Soft skills are qualities that reflect what kind of employee you will be. In reviewing job posts, I found that employers are looking for employees who are self-motivated. Here are a few suggestions of ways to present yourself on resumes and in interviews as an employee who doesn't need to be told what to do.
1. Tell a story that begins with these words: "I took the initiative to. . ." or "I volunteered to. . ."
2. Talk about a time you saw a problem and fixed it.
3. Use the word the employer is looking for: "Demonstrated leadership and self-motivation by . . ."
Every boss dreams about having employees who know who to do the job and care about what they do. If you can communicate that you are this type of person (and you have the right kind of experience and hard skills), you will get the employer's attention and be well on the way to a job offer.
Many clients tell me the same thing: They hate their boss. They feel unappreciated and disrespected. Rather than recognize a job well done, the bad boss will say nothing or, worse still, ask for more. To be fair, in many cases, the boss’s boss is probably putting pressure on her to do more and more. That’s too often the nature of business today. Still, would it hurt a boss to say, “Good job,” or “Thank you”?
How can you avoid working for a bad boss? When you interview for a new job, ask this question: What will it be like to work for this person? Pay attention your potential supervisor’s mannerisms and body language. A good question to ask would be: “What are the three most important qualities you look for in a successful employee?” The answer should indicate whether you and your prospective supervisor share the same values.
You can’t control your boss or the company you work for. However, you can decide what company you want to work for. Hiring is a two way street. If you’re looking for a new job take the time to evaluate the person who can make you life miserable. It’s never easy to walk away from a job. Sometimes it’s better to do that than to be miserable and mistreated. It’s your choice.
I often help clients prepare for job interviews. Almost all start by talking about what they don’t have. They are afraid that the interviewer will immediately detect their weakness and dismiss them as potential employees. Nothing could be further from the truth. Smart employers will, of course, address potential red flags like gaps in work history or a lack of experience. However, they are more interested in what an applicant has rather than what she lacks.
Instead of worrying about what you don’t have, start by focusing on your strengths. I tell clients to prepare for interviews by answering this question: “I will be a good fit for this position because (reason).” If you can convince employers that you have the knowledge, experience, and skill needed to do a job, they will be more likely to overlook what you lack or they will be more willing to train you in that area.
Before every interview, look carefully at the job post and company’s website. List ways you will be an asset to the firm. Practice talking about how your previous work experience is similar to what you will do for the new employer. Demonstrate that you will be able to do the job and that you want to do it. Every employer wants skill. What will set you apart is your ability to show motivation and interest in the company.
After you define your strengths and how they will benefit your prospective employer, it is important to practice how you would address any weak points. Keep these answers short and clear. Whenever possible, demonstrate how you are working on overcoming any problems. But remember that this exercise should not take even half the time you practice different ways to present positive reasons why you should be hired. Employers want the best person available. You are more likely to be that person if you know how to sell your strengths.
Employers want candidates to ask questions at interviews. Here’s a question I recommend clients ask: “What are the top three challenges I’ll face in this position?”
This question works in several ways. First, it shows the employer that you want to confront challenges. Second, once the employer tells you what the challengers are, you can address how you would deal with them. Finally, you will get a sense of what the employer thinks is most important. Employers want good employees. What’s a good employee? Someone who is not afraid of challenges.
[On Sundays, this blog explores different perspectives on work in “Sabbath.”]
Listening, Talking, and Exploring
We were a Twitter society long before the first tweet was posted. Newspaper articles and TV news stories have grown shorter, and they are written in language for a lower and lower grade level. We read headlines instead of stories. The spin is much easier to understand than a story with multiple levels of meaning.
Thank God (or Al Gore) for the Internet. It is possible to access great interviews and lectures that entertainment TV will not touch. Some might ask, “What about PBS?” The focus of PBS is corporate and mainstream. To replace Bill Moyers with an insider like Jon Meachem is a big bow to conventional wisdom. Similarly, Charlie Rose is a great interviewer, but his guests are the same crowd saying the same things. The one exception on PBS is Tavis Smiley. Anyone who thinks that Tavis only talks about race would be sadly mistaken. Sometimes he talks too much about Tavis, but that is a small flaw in an otherwise wonderful exchange of ideas.
We in Chicago were lucky for many years to have had Studs Terkel talking with artists and authors on WFMT. Some of those interviews are available through the Chicago History Museum. What I always enjoyed about Studs was the enthusiasm he brought to any topic. Like a great teacher, he drew his listeners into new ways of thinking, something we have too little of today.
On the political side, Jon Stewart and Thom Hartmann interview guests in very different ways. Stewart is first and foremost a comedian. But, like Shakespeare’s fools, he often makes his strongest critical points through a joke, often a non-verbal gesture. At the same time, even when he disagrees with a guest, Stewart is very respectful and gives all of his guests time to make their point. The website often includes longer versions of interviews on the Daily Show. Thom Hartmann is more cerebral and more set in his politics. His series Conversations with Great Minds would not win praise from conservatives. However, it is a great resources for those of us who find Barack Obama and most Democratic leaders too conservative for our tastes.
My favorite website for smart talk is TED, a collection of presentations by leading scholars, scientists, business leaders, and politicians. I know nothing about cricket, but I once watched a 30 minute lecture on cricket and marketing. It was fascinating. Unlike the cooler than cool network newsreaders (What do they anchor?), TED presenters are knowledgeable about their subjects, and they speak with a passion and humor that is totally lacking in the mainstream media. TED invites its viewers to think, not just pick one side of a simplistic argument.
Great speakers and interviewers transfer their ideas and curiosity to an audience. They bring a commitment that is often personal. When people say our education system is failing, they should look at Jon Stewart or TED. Find a teacher that makes people want to learn. They’re out there – just a mouse click away.