Having trouble finding a new job even though you’re a subject matter expert in your field? It’s possible your technical skills simply aren’t enough. In addition to having those hard skills, recruiters and hiring managers also want to see an abundance of soft skills like being a team player, communicating well and being flexible. Confused as to the shift in priorities or how to make it work for you? Read on.
In 2013, two Oxford researchers released a paper that projected about 50 percent of all American jobs will be vulnerable to automation in the next 20 years. What exactly does that mean, you ask? It means that you’re competing for your next job with not only other candidates, but also against computers and technology. For example, let’s say both you and a computer program are excellent at data entry. To justify a company paying a salary for that position, you have to bring something to the table that the computer can’t produce. Enter those soft, social skills. A computer can add columns of numbers together, but it can’t lead a team or read social cues during a staff meeting.
Social Skills: It’s in the Stats
The need for more technically savvy employees who also have high social skills is also reflected in the statistics. According to David Deming’s 2015 paper, “The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market,” the labor market is rewarding people with high social skills. For example, between 1980 and 2012, jobs with high social skill requirements grew 10 percentage points while math-intensive, but less social jobs, shrank by 3 percentage points.
“The days of being able to plug away in isolation on a quantitative problem and be well paid for it are increasingly over,” said Deming. “You need to have both types of skills.”
The social skills Deming refers to are things like being a team player, knowing how to capitalize on each employee’s strengths and adapting to change easily. Luckily for service members, these traits are bred and polished within the military environment. Think of joint assignments, leadership roles and the flexibility required to change jobs every two to three years.
But how do you showcase those skills along with the technical ones? The key is to highlight those soft skills on your resume and know how to back them up with examples during interviews. It’s easy to say you’re a team player, but without a concrete example, that claim will fall flat. And then there’s your personality in general. You’ve got the expertise and the soft skills, but do you come across as easy to work with? And the even bigger question, does the hiring manager like you?
After reviewing some common complaints about poor social skills from interviewers, here are a few ways to put your best foot forward.
- Don’t overshare. If you have a gap in your employment record, be prepared with a brief and general statement. Don’t go into detail about an ill relative, taking time off for mental health reasons or complain about the job market. Also, never speak negatively about former employers or colleagues.
- Check your speech. Interviewers have their pet peeves and some include phrasing statements as questions, using the word “like” too often and ending every sentence with “you know?” Some candidates are also too casual or too formal with their speech. For example, military personnel are prone to sirs and ma’ams so if the interviewer asks to be called something else, respect their wishes.
- Don’t be too eager. It’s important to be early for an interview, but keep it around 5-10 minutes early, not 45 minutes early. And while it’s great that you would take the job as an unpaid internship, don’t bring it up yourself. Offering yourself up for free makes you look desperate and tells the hiring manager that your services aren’t worth anything.
- Be confident, not arrogant. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. It’s your job to find the line and toe it. If you’re truly a subject matter expert in your field, make sure you emphasize it. But don’t showcase your talent by putting others down or by making derogatory remarks about people who don’t have your credentials. Note – this could prove difficult for some prior service members, especially those that served in elite units.
- Relax (a little). Interviews are tough and bring out the anxiety in most of us. But if you have an hour-long interview and still haven’t relaxed by the end, it will probably be a mark against you. Practice breathing techniques beforehand, rehearse your answers and do your research on the company. The more prepared you are, the easier it will be to relax and be yourself.
In the end, it comes down to companies looking for employees who are the total package. They want someone with technical and social skills whose personality shines through during an interview. It’s a tall order, but it’s one you can achieve. Use your military background to showcase both skill sets, ask friends and family how you can present yourself better and do some mock interviews. The next job you apply for may be the perfect one for you and you want to be ready.