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.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak at the annual SEAK Conference in Chicago. SEAK assists physicians in making career transitions, which was also the subject of my talk.
Many people assume that physicians have it easy. What they ignore is the many challenges faced by doctors in the current marketplace. It’s very expensive to get through medical school. Then, once in practice, doctors face problems with insurance rates and ever changing compensation models. With reforms in the health care, more doctors are considering taking their skills in a new direction.
While I only attended a couple of sessions (other than my own), I was impressed by the options presented to physicians. Speakers, all of whom were MDs, gave examples from their own career that involved moving to non-clinical positions in investing, consulting, and, even, media. People can make a change more easily if they have a role model, and the SEAK Conference gave doctors that opportunity.
My message was pretty simple: Find your destination, build a map, and always believe in yourself. It’s an easy message, but – like all career changes – difficult to achieve. While I laid out some practical steps related to finding a direction, writing a resume, and engaging employers, I still believe the most important factor is attitude. I ended my presentation with this quotation from Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Simple words. Powerful truth.
In the latest issue of Utne Reader, founder Eric Utne speculates on how we are affected by the stories we tell. He notes that from the 1930s through the 1960s, our national story telling focused on success and hope, even in hard times like the Depression and World War II. Now, our stories (including video games) are “chaotic, post apocalyptic scenarios in which the human condition is, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’” Utne suggests we need to find a way to tell stories that will let us rebuild what is broken.
Too often, job seekers fall into the trap of telling themselves the wrong kind of story. Everything we hear in the media is negative: high unemployment rates, wage cuts, layoffs, jobs sent to other countries, and technology making people irrelevant. It’s easy to fall into despair.
The alternative is to rewrite the script. Where do you want to be? How can you get there? Don’t focus on what’s wrong. Think about your goal and how you will achieve it. The next step is to turn the story into a plan and follow that plan with dedication. Will the path be easy? No, it never is. Anything worth having takes work, struggle, patience, and faith. Those are the core elements of the story you need to tell, the story of a career (and life) in which you are in control.
Seth Godin posted recently on the topic of inspiration. He says that rather than waiting for some outside force to inspire us, we need to find ways to inspire ourselves. When we wait for inspiration to come to us, we are being passive. Finding a way to motivate ourselves is the exact opposite. We are taking charge, not leaving it to chance.
Seth suggests one way we can inspire ourselves: write a blog. Talk about your favorite company and what makes it good. I think this is a good idea, but – as far as blogs go – I’d say write about your favorite anything. Reading blogs or other websites is another way to get inspired. Seth Godin makes me think. Most news sites make me made. All of them inspire me to write and help me think about how to do my work better.
Believe it or not, there are ways to inspire yourself that have nothing to do with the internet or reading. Some people exercise; others cook. The key is to find an activity that gives you energy that will carry into other areas of life, including career management and the job search. We cannot control the economy. We can control our response to it, our attitude. Find a way (or, better still, ways) to inspire yourself.