines is important in order to complete the project on time. Additionally, organisation is also important in order to balance this alongside your other responsibilities. Communication is also important to convey your ideas when producing new dashboards. Finally, problem-solving may be important if you encounter an issue.

On the other hand, you may encounter something such as:

“Supervising insight analysis supporting the change team, checking accuracy and relevance of data and analysis.”

This requires leadership to “supervise”, and attention to detail for “checking accuracy”.

When you encounter something where you aren’t sure which soft skills are applicable, try and mentally run through the process of doing that activity. Break it down into stages from coming up with the idea, then producing it, and finally, putting it into place. Who are you interacting with? How are you interacting with them? Are you putting ideas into practice for someone else or are you coming up with your own? It may help to have a checklist of potential soft skills and see if they could apply to that situation.

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Which skills do employers look for?

Depending on the role, employers may look for lots of different skills. A skill that makes you stand out in one role may not be useful in another. We have compiled this list of general skills that should be applicable to most roles.

  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Time management
  • Leadership
  • Flexibility
  • Critical thinking
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Resilience
  • Self-control
  • Creativity
  • Punctuality
  • Commercial awareness
  • Organisation
  • Ability to work under pressure

How do I demonstrate these skills in an interview or on a job application?

When you mention that you have these skills, it is also very important to be able to give examples. Hiring managers want to make sure that you show practical applications from the working environment and aren’t just reeling off a list of skills.

Communication

Communication can be broken into four subsections: verbal, written, non-verbal and visual. Some of these will be more applicable to a role than others.

Verbal communication covers everything from presenting your ideas in front of an audience to chatting to your team members. Some examples you can include are:

  • Times you’ve had to ask for advice or help
  • If you’ve brainstormed ideas
  • A time you’ve dealt with a difficult person
  • If you have ever had to interview someone
  • Listening (this could be helping another employee out with a problem etc.)
  • Networking
  • Negotiating

Written communication could be anything from emails, to blog posts, to reports. Some good things to mention are:

  • A time you’ve had to convey a complex idea to someone who does not know about it
  • Writing for a specific audience such as a blog post or newsletter

Non-verbal communication is something that can only really be demonstrated in person. It includes:

  • Handshaking
  • Smiling
  • Eye-contact
  • Body language – try to avoid being be too tense or too relaxed
  • Cues that you are still listening – small sounds such as ‘hmm’, ‘yeah’ or nodding in agreement

Visual communication is something that tends to be quite specific to certain roles. However, if you can visually communicate very well you will find it useful in lots of ways:

  • Presentations – how much of difference does it make viewing a really visually pleasing PowerPoint instead of a boring one?
  • Graphs – the ability to turn numerical data into something visual and easy to understand
  • Graphics
  • Photographs
  • Content for social media etc
  • Producing a CV that stands out visually

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Teamwork

Even if you do the majority of your work by yourself, chances are at some point you will have to work in a team. It is very important to possess interpersonal skills to work well with colleagues. Some good demonstrations of teamwork are:

  • Conflict resolution – have other people had a disagreement at work that you have helped sort out?
  • Taking responsibility – has a project ever not worked out? Did you accept responsibility for this?
  • Delegating
  • Encouraging team members who have fallen behind
  • Recognising achievements of others
  • Drawing out the input of introverts
  • Offering to do additional work in times of crisis

Use the STAR technique.

Situation: Where, when and why did this take place?

Task: What were you working on? What went wrong?

Action: What did you do to help solve the problem?

Result: What happened in the end? What did you learn from this?

Teamwork can also be demonstrated in situations outside of work such as if you play a team sport or in a musical group.

Time management

  • Have you ever had to work to very tight deadlines? How did you manage this?
  • Do you regularly have to handle multiple responsibilities?
  • Has there been a time when you have struggled? How did you overcome this?

Leadership

Leadership is an important skill regardless of whether you are replying for a leadership role or not. There are also many other, more specific skills involved in leadership such as:

  • Accountability
  • Budgeting
  • Delegating
  • Coaching
  • Managing resources
  • Decision making
  • Goal setting
  • Mentoring
  • Planning
  • Prioritising

Flexibility

  • The ability to change your mind – have you ever decided to stop doing something a certain way and try something new?
  • Are you adaptable?
  • Are you willing to learn new skills?
  • Can you be flexible with your time?
  • Are you happy to work with new teams and take instruction from new people?

Critical Thinking

  • Have you ever questioned why something was done a certain way and changed this to a more efficient method?
  • Have you challenged a decision that you knew was wrong/damaging for the company?
  • Are you willing to come up with ideas and contribute these?

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Honesty

  • Have you owned up to mistakes that you have made in the past?
  • Are you willing to self-reflect and admit where your weaknesses lie?
  • If you are struggling, can you ask for help?
  • Can you admit when you don’t know?

Integrity

  • Do you stick to your word even if it takes extra effort?
  • Work when you are supposed to and save things like chatting and snacking for break times
  • Keep colleagues and employees informed so they know what is coming and what needs to be done
  • Do you adhere to company policies and procedures?
  • Do you own up to your mistakes?
  • Don’t accept praise for someone else’s work

Resilience

  • Has there been a time when you have struggled at work? How have you overcome this?
  • Can you cope when given more responsibility?
  • How do you cope with criticism?
  • Have you taken on extra work to help out?
  • How has your role changed and grown over time?

Self-control

  • Are you emotionally intelligent?
  • How do you motivate yourself?
  • Do you set yourself targets?
  • How do you monitor your progress?
  • Do you display confidence?
  • Are you good at avoiding temptation?

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Creativity

  • Have you ever come up with an alternative, creative solution to a problem?
  • Can you think outside the box?
  • Can you approach things differently to how it is normally done? If you have previous experience in a different field this might be a great time to bring this in. For example, if you used to work in digital marketing but now work in UI/UX you might approach things in a very different way.

Punctuality

  • Arriving on time to work and meetings
  • Taking calls on time
  • Being prepared
  • Meeting deadlines

Commercial Awareness

  • Do you know about the company, it’s market and it’s competitors?
  • How do you keep up to date on the sector news?
  • Do you engage with blogs, podcasts or TedTalks?
  • How do you respond to changes?

Organisation

  • Are you good at meeting deadlines?
  • Have you worked on several projects at once?
  • Are you good at managing your time?
  • Are you punctual to meetings?
  • Do you respond to emails and calls quickly?

Ability to work under pressure

  • How do you handle pressure?
  • What is your workload like?
  • Have you ever had to take on another colleague’s workload?
  • Have you ever been under a lot of pressure at work?

We hope this guide helps you identify and communicate the top skills you will need for a role. These are not the only skills that are important, so it may be useful to do some research on the skills specific to the role you’re applying for.

At Ignite we have a lot of experience in recruiting the best digital talent. We know what makes you stand out as a great candidate. If you manage to demonstrate these skills well in an interview then you will really stand out to employers.

If you want to know any more information about interview skills, then we have some other great blog posts. You can also give us a call!

 

About the author: I manage the recruitment for a range of digital roles for my clients on both a retained and contingency basis. I specialise in senior and confidential appointments, always giving a first class representation of a client’s employer brand.

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