By Ian Morrison -- There are hard skills and there are soft skills. Hard skills are specific, can be (generally) easily taught, and include things like being able to read a book or read a cardiac monitor. Hard skills are the minimum skills necessary to do a job. Most people with the same level of education and experience should have roughly the same level of hard skills.
Soft skills, such as bedside manner are often intangible and, therefore, not easily taught. They tend to be more of a function of personality characteristics such as motivation, sociability, and work ethic. Some soft skills include leadership, creativity, ambition, accountability, ability to teach, interpersonal abilities, and reliability.
Hard skills are the first screen used to weed out applicants who are obviously not qualified for a job. Beyond this, in the competitive selection process, most employers use soft skills to differentiate one candidate from another. As a result, job seekers can gain a competitive advantage over other candidates by gaining a firm understanding of their own soft skills and then clearly illustrating those skills to potential employers.
Identifying Soft Skills
Soft skills are usually identified in the advertising process by phrases such as "must be able to work well under pressure" or "must work well in a team environment." While many applicants consider such statements to be nothing more than an indication of the work environment, it is in fact a statement of soft skills being sought.
Of course, there is no perfect way of determining whether or not one possesses soft skills. Although there are tests that measure personality, it's not always the case that personality characteristics will translate into behaviors that can be classified as soft skills. So most employers will instead look for an indication that an applicant has exhibited certain soft skills in the past. To do this, an interviewer will often ask a candidate situational questions such as, "tell me about a time when you demonstrated leadership".
Selling Your Soft Skills
To prepare for an interview, a job seeker should keep in mind that the most important information they can convey to the interviewer is which soft skills they possess. A job seeker should consider what sorts of soft skills would be necessary on the job – even beyond those stated in the job description. Then, think of a way to illustrate each of these skills by means of an anecdote.
For the "tell me about a time when you demonstrated leadership" question, your anecdote could be something like: "Last year I was asked to fill in for a charge nurse who was unexpectedly absent. I did so and we got through the entire shift on our very busy unit without any problems." Such a statement shows that the job seeker showed leadership skills in the past and indicates that those skills could be called upon, if necessary, in the future.
Reasonably, most people don't want to brag. A good thing about an anecdote is that you can state the facts clearly without adding self-lauding superlatives.
There are a few things to keep in mind, however, about using the anecdote method. First, avoid using jargon, clichés, or current buzz words. Phrases such as "I'm a people person" are not only irritating to many people, but are vague to the point of being meaningless, as they are somewhat open to interpretation. So rather than the people-person cliché, maybe: "While I was in university I was a member of a number of clubs, which I really enjoyed because they gave me a chance to work and socialize with people with diverse backgrounds and interests." Second, make sure that it is clear how your anecdote relates to the soft skill being sought – don't expect the over-worked interviewer to make connections. Third, be sensitive to your audience – put simply, don't over do it. Relating a few anecdotes is not the same as telling your life story. Be brief and to the point.
Remember: hard skills will get an applicant an interview, but soft skills will get that person a job.