When it comes to proving skillset proficiency, many technical freelancers find selling their softer side a struggle. Technical skills can be demonstrated with proof-is-in-the-pudding results like quantifiable project measures, experience using specific programs and tools and the completion of related courses and certifications. Soft skills, on the other hand, like communication, teamwork and leadership can be a little harder to talk about and prove.
Candidates who feel lost when it comes to convincing employers they’ve got what it takes in the soft skills department can flip the switch on the situation by jacking up their storytelling in four simple steps.
Step 1: Pick your best problems
Every great story has an obvious problem. Ferdinand the Bull wanted to smell the flowers instead of fight. The Cat In The Hat trashed the house. The Very Hungry Caterpillar ate too much. Create a list of four or five of the biggest problems you’ve successfully tackled in your career to date. Even though you probably used technical skills in solving them, chances are you relied on some soft skills too. Take another look at the job posting and identify the specific soft skills that have been called out as qualifications. Now, think about which of those soft skills you used in solving those problems.
Step 2: Craft stories that will leave them seeing STARs
Now that you’ve identified the problems that you’ve solved in the past using your soft skills, it’s time to polish them up to truly impress your interview panel. Today, many interviewers rely on a technique called Behavioural Interviewing to get a sense of how candidates have behaved in previous relevant situations. In Behavioural Interviewing, the interview panel will be listening to your story to identify:
The Situation you faced
The Task or goal you set related to that situation
The Actions you took to achieve that goal
The Result that you ultimately accomplished, including what you learned through the process
Rather than make them search for these elements in the stories you tell, make their job easier by really shining the spotlight on them. Here’s a sample STAR story that illustrates the soft skill of communication.
“Last year, I was involved in a situation where my team had to roll out a complex technical solution to a group of people who didn’t have a lot of technical skills. Each user was going to have complete a series of steps to install new software on their computer by a specific date. In the past when we’d had to do similar install exercises, we saw a spike in support calls, and a lot of users got really frustrated. I knew communication was going to be critical, so I set a personal goal of doing everything I could to ensure a better rollout to our users than we had done in the past. Some of the key actions that I took to achieve that goal included creating a hard copy step-by-step guide using really simple language that users could have at their fingertips to walk them through each action they had to take. I also asked my manager if we could have extra staff on the support line in the final days leading up to the install deadline to handle any spikes in support calls. I also created a piece of code so that when a user’s install was taking far longer than it should, our team would get an alert. This allowed us to reach out to the user and ask them if they needed a hand. The results of my actions were really positive. We had 30% fewer calls to the support line, 100% of our installs were completed by the deadline, and we got so much positive feedback about the step-by-step printable that we now do that for all major installs. I also learned that looking at a technical rollout from a communications perspective can really improve results.”
Step 3: Practice, Practice, Practice
Once you’ve crafted your collection of stories that highlight the soft skills that will be most critical for the position, rehearse them until you’re comfortable telling them without referencing your notes at all. Tell them to a few people and check that they’ve understood the key STAR points you’re trying to communicate. The goal is to be able to share these stories in a way that feels calm and confident.
Step 4: Prepare for the Pivot
When you’ve become really comfortable with your STAR stories, think about what other soft skills those same stories could be used demonstrate. This will allow you to repurpose a story quickly should the interviewers ask you to speak to a different soft skill than the one you initially built your story around. For example, the communication story from above could easily be tweaked to be a story about teamwork, time management, problem-solving, creativity, work ethic, or leadership.
Are you interested in reading other blog posts to help you ace your next interview? Check out:
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