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In today’s economy, it takes a lot more than meeting job requirements and possessing technical skills to get and keep a job.
Directors of Career Services Ricardo Estevez of The Art Institute of Washington, a branch of The Art Institute of Atlanta, and Don Stewart of The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, provide tips for identifying and utilizing your soft skills, whether for an interview or on the job.
Soft skills are really, really critical, says Estevez, who has worked in both career services and recruiting in the DC Metro area. “When talking to students and graduates, I call it the ‘IT’ factor.” It’s a way for Estevez to generalize the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication skills, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that employers look for in a candidate.
Stewart instructs his graduates daily on “likeability,” and he’s not talking about Facebook posts. He’s referring to whether an interviewer feels like they “clicked” with you or not.
“You are constantly being assessed in an interview. Interviewers, whether they realize it or not, record in a mental file things like how you dress, if you combed your hair, how you carry a conversation, if you were on time, how your listening and critical thinking skills were, will you work well in a team, and were you motivated or passionate,” Stewart says.
Stewart adds to consider not only how you come across in an interview, but also how you come across in a presentation, over the phone, virtually, and even when emailing and using LinkedIn. It’s the undertone of your communications and actions that can come across loud and clear.
The top set of soft skills, both Estevez and Stewart agree, are listening skills, communication skills, critical thinking, and decision making. Here are some tips from Estevez and Stewart for job seekers and job-keepers alike:
* Listening: Watch for cues and use simple techniques such as asking yourself, “Am I talking too much, or too little?” Repeat to your manager or co-worker what you think was the important message of a conversation to ensure you understood an action request. Your listening skills go hand-in-hand with another soft skill: receiving criticism. Listen intently and don’t react right away to criticism. Take your time to process, even if it takes several days, and then respond.
* Communication: Be honest and genuine while being tactful all at the same time. If you’re yourself, you will be less likely to give what sounds like a pre-recorded answer or stutter in an interview.
* Critical thinking and decision making: Given a set of challenges, go out and get creative to produce solutions based on research. Fine-tune by checking back with managers or team members where appropriate to course-correct and stay on track. Feedback on large-scale projects can save you time and money.
Estevez believes that identifying your soft skills will also help job-seekers choose an employer or company that fits who they are. He says that one can crash their own opportunities and ruin their chances for success from the very start by trying to fit into a company that isn’t for them and doesn’t match their goals, personality, or soft skill sets.
“It’s the square peg-round hole theory,” he says. “If you need structure and quiet, it’s probably not a great idea to work at a company that is creative, relaxed, and where the employees play miniature golf down a long carpet alley of cubicles.”
“It’s almost like a reset button got hit, and it’s no longer just the best and most talented person who gets the job,” Estevez says. “Competition is fierce and highly sought positions are being given to those with the strongest capabilities that meet both hard and soft skill requirements.”
Soft skills are undoubtedly the other half of the equation and will set a candidate apart from the pool of job seekers and assist employees in keeping a job during restructures.