You aced all your computer science classes. You can plan, design and code apps in your sleep. That’s excellent, but how are your “soft skills”? Believe it or not, those are the ones that can make or break your hiring chances.
Leadership, communication, teamwork and critical thinking: These and other soft skills are sought by employers because they’re crucial to an employee’s success in almost any organization. Just as you have to work to keep your technical skills sharp, you’ll also need to strengthen your soft skills. And you’ll have to make sure you can clearly demonstrate them during your job interviews.
Dr. Matthew Stollak, an associate professor of business administration at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin and a contributor to CareerBuilder's Talent Advisor portal, shared some of his favorite tips for getting past this interview hurdle.
SHARE A STORY ABOUT A SUCCESSFUL PROJECT
As a soon-to-be or recent graduate, you’ll have worked on many projects in class and at internships. Your interviewers will ask about these projects. Be prepared to tell a story about one that went well, Stollak says.
Most schools actively try to build students’ portfolio to give them real-world skills and experiences they can mention in interview situations, he says. “Look back on your classwork and ask yourself ‘What did I accomplish? What tangible outcomes did I create? How will this translate into knowledge, skills and abilities that will make the company I’m interviewing with even better? How do I stand apart from my peers?’ ” he says. This can show you have some business savvy in addition to your computer skills.
And if you led a successful project, say so. “Many people are reluctant to talk up their own successes for fear it won’t seem nice,” Stollak says. But an interview is an appropriate time to show off your leadership skills, as long as you don’t go overboard with the bragging. “My team did nothing; I carried them” is not what your interviewer wants to hear, he says.
Even if you didn’t lead, you can highlight your specific contribution and how it helped create a good outcome, Stollak says. You’ll still be highlighting your teamwork and communication skills.
SHARE ONE THAT BOMBED, TOO
Everyone makes mistakes, so you’ll likely be asked about that, as well. Be prepared with a project or assignment that failed or succeeded only after a few failed attempts.
You’ll be given a test or problem of some kind to assess your computer skills, so discussing a past mistake won’t hurt you. “They may ask about a coding question you resolved or a programming snafu you had to fix. Don’t shy away from it,” Stollak says.
Say what you did initially, why it was wrong and what you learned and would do differently next time, he says. This shows humility, adaptability, critical thinking and willingness to learn, which are all qualities Stollak says employers view as “must-haves,” not merely traits they would prefer to find in a candidate.
DRESS AND ACT PROFESSIONALLY
Sharing stories with your interviewer about successes and failures will obviously showcase your verbal communication abilities, but they don’t make up the entire communication picture. And communication is one soft skill you never want to get wrong, Stollak says.
“The interview begins the instant you leave your house,” Stollak says. He’s heard horror stories of people displaying road rage on the way to a job interview, only to find out the person they were rude to was the hiring manager. “Everyone that you interact with will possibly influence your hiring decision,” he says. So be pleasant on your way to the interview, and interact kindly and professionally with everyone you encounter at the company once you arrive.
Speaking of arriving, you should aim to be a few minutes early, and make sure you look presentable, Stollak says. Business attire is always appropriate. His biggest pet peeve? “Turn off your phone. I can’t believe I have to say this, but people don’t do it. I interviewed someone recently and he literally looked down at his phone every five minutes. That interview ended early,” he says.
Each of these elements — your speaking, your punctuality, your clothes and your attitude — are part of your communication ability. They convey whether or not you want the job and whether you’ll fit in at the organization.