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Soft Skills Sells In Interviews

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Behavioral Questions and Soft Skills

When we coach our job interview clients, we focus on behavioral interview questions that assess the essential soft skills a job through its core functions. Let’s break this down, when we say soft skills we mean we focus on the soft skills because we have found that most candidates handle the questions designed to assess their technical proficiency very well only to stumble with the questions designed to assess their soft skills. For example, when we ask a programmer to explain what a certain set of code means or how best to handle a coding issue, most often their answer is a good one. Now when we ask the same candidate to “describe a time when you did not get along well with a co-worker and how you handled it” to assess their interpersonal skills, 9 times out of 1 they stumble. We see the same thing over and over again whether we are hiring for an accountant, teacher, and so on. Most candidates can handle questions designed to assess their technical competencies much much better than questions designed to assess their soft skills.

Why does soft skills matter? Because 9 times out of 1 applicants are bypassed due to their soft skills. We hear this all the time when we debrief with the hiring manager to get their feedback on the applicant. Sometimes, the hiring managers will directly state that the applicant lacked the soft skills but more often it will be phrased as “no connection with the applicant”, or “didn’t get a good feel about the applicant” or “don’t think the applicant would fit in well” and so on.

In addition to focusing on the soft skills the key is to focus on answering behavioral questions designed to assess soft skills through core job competencies. Behavioral based interview questions because they are very prevalent in the HR industry. Behavioral questions focus on assessing past behavior by asking you to provide an example or describe a situation that has happened in the past and what you did. So because of the reasons stated and others beyond the scope of this post, you will likely be asked these questions in your next job interview.  So for example, suppose you are interviewing for an accounting job.  The key soft skill in this job is attention to detail.  To assess this soft skill most effectively, employers will use a behavioral question to assess your attention to detail but they will do so through a core job function.  A core job function of an accounting job is to balance the general ledger.  Now when you blend the two concepts together, (assessing a core soft skill with a core job function), you get a question like “tell me about a time when you noticed a detail that was overlooked by others when balancing the general ledger”.

As a job seeker, it is wise to prepare yourself so that you can answer interview questions that asses your soft skills through the core job functions that are on the job description.

How to Answer

Now that we talked about what kinds of questions you should expect in your job interview, how should you answer?  Your response really depends on exactly the type of interview question asked. While interviewing skills as a hiring manager or job applicant can be quite an in depth topic and beyond the scope of this post, we have provided a quick lesson on how you can improve your interview skills. We have chosen to briefly cover the behavioral question because this is where we see most people struggle.

To ensure that you provide good answers consistently we advise that you follow a structured approach when responding to behavioral type questions. Two effective techniques to use are “STAR” (situation, task, action, result) and “PAR” (problem, action, result). These techniques are very similar to one another, so for illustrative purposes, we will discuss the STAR method.

To use the STAR technique, simply describe each element in your interview answer. So with the star technique, begin by describing the situation. Here you want to quickly give context to the interviewer (where, when, etc). Next clearly describe your task, that is what were you tasked to do in this situation. Now it is time to describe the steps or action you took to complete your task. Lastly, describe the results that you achieved. Sounds simple right? Well it is simple, but the secret is to practice responding following this structure. By following structure, you will ensure that you provide complete answers and do not omit vital pieces of information. For more information see our articles and courses on interviewing skills.

The Questions Are In Your Resume

Remember that another good source of job interview questions is your resume. Hiring managers will ask you questions based on your resume. For some people it’s hard to recall what you did last week, let alone what you did at work a few years ago. So it pays to review your resume before you go to your job interview.

So until our next post, we wish you much luck and success in your career search.

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