That's it...the one! The ad for your dream job has just been posted and panic starts to set in. You know hundreds of people are going to see the same posting and start competing for this highly desired role at a top company. How can you stand out from the crowd and put your best foot forward?
A recruiter's job is to attract and present top talent. Corporate recruiters use a variety of screening techniques and tools to filter out less qualified candidates and they also pay attention to your behavior at every step in the process, looking for specific traits or skills that their hiring manager is seeking for this role. Every point of contact from cover letter to offer negotiation is an opportunity to demonstrate key skills to this employer.
What behaviors and skills will this company be seeking for this role? The job posting is a great place to start. Most job ads list the desired qualifications, characteristics and knowledge needed to succeed in the position.
Additionally, there are many skills and behaviors that are consistently sought by a majority of employers, regardless of the position or industry. They are:
- Critical Thinking
- A Growth Mindset
- Emotional Intelligence
- Attention and Focus
- Real World Experience
- Agility and Adaptability
- Time Management and Organization
- Professional Maturity
When 400 HR Professionals at numerous companies across the U.S. were asked what the top skill needed in the workplace was, they answered "critical thinking." Employers need employees who can solve problems and make decisions using analysis and logic. Critical thinking provides a significant competitive advantage in business. This is also one of the easiest skills to demonstrate to employers when considering a new role.
Strong critical thinkers break down and analyze situations from every angle. You can apply and demonstrate this skill, as a candidate, by (before you apply for a position) considering the following:
What motivates you, what challenges you, what stands out about you, what do you need from a job, what will make you leave a job? If you can't answer these questions, you aren't ready for an interview.
2. Your potential employer.
What do they do, why do they do it, who do they tend to hire and why? Are individuals, who are motivated and challenged in the same ways as you are, happy there?
3. The role.
Learn the team and role dynamics (Glassdoor.com can be a great place to start.) How does this position contribute to the Company's mission? Why is this role available at this time? Why have previous employees left the role? How would your skills and experience benefit this role? How does this role fit into your career progression and goals?
According to Carol Dweck, Author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, "individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies and input from others) have a growth mindset." Companies are seeking employees with a growth mindset because these individuals tend to achieve more, be more innovative and are typically more committed to their work.
A few ways that you can demonstrate a growth mindset are:
- Sharing how you elicit and utilize feedback from others
- Giving examples of when you responded to criticism with curiosity and a desire to learn from the mistake
- Reading and critically thinking about information provided by the potential employer (job ad, company website, flyers)
- Motivating subordinates through rewards for learning and progress (instead of effort) and providing development and advancement opportunities
Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize, discern and label emotions followed by the ability to adapt behavior to achieve your goals. Studies have shown that people with high EI tend to have better mental health, job performance and leadership outcomes. They also tend to remain calm under pressure more often and are more successful at resolving conflict. A 2011 CareerBuilder survey found that 71% of employers value EI over intelligence quotient (IQ) and 59% of employers would not hire someone who has a high IQ but low EI. Many employers are currently using EI assessments in their screening process. (Don't be discouraged if you currently have low EI. This can be improved through coaching and practice.)
A few ways you can demonstrate emotional intelligence are:
- Know what motivates you
- Share how you reflect on your emotions and ask others for perspective
- When asked, provide examples of times you remained calm in tense situations
- Discuss your focus on relationships and how you empathize with others
- Demonstrate self-awareness and self-regulation throughout the hiring process
Attention and Focus
According to a recent Forbes article titled "Top Employers Say Millennials Need These 4 Skills in 2017", the top 100 HR Managers, Recruiters and CEOs said they find plenty of new talent with strong leadership, communication and collaboration skills. However, the 4 essential soft skills they need to see more frequently, include: Attention and Focus, Real World Experience, Agility and Adaptability and Humility.
A few ways you can demonstrate effective attention and focus are:
- Follow instructions throughout the hiring process. Read the entire job posting. Frequently, employers will list questions or application instructions that differ from clicking the "apply" button to see how well an applicant pays attention to details.
- Make sure every email or document you send has been thoroughly reviewed for errors. Paying attention to details like spelling and grammar demonstrates this attribute.
- When asked, share an example of your ability to start and achieve a goal. Even if you only have a personal example, the employer will appreciate knowing you have the focus to complete objectives.
- Check your LinkedIn messages, email and voicemail daily. Employers expect you to respond to their invitations for an interview or requests for additional information in a timely fashion. Not doing so can lead them to believe that you aren't focused on your job search.
- Eliminate distractions. Don't send rushed emails while at work. Schedule phone interviews for a time when your children or other distractions won't be present. Focused individuals know how to set themselves up for success by eliminating distractions.
A college education is no longer enough. While employers value education, they recognize that experience, curiosity and relational skills have proven to be far more beneficial to job performance. For this reason, it is critical to build real-world experience while attending school. Whether a fast food job that demonstrates dedication and stress-tolerance, a side-gig that conveys innovation or an internship that shows adaptability and humility, real-world experience is a requirement for many top employers.
A few ways that you can demonstrate your real-world experience are:
- List a real-world example of how you used your skills in a cover letter.
- Be prepared to discuss real-world experiences in a phone or in-person interview. Employers love success stories that led to new skills and confidence. Talk about the mistakes you've made and how you grew from them. Discuss objectives you achieved, tough deadlines you met and team dynamics you encountered. Connect these experiences to the role you are seeking and your career path.
Agility and Adaptability
"The only thing that is constant is change." - Heraclitus
Employers understand that their business will change and likely in ways they can't even imagine today. Having employees who can adapt to and capitalize on change it critical to long-term business success. This is part of why a growth mindset is so important to employers (see above.)
A few ways that you can demonstrate agility and adaptability:
- List an example of your adaptability in a cover letter.
- Provide an example during an interview where you faced a challenge, remained calm and thought through solutions. Being able to act on solutions quickly also demonstrates agility.
- Provide an example during an interview of a time when your role or workplace changed significantly. Again, share how you handled the situation by not folding under pressure.
- Provide an example during an interview of a time when your idea was not selected. Sharing how you got on-board with someone else's idea demonstrates adaptability.
A 2014 study of CEOs and the concept of humility found that humility was positively associated with empowering leadership behaviors, which creates more work engagement, commitment and better job performance. Humble employees are also more collaborative and empathetic. It's no wonder companies seek this trait.
A few ways that you can demonstrate humility:
- Show interest in input and ideas shared during interviews.
- Respect the schedule and time of the people you meet with (be on-time, acknowledge that you appreciate the time they are giving you, be flexible about when you can interview.)
- Admit mistakes. We all make them and if you convey that you don't make them, you will not only appear arrogant, but also dishonest. Employers want to learn how you have overcome and learned from mistakes; they don't expect you to be perfect.
- Managers should demonstrate how they allow their subordinates to do their jobs with limited interference. Micro-managers tend to have big egos that get stroked by perfection, an impossible goal to maintain. A great manager hires great employees and then allows them to shine.
Collaborative teams and companies tend to be more creative, innovative and successful. Employers don't want to waste time resolving personality conflicts, so they seek out collaborative employees.
A few ways that you can demonstrate collaboration:
- Share with a prospective employer if you have maintained relationships with previous co-workers. LinkedIn is a great way to convey this through recommendations and connections. Collaborative individuals take time to get to know their team members.
- When asked, provide examples of times you reached a team goal. While employers need to hear about your individual accomplishments, they also want to know that you have met objectives as a team contributor.
- View interviews as a mutually-beneficial opportunity to share information and work toward a common goal (determining if there is a good fit for you and for the employer.) Talk about the value you could bring to the organization and how the company could also meet your employment needs.
Time Management and Organization
Employees who manage their time well and stay organized are more productive, efficient and tend to meet deadlines more often. Knowing your priorities and being able to analyze and plan your work according to these priorities, is key to long-term success in business.
A few ways that you can demonstrate time management and organization skills:
- Study and utilize systems and tools (OneNote, Wunderlist, time allocation) that help you stay on-task. Figure out what works best for you so you are prepared to discuss your methods in an interview.
- Learn about efficiency methods and tools (eliminating distractions, digitization, meeting agendas, action item assignment, Six Sigma, Lean Management, BPM).
- When appropriate, share an example of a time when you had to establish priorities and accomplish work tasks according to those priorities.
- When appropriate, share an example of a time when you broke a large goal down into smaller tasks.
- Be ready for phone interviews at the scheduled time.
- Arrive a few minutes early to an in-person interview.
- Bring copies of your resume and supplemental documents (in a professional binder or briefcase) to the interview.
- Follow-up and be sure to complete any requested tasks (upload references, email diploma).
Professional maturity is the ability to respect yourself and others in the workplace and to apply data and logic in decision-making, rather than emotions or instincts. Employers seek professional maturity because research shows this attribute leads to higher life/job satisfaction, greater self-esteem and more successful decision-making in the workplace.
A few ways that you can demonstrate professional maturity:
- Speak well of previous employers and co-workers.
- When appropriate, share examples of handling conflict well in the past.
- Answer the phone professionally (i.e. "this is __________").
- Understand how your skills and experience could fit into the department and the company. Acknowledge the value that you could add.
- Educate yourself about typical career progression in your field so you convey realistic expectations and goals.
- Treat everyone you meet (the receptionist, the janitor, the CEO) with respect and as an important contributor to the company.
- Handle employment departures professionally (2-weeks' notice, transition tasks well, thank those who have helped you grow and learn.)
It is a rare candidate who conveys all of these highly desired characteristics but when someone does, employers jump at the opportunity to hire them. Take the time to self-assess in these areas, increase your knowledge and apply what you learn. Doing so can not only win you the job, it can make you a much more confident, effective and satisfied person.
Do you have additional ideas for demonstrating these skills? Please share them in the comments!