It’s something we hear about and see from time to time – really smart people with great technical skills get passed over for promotion, or don’t get the job they were after. It’s even used for laughs –the popular sitcom ‘The Big Bang Theory’ is built on the premise of a group of brilliant young men with no social skills at all and how they interact with each other and the world around them.
More and more employers are looking for people with soft skills: emotional intelligence, communication skills, conflict resolution and creating win-win outcomes via collaboration rather than compromise.
In the past, big companies focussed on academic results alone when they recruited graduates. But they started to see a trend that while individuals were technically excellent, producing brilliant reports or analysis – but it never went any further because they couldn’t sell what they had done to the business, or they couldn’t present in a way that made it easy for time poor management to understand. Often, they didn’t even know about the concept of an ‘Executive Summary’.
But, if you’re really intelligent and ‘book smart’, how do you develop the soft skills everyone wants? You can’t get them out of a book! There are a few paths you can follow:
One way is to speak with people you admire and/or trust within your personal business network. Ask them if they will be your mentor. If they’re happy to do so, begin by asking for feedback on how effective your ‘soft skills’ are and how you could improve them. Remember, asking for mentoring is an important step, so make certain you’re both clear on the terms and that you both share the same commitment to your expectations. Be clear on the time required and the availability of your mentor, and establish a regular meeting schedule with topics you’d like to discuss.
You can also investigate interview coaching. Many organisations have an interview process where they ask applicants to tell stories about how they’ve managed certain situations. This is known as ‘behavioural interviewing’. Questions like `Tell me about a time where you influenced somebody to do something they did not want to do’. This is behavioural because it’s based on past behaviour; will allow you to describe the situation you were in; the actions you took and what the outcome was. This type of interview question isn’t always the easiest to answer – as it requires you to come up with factual information from your past with some detail, rather than hypothetical behaviours you believe you would display in a situation.
Selection Partners provides behavioural interview coaching for a wide range of experience and skills, from Graduates all the way through to Executives.
Our partner organisation Careering is also a good place to start. While they are specifically focussed on helping you get your next job – they provide great tips on behavioural interviewing on their website: http://www.careering.com.au/ .
Soft skills are going to be the new hard skills. Because the internet provides such a great storehouse of easily accessible knowledge, having big parts of your brain storing technical stuff is going to be less valuable in the world of the future. How you collaborate with others, solve problems and communicate with people will matter more.