How to Showcase Your Soft Skills to Land Your Next Job
Why your soft skills may be more important than your experience, even for some technical jobs
Author: Chris Frew
Which is more important, soft skills or hard skills?
This is a proverbial question that many jobseekers face. The easiest answer is this: it simply depends on what job you’re applying to.
There’s no doubt that hard skills matter greatly in the biotech industry. After all, it’s a knowledge base industry where you use complex instrumentation and apply complex principles to develop research or products that have a high consequence. So, yes, hard skills are critical and your experience and knowledge does matter greatly to life sciences employers.
Today’s life sciences business climate, however, requires a tremendous amount of collaboration, cross-functional teamwork and external communication to move projects forward quickly and efficiently. As a result, soft skills such as communication, critical thinking, adaptability, and teachability are all much more important than ever before. In addition, skills acquired in another industry that can translate to the current, collaborative life sciences business environment have high value as well.
Before we proceed, let’s define soft and transferable skills, which can be one in the same but are also very different.
What are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are those that enable you to work well with others and accomplish your job – unrelated to specific technologies or scientific knowledge. A soft skill could be your ability to be a great team member, or your ability to communicate effectively and professionally; it could be your ability to resolve conflict, or your ability to ask good questions and persistence around solving problems.
What are Transferable Skills?
Transferable skills are those that can translate to the work that you will be doing in a new role. Transferable skills often include your soft skills. Other transferable skill examples are your ability to follow standard operating procedures to produce something or to work diligently in a process-oriented environment, for example. Or they could be skills around maintaining good documentation of your work, or managing external vendors, budgets, and staff. These are all things that you may have done in one industry that are applicable and transfer to the duties you will have in a new environment, regardless of the industry.
When and Why Soft Skills Matter Most
Having strong, demonstrable soft skills tend to be a difference-maker, particularly for recent grads that are seeking an entry-level position or professionals that are making a career transition into the life sciences from another industry.
In a recent study conducted by Workforce Genetics, we uncovered that many hiring managers will take a risk on an entry-level candidate or someone transitioning careers if they “interviewed well and got the feeling that they could learn to do the job.”
When we asked what soft skills hiring teams look for in candidates some prevailing responses we received included:
- The ability to learn and apply new things
- The ability to communicate professionally
- A natural curiosity mindset
This led us to the conclusion that when hiring managers are evaluating entry-level candidates, they tend to place a high priority on soft skills and often base their decision-making on non-technical skills that are demonstrated during the interview process. What it often comes down to is a subjective decision that the hiring manager makes based on how well you can demonstrate your soft or transferable skills.
So, if you are a graduate looking for an entry-level life sciences position, or a more experienced professional seeking to transition into another industry, developing and being able to demonstrate soft skills when you interview needs to be a priority.
How to Showcase Your Soft/Transferable Skills in an Interview
For entry-level positions, soft and transferable skills are what hiring managers base hiring decisions on the most, because recent grads typically lack hands-on industry experience, and candidates moving industries are in that same boat. Therefore, it’s imperative for grads and industry transitioners to be able to effectively showcase their soft skills and transferable skills to hiring decision-makers.
Here is a proven strategy for preparing to showcase your soft and transferable skills for an interview:
- First, read the job description carefully a few times before your first interview and identify the most important requirements and job duties for the role.
- Then write down all of your soft and/or transferable skills that align to those specific job duties.
- Next, identify and write down real world examples of how you developed or applied those skills from school or a prior job.
- Finally, practice telling those stories in a natural, relatable way, always remembering to anchor your story in how these skills will help you perform well in this new role.
This pre-interview preparation will help you to feel more confident during the interview and help show the hiring manager that you’ve done your research and that you have approached the interview thoughtfully. It will also demonstrate two important things to the hiring team: that you understand what the job requires and you can communicate clearly and effectively why and how you’ll be able to do the job successfully.
The preparation of dissecting the job description and writing all of this all down is an important exercise to go through before your interview. Not only will it help you be more prepared, but it will also help you focus on telling your story well and in a highly engaging, thoughtful, and persuasive way during the actual interview – when it matters most. If you don’t “rehearse” you’ll spend too much time thinking about how to respond rather than responding effectively.
Think of it like an actor. They need to absorb the script and memorize their lines so that they have the space and room to bring life and meaning to a role. The actor knows the script so deeply and naturally that they can act powerfully; if they focused on remembering lines, their performance would suffer greatly. The same applies to the interview process.
How you communicate and present your soft and transferable skills to hiring managers matters tremendously when applying for entry-level positions. Hiring teams base decisions on what they can see and measure, which in the case of entry-level life sciences jobs are soft skills.
How well you tell that soft/transferable skill story and how skillfully you align that to the duties of the job could be the difference between getting your dream job or not.