Instead of thinking of an interview as an interaction where you are hoping to be offered a job, it can sometimes be more helpful to think of it as a negotiation in which you are offering your skills in exchange for compensation. Your prospective employer is in a position where they will offer you money (and other benefits) if they believe your skills will be worth an equal or greater sum. Consequently, if you are able to develop more skills over time, the total value of your “offer” will recognizably increase.
Developing a skillset can often take an incredibly long time. In fact, it is often claimed that in order to be considered an “expert” in anything, you will first need to devote at least 10,000 hours of practice. However, while hard skills (tangible things needed to actually do a job) may take years to master, soft skills may be acquired much more naturally.
Soft skills include the characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors that are specific to you as a person. Hiring managers are often much more interested in people with a well-developed range of soft skills because these are the “skills” that are often the most difficult to instill in new employees. Though it will still be very important to present interviewers with an authentic version of your personality, making an effort to hone these soft skills may help you gain the exact sort of competitive advantage you’ve been looking for.
Even if you have limited experience in the industry or a degree from a relatively unrelated field, many employers will not automatically dismiss you because they are likely aware that any area you are insufficient in can be compensated for with proper training. However, if there is one thing that will almost always exclude you from getting a job, it is demonstrating to employers that you are dishonest.
Under the pressure of an interview, you may want to exaggerate your knowledge and experience and pretend that you know everything. But because your potential employer can likely tell if you are being inauthentic, it is much better to admit you don’t know something that to lie and pretend as if you do. Having the humility to admit you need guidance is greatly preferred to taking on a task you are unable to handle.
Willingness to Learn
In the instances that your knowledge of a position is clearly less than perfect, employers will likely be looking for your willingness to learn. This particular soft skill suggests to employees that you will be able to adapt to future challenges and rise to the occasion. There are a few different ways you can demonstrate a willingness to learn.
One of the best ways to impress employers is to show that you are making active efforts to improve your skills and knowledge of the industry. Having credentials such as actively taking night classes, being a member of various trade organizations, or spending your free time engaging in industry-related activities will suggest that your willingness to learn is legitimate. Additionally, it will be quite helpful for you to ask questions throughout the course of an interview—questions keep employers engaged and also gives them the opportunity to positively talk about their organization.
Ability to Accept Criticism
Even if you do have an incredible background and a solid education, if you are applying for a competitive position, then there will still likely be at least some things on your resume that employers consider to be less than perfect. Having the ability to accept criticism will suggest to employers that, despite your imperfection, you can at least be molded into the model employee someday.
During an interview, it can be very easy to mistake a sentence such as “we would really prefer if you had more experience” to be the same as “you do not have enough experience for us to offer you the job.” Instead of going into panic mood, it is much better to stay calm, admit that you could improve, and suggest to your employer how you are planning on making things different (taking classes, coming in early, studying the employee manual, etc.).
Verbal communication is a soft skill that usually takes a bit of time to acquire, but it is something that employers—in essentially every industry—are constantly looking for in their employees. Being able to competently present an idea, speak in front of others without getting nervous, or communicate with a team are all valuable assets that will be helpful at almost any job.
There are a few things you can do to begin improving your verbal communication skills. Practicing a speech (or even just reading from a book) in front of a mirror is an excellent way to begin to hone your skills and build your confidence. Additionally, paying attention to things such as body language, your speaking-to-listening ratio, and your tone will all likely benefit you over time.
Though employers are certainly looking for individuals who are teachable—and have the humility to accept that there are things that can be learned—they are also looking for individuals who can actually contribute something to the conversation.
Critical thinking is the art of looking at things the way they are and thinking about ways in which they could be made better. This is one of the reasons that one of the most common interview questions is “what do you think we could improve about our company?” When you are asked this question, it is unlikely that your employer is actually looking for objective advice. Instead, they are looking for your ability to think on your feet in a way that will be useful once you are actually given the position.
Taking the time to deliberately focus on developing these soft skills can help you distinguish yourself from other interviewees and demonstrate your value to a company. Even if you aren’t able to land the next job you apply for, each of these skills are certainly something you will benefit by having.