Soft skills have always been of major importance on the job, and have always factored into performance reviews big time. So it would seem logical to trumpet these important skills on your résumé. Right?
Not so fast. There are a gazillion résumés out there these days, with job seekers professing qualities such as: “bottom-line–focused”; “results-driven”; and “customer-service–oriented”; not to forget “excellent verbal and written communication skills.”
The trouble with flat-out claims like these is (at least) twofold. For one, employers regard most of these competencies as a given; most people would list these claims as assets for most positions. Meaning: claims like the ones mentioned above are going to do little to set you apart from the rest.
More importantly, though, they hardly sound convincing by themselves. Employers who first read your résumé haven’t seen you at work—in real time, with real people, on real challenges. They will read a soft-skill claim such as “proactive self-starter” and think: “Says who?”; or, “Duh! What job seeker wouldn’t describe him- or herself that way?”
The trick is to choose—and embed—soft skills wisely. Start by googling lists for soft skills (a.k.a. personal skills or people skills), then identify some four skills you feel you possess in particular—skills that distinguish you.
Next, look at your executive summary (or summary of qualifications, or whatever else you call the “mini-résumé” section immediately following your professional headline). Here you already provide a broad overview of the more or less tangible and verifiable aspects of your profile. Now make sure they also reflect your distinctive competencies you just identified, so the reader gets clues about the way you approach your work and the people you work with.
Sometimes you don’t even have to expressly state the soft skill in question; the presentation can be more effective if you can point at results stories, which imply the soft skills behind them.
Here’s one example:
- Developed staff potential to increase productivity by 25% per year and staff retention by 40% over 8 years.
The soft skills are between the lines: It takes astute judgment of employees’ strong suits, considerable capacity for maintaining motivation and enthusiasm, and a significant amount of persistence to achieve results like these.
Here’s another example:
- Advanced community projects by initiating and fostering purposeful networking among 30+ local businesses, institutions, and government agencies.
The soft skills behind this accomplishment: a great deal of proactivity and tenacity, superior rapport building, active listening, the ability to elicit and qualify the needs of others, and persuasive and convincing communication to get the movers and shakers from other organizations enthusiastic about joining in concerted endeavors.
You can still expressly mention some of the critical soft skills by name; chances are your résumé will first be read by screening software, and that software will have been programmed to screen for specific soft skills. But the way of intertwining soft skills with (hints at) results stories is a very effective credibility builder. And it has another benefit:
Soft-skills presentation will pique the readers’ curiosity if it is connected to results stories. In the interview, they will probably follow up on that at some point:
“Okay, so tell me about a time you built staff to meet your department’s needs”; or, “Give me an example of how you developed a network within the community, and what effect that had.”
This type of behavioral question (recounting how you have done something in the past) is increasingly popular with interviewers. And since you should anticipate this type of question anyway, won’t it be kind of smart to feed the interviewer exactly those questions you want to be asked?