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Using your soft skills to get the job you want

Nowadays it's a plus if you have more to offer a potential employer than a degree alone; employers look more and more for evidence of well-rounded individuals with the potential to succeed in their organisation - this is where skills come in.

Also at university you develop soft skills that future employers are interested in.

Do you think you didn’t develop enough extra skills during your study to impress a potential employer with? Good news! As a student, there are lots of skills you probably already own without being aware. Getting a degree not only provides you with the technical know-how for your dream job, it also teaches you the necessary soft skills to thrive in the workplace. It is definitely a good idea to highlight these during your next job- or internship application!

What are soft skills and why do employers care about them?

Soft skills are personal qualities that help you succeed whatever task you turn to, whether that’s the ability to work well in a team or adapt to changes in your environment. Soft skills are important to the success of almost all employers. After all, nearly every job requires employees to engage with others in some way.

Another reason hiring managers and employers look for applicants with soft skills, is because you they are ‘transferable’. They can be used regardless of the job you work at. This makes job candidates with soft skills very adaptable employees. Also, because soft skills are acquired over time - as opposed to hard skills acquired in a short time during a class or training program - people with soft skills are often seen as having unique and broad backgrounds that can diversify a company and help it run more efficiently. Did you know that researchers believe soft skills account for more than half of performance in many jobs? They are crucial in today’s demanding workplace. 

5 interesting soft skills you develop at university

  1. Communication skills
    As a student, you have to write a lot. Even if your course doesn’t involve a lot of writing, you’ll still have corresponded with tutors and supervisors via email. University doesn’t just help you write better though, it also improves your ability to interact face-to-face with others. You’ll have met a huge number of people at university, many with very different backgrounds to your own. Also you had to work together in in teams with peers for study assignments. This ability to meet other people, collaborate and socialize will be invaluable when you enter the workplace. This ability will also have been developed at university if you’ve had to deliver presentations at some point during your course. Lots of employers are desperate for employees with strong presentation and public speaking skills, and so being able to give them an example of when you delivered an engaging presentation will greatly increase your chances of success.
  2. Time management
    If you’ve become heavily involved in extra-curricular activities while at university, or have a part-time job, this division of your time between multiple things shows you know how to manage your workload. Employers will always value employees who can juggle multiple commitments. Even if you were too focused on your studies for societies or part-time work, your ability to plan and organize study-assignments and meet deadline after deadline for your courses is also a testament to your time management skills.
  3. Critical thinking and problem-solving
    During your studies, you will have faced many problems that just seemed impossible at first. Whether it was a difficult essay question or mathematical problem, you will have had to think outside the box, approach the problem from new angles, and maybe carry out some more research. This is exactly what employers want from their employees if a project stops running smoothly. They want you to be able to take the initiative, so be sure to have a couple of examples of when you overcame difficult problems if you are called for an interview.
  4. Taking constructive criticism
    No one’s university work is perfect, and you’ll have received plenty of constructive criticism from tutors and peers over the duration of your degree. Employers want employees who are capable of taking constructive criticism and using what they’ve been told to improve their own work. This might seem like an odd soft skill as it’s not one you can easily demonstrate, but it’s worth 
  5. Stress management
    Good chance that as a student surrounded by textbooks, outlines and deadlines, you have wondered how you would get all this work done. This means you have experienced study-stress to some extent and build resistance and stress management skills (find more info about managing stress in this article). Study and work stress are a hot topic in the news lately. According to research, the current generation of students and young professionals feels increasingly under pressure to perform. Also in the workplace stress in the form of deadlines or tough projects can be an issue. Stress is a well-known damper on both innovation and productivity in humans. Therefore, stress management is seen as an important soft skill in today’s demanding workplace that employers value greatly.

3 steps to highlighting your soft skills in a job interview

Prepare your interview by following these three steps.

First step: make a list of your soft skills
Make a list of the soft skills you have obtained that are relevant to the job you want. For example, look at a list of soft skills, and circle the ones that you have. There are some useful websites where you can find relevant soft skill competences for career options after your specific degree. To have an idea take a look at these websites: the Dutch Carrieretijger and the English Prospects.

Second step: compare with job requirements
Then compare your list of soft skills with the job requirements. Which of these soft skills are mentioned? Which of these do you think would be most useful in this job? Make a list of three to five soft skills you have that are also needed for the job. Then, include some of these in your CV. You can add them to a ‘skills’ section or you can use keywords throughout your CV, mentioning them in places such as your CV summary and in descriptions of your duties for each job in your work history. You can also mention these soft skills in your cover letter. Pick one or two soft skills you have that appear to be the most important for the job. In your cover letter, provide evidence that shows you have those particular skills.

Third step: highlight with examples
No interviewer is going to ask you if you have a soft skill; they're going to ask how you have implemented that skill in or outside the workplace. You need to have concrete examples and be ready to talk about times you have displayed some of these skills in the past. You can also try to demonstrate your soft skills during the interview. For example by being friendly, approachable and paying attention during the interview, you show your ability to communicate well with others.

Keep in mind that the bottom line of highlighting your soft kills during the job application process is painting a picture of a well-rounded, skilled future employee who is ready to work and contribute to the company.

Good luck impressing your potential employer with  your soft skills during the next job application!