Hello. I am John Self and welcome to SelfPerspective, a weekly podcast with information, insight and inspiration to help you manage your career.
Today, two big career management topics:
First, we will look at the deterioration of the soft skills that candidates bring to the table. One in three recruiters say there is a measurable decline in the quality of the soft skills.
Second, we will look at how research and advanced preparation for 15 common questions can help you improve your performance.
Stephanie Vozza, writing in the wonderful business magazine, Fast Company, focused on the decline of soft skills in the job search process.
Susan Vitale, Chief Marketing Officer of iCIMS, told Ms. Vozza that hard skills are what you do, and the soft skills are how you do it. Now here is the concern: One in three recruiters believe job candidates’ soft skills have gotten worse in the past five years. Companies can always teach the technical skills necessary for a job but soft skills are far harder to teach. For senior executives, it is these skills that typically create the most frication when it comes to cultural alignment.
If you are in the job market, here are the top five soft skills that recruiters say are in demand:
Problem Solving: This was the number one rated soft skill — 62 percent of recruiters say that finding people who are adept at problem solving and who can find winning solutions, are top priorities for employers today.
Adaptability: This was the second most desired soft skill. Forty-nine percent of recruiters are looking for this trait. Although recruiters in the survey said this was particularly important for entry-level positions, it is extremely important for senior level executives as well. Adaptability is one of the most important candidate characteristics in the suite of soft skills that recruiters and employers value.
Time Management: This was a close third in valued soft skills with 48 percent of the recruiters saying this was an important skill. For entry-level employees, this is something that can be learned to help them navigate the day. For senior executives who come to a new job with poor time management skills, this could be a fatal flaw.
Organization: Being organized ranked number four with 39 percent of the recruiters saying this was an important soft skill. Recruiters say that this is frequently evident in the interview process — showing up late, forgetting to thank the interviewer, and forgetting the interviewer’s name. For senior level executives, their organization skills are evident in their pre-interview preparation — both about their performance and successes as well as the needs of the client. People who are organized naturally score higher on the post-interview evaluation.
Oral Communication: Thirty-eight percent of the recruiters surveyed said this was the most important skill. In my outplacement practice and in courses I teach on interviewing skills, I stress the importance of effective communication in the job interview. Leadership is all about communication. If you cannot effectively communicate your story — your experience and your successes — in a meaningful and memorable way, your chances of advancing will drop. Remember this, the best qualified candidates get the job only about 35 percent of the time. The successful candidates who get the job are well qualified but what separates them from the crowd is their ability to communicate effectively.
Most executives, managers and supervisors are not that good at interviewing. Why? Because it is not something they do often. That is why it is so important to prepare. But most people, me included earlier in my career, march into the interview room, full of confidence. Candidates are competent at their jobs and so they feel there is an automatic extension of this competence to the job interview. Big mistake.
Recruiters say that one of the biggest problems they have with candidates is lack of preparation. You can wear your nicest clothes, be on your best behavior with a great resume, but if you are not adequately prepared, at best you will not be as good in the interview as you are an executive or manager and, at worst, the wheels will come off your wagon.
To avoid being average — the kiss of death in a competitive interviewing process — or something worse, you need to do research. That includes knowing the company, the people you will be interviewing with and, most importantly, their performance expectations. In other words, an employer has a need, a problem they are trying to solve. If you understand that, you can be more effective in responding to questions.
In addition to those more detailed hard skill questions that zero in on your experience and record of accomplishment, you can expect to get a series of softer questions, ones that with adequate preparation, you can hit out of the ballpark.
What I find amazing is that candidates rarely provide compelling answers to these softer skill questions where the answers are all pretty much the same so they often miss an important opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competitors for the job. Again, lack of preparation.
So, let’s look at some of those potential home run questions you can expect to be asked:
Tell me about yourself? How you answer this or similar first questions will set the tone for the entire session. This is your chance to score points and make a meaningful impression. In our outplacement practice supporting candidates in transition, or in the courses I teach on interviewing skills, I find that candidates miss incredible opportunities to be memorable and meaningful by weaving a story of family, values and who they are today. One outplacement client’s response to question one was so dull and endless that I almost went to sleep. When we drilled down into his background he had four or five rich little tidbits that he later worked into his answer that the interviewer later said made that individual stand out from everyone else.
How did you hear about this job? Do not say that you found it on LinkedIn or on some other job site or networking platform. Talk about how you targeted jobs that you felt were aligned with your career brand proposition and why you feel this particular job aligns so well.
Why do you want to work for our company? This is where you can craft an answer that incorporates your research on the employer, telling them why you admire them and why you want to work for them. But it all begins with the research.
Tell me about something on your resume? Everyone has something on their resume about which they are most proud. In my case it was the honor to serve as the first director of Memorial Hermann’s Life Flight emergency helicopter program in 1976 and then as the national marketing manager for the aircraft company that operated those programs. Over the next three years I set up the next 14 Life Flight programs nationally. That almost always opens the door for follow-up questions that allows me to showcase more of my talents and track record and to build a bond with the interviewer. Those experiences all occurred in the 1970s but I make it relevant by connecting the experiences with my later work experience.
Why are you looking for a job or why are you looking for a new job? This is far from a seemingly innocuous, filler question. This is where the interviewer can determine if you are looking for just any job and whether you were fired from your last position. Or, possibly that you might be a job hopper, always looking for a better deal. Here is my advice: be positive and be specific. Are you a new graduate, or perhaps re-entering the labor force following completion of a master’s degree, or are you making a career path switch? In several cases over the past couple of years I have had candidates explain they took time off to be with their kids during a formative period, or to support a parent or spouse who was suffering from a terminal illness.
Why should we hire you? Be specific. This is your chance to marry your job skills and your record of accomplishment with the employer’s needs, specific or implied. Again, this is not the type of question that you should attempt to answer on the fly. Be prepared. Be thoughtful with this question and develop a great answer. Even if you are not asked this specific question, thinking it through will help your overall performance.
In tomorrow’s blog post, on LinkedIn and at our website, JohnGSelf.Com, we will cover additional questions with suggestions for effective answers on subjects like salary requirements, describing your dream job and how do you deal with stress. That is tomorrow in our blog.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for listening. See you next Wednesday.