6 soft skills of most importance to hiring managers and how you can demonstrate in an interview that you have them

There are plenty of articles floating out there declaring questions for which job seekers should be prepared. “What is your greatest weakness?” is a popular one. “What would your former boss say about you?” is also common. “Why were you let go from your last job?” scares the bejesus out of job seekers.

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But the questions above are ones that job candidates can predict will be asked. That’s why I tell my clients that they should have an answer in mind before even getting to the interview. The same goes for every other traditional question.

LinkedIn published in LinkedIn Talent Solutions a guide that it calls Guide to Screening Candidates: 30 Essential Interview Questions. This guide tells readers the questions hiring managers (HMs) should be asking job candidates.

To create this guide, LinkedIn polled 1,297 HMs to determine which “soft skills” the HMs feel are important for a candidate to demonstrate. LinkedIn then came up with five questions for each skill, totaling 30, that the HMs should ask. The majority of the questions are behavioral-based ones.

So, what are the skills of most interest to the HMs who were polled? Here they are in order of importance:

  1. Adaptability
  2. Cultural Fit
  3. Collaboration
  4. Leadership
  5. Growth Mindset
  6. Prioritization.

What’s so special about behavioral-based questions?

If you think behavioral-based questions are not important, think again. Behavioral-based questions are being asked in interviews because employers see value in them. Behavioral-based questions are an accurate predictor of job candidates’ behavior in the future.

“The good news is that behavioral interview questions are a proven way to reveal a person’s ability to collaborate, adapt, and more. By looking at their past behavior, you can more easily determine what someone will be like to work with,” says LinkedIn

Most job seekers have difficulty answering behavioral-based questions. Why? These questions demand a great deal of preparation and the ability to answer them with a compelling story. But with preparation comes success. Go into an interview without preparing your stories can lead to disaster.

Some things to consider when answering behavioral-based questions. First, know that they’re used to discover strengths and weaknesses in a candidate. Second, answering them requires telling a brief story. Third, they reveal requirements for the job.


How to answer behavioral-based questions

The best way to answer behavioral-based questions is by telling a story using the S.T.A.R formula, where:

S stands for the situation you faced at work;

T is your task in that situation;

A the actions you took to solve the situation; and

R the positive result/s.

You’ll want to keep the situation and tasks brief, perhaps 20% of your story. The actions should be the main part of your story, let’s say 60%. And the result/s is also brief, the other 20%. Does it always work out this way? No. Can you start with the result first? Sure.


The soft skills employers feels are important

Adaptability

Says LinkedIn: 69% of hiring managers say adaptability is the most important skill.

The most popular question: “Tell me about a time when you were asked to do something you had never done before. How did you react? What did you learn?”

This question makes me think of a colleague in the next cube saying loudly, “I wasn’t hired to do this work.” A person with this mindset won’t answer this question well–they’ll crash and burn. Companies don’t operate on still mode; there’s constant flow. A successful answer would sound something like:

The webmaster of our company left abruptly. At the time I was the public relations manager. The CFO asked me to take over maintaining the website.

My first step in the process was to learn how to use Dreamweaver quickly, plus brush up on some HTML I’d learned in college.

I also had to gather information that the company wanted posted on the site. This required interfacing with Engineering, Marketing, Finance, Sales, and the VP. Often times I would have to write original content and get it approved by each department.

One department that was especially difficult from which to gather information was Engineering. I had to explain to them that their information was vital to the success of the website. In addition, their names would be mentioned. That did the trick.

There were moments of frustration but I grew to like this task, and the VP commented that I was doing a great job. I would say I saved the company close to $50,000 over a six-month period.

Cultural fit

Says LinkedIn: 89% of hiring managers say adaptability is the most important skill.

The most popular question: “What are the three things that are most important to you in a job?”

Although not a behavioral-based question, this requires knowledge of the company’s work environment, including the position and culture, before going to the interview. If the three aspects of the position and culture align well with your values, this will not be a difficult question to answer. With this knowledge your answer would be:

The most important aspects of a job would be in this order: a variety of tasks, leading in a team environment, and achieving the results to get the job done. I am excited to work oversee a team in the inventory room, purchase the exact amount of products for distribution.

There’s nothing like leading a team that practices lean methods to get the job done. I’ll be clear in my expectations like I have been in the past, leaving no room for doubt. I’ve been told by my boss that I’m a natural leader.

The third aspect of this job I’m looking forward to is the autonomy that it will offer. My team and I will be held accountable for the meeting company goals which is something I’ve always achieved in the past.

Collaboration

Says LinkedIn: 97% of employees and executives believe a lack of team alignment directly impacts the outcome of a task or project.

The most popular question: “Give an example of when you had to work with someone who was difficult to get along with. How did you handle interactions with that person?”

Answering this question will take diplomacy and tact. You don’t want to come across as difficult to get along with while at the same time you don’t want to cast aspersions on the colleague with whom you had a conflict. You might answer this question like this:

I’m generally a very organized person. I was working with another software engineer who was very talented but didn’t always get the assignments he was given completed on time. This was frustrating, as it effected the team and landed us in trouble with some of our clients.

After some heated discussions, held privately, I offered to help him with his organizational skills and he accepted my help, knowing his performance was hurting not only him, but the team only. Reluctantly he accepted my help, but in the end he became more organized.

Leadership

Says LinkedIn: High-quality leadership 13X more likely to outperform the competition.

The most popular question: “Tell me about the last time something significant didn’t go according to plan at work. What was your role? What was the outcome?”

This is a tough question because it calls for an instance when you didn’t come through with a positive result. You have to be prepared to answer questions that ask for negative results. Keep your answer brief and don’t bash any of your colleagues. Interviewers want to hear self-awareness.

Our company was launching a social media campaign. As the marketing manager, my role was to over see this project. I was given two months to complete the project. One piece was to develop a LinkedIn company page and LinkedIn group. I didn’t stay on top of this. As a result, we were two weeks late in completing the project. The outcome was a brief reprimand from my boss.

Growth potential

Says LinkedIn: When an employee leaves, it costs your company 1.5X the employee’s salary to replace them.

The most popular question: “Recall a time when your manager was unavailable when a problem arose. How did you handle the situation? With whom did you consult?”

To answer this question you need to demonstrate your problem-solving and leadership abilities. State the problem briefly and then describe the actions you took. Finally explain the positive result.

One of our clients was upset because our CRM software wasn’t as user friendly as they had expected. As the systems engineer who was responsible for the integration of our software, I felt I was also responsible for servicing our customer.

Since my boss was on vacation, I had to make a decision as to how to proceed with the issue. I decide that bothering him wasn’t the best route to go. Normally he would prefer that I have his approval to go onsite to our clients, especially if I was working on another project.

I made an appointment to see our client the day after I heard about their disapproval. When I arrived, the CEO met me, and I could tell she wasn’t happy. She took me to the sales department, where I spent an hour going over all the features of our software.

In the end, they were ecstatic with our product. They didn’t realize the capability of it. Furthermore, the CEO sent a glowing email to my boss describing her pleasure of having me making a special visit to her company.

Prioritization

Says LinkedIn: Being unable to prioritize means that key assignments fall through the cracks.

The most popular question: “Tell me about a time when you had to juggle several projects at the same time. How did you organize your time? What was the result?”

This question gives you the structure needed to answer it successfully. It provides the situation and task, the skill the interviewer wants to hear about (organization), and the result. With this guidance, your answer might go like this:

Two years ago I had three projects that landed on my plate. I was asked to present at our company’s largest trade show, we had a new build that had to be released around the same time, and I had to prepare performance reviews of my staff. I definitely had to organize my time for all three to go as planned.

I discussed this with the VP and told him that doing all three were near impossible. He agreed. If I had help with one of the projects, I could complete the other two. I decided that the release of our new build was most important, considering three of our clients were dying to purchase it.

The presentation was the second priority. I had to prepare speaking notes and have my marketing specialist create a PowerPoint presentation. She was fully capable and took the ball and ran with it.

For the performance reviews, my VP and I decided that we would have a working lunch or two, if needed, and I would provide him with all the reports on my staff. The reports were mostly positive, save for one of my staff who needed to pick up his game.

By the time of the deadline, we shipped the build two weeks ahead of projection, I was confident the speaking engagement would go very well, and my VP had all the information he needed to conduct the performance reviews.


LinkedIn also provides questions for you to ask HMs

Your job is not only to answer the questions HMs throw at you; it’s also to have questions to ask them. If anyone tells you it’s alright to say you don’t have questions to ask, they’re out of their mind. I tell my clients to have 10-15 questions to ask at the end. In case you’re at a lost, here are seven to start you off.

  • Why did you join this company, and what keeps you here?
  • What does success look like in this position?
  • What was the biggest challenge affecting the last person in this job?
  • Why do people say __________ about your company?
  • How does the company measure success?
  • What would you expect from me when I start, after three months, and after a year?
  • Can you describe what my career path could look like?

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