How often have you sent your cover letter and resume to an HR department only to get a curt, “thanks but no thanks”? Or worse, no response at all despite having the right certifications, tech experience, and background? A recent article in The Muse got me thinking about why a candidate, who hits all the right keywords and phrases in their resume, can’t get their foot in the door for an interview.
Go Beyond Keywords
According to a 2018 study, the average review time for a candidate’s resume is 7.4 seconds, giving you very little room to make a positive first impression. And while the right keywords are crucial for getting past software screening systems, they can sometimes make your resume fall flat when an actual person reads it. Yes, employers want to know that you have the right skill set for the position, but they also want to understand what it would be like working side-by-side with you. Will you fit in with the team? Are you receptive to new ideas? Can you accept criticism? Do you have long-term career goals?
You likely know that key word stuffing can be a deal-killer with recruiters. But did you know that one highly effective way to capture their interest is to highlight your soft skills? These encompass a wide-range of characteristics and behaviors such as communication, critical thinking, problem solving, motivation, loyalty, and so on. The challenge is determining which traits a potential employer values and how you can convey them in a compelling way. Here are a few tips from the article that may help:
Look for clues in the job description
Employers typically include not only the technical skills they’re looking for but also hints at the soft skills they value. For instance, a job description may include the phrase “coordinate in-house and remote IT needs for 30 employees.” Instead of just repeating the word “coordinate” in your cover letter, tell a story that illustrates how you used soft skills such as organization and communication to effectively manage this process in a past position.
Use data to support your soft skills
Employers are increasingly looking for data in resumes. It’s not enough to say you managed a team; you need to quantify your leadership of that team. You can do this by not only stating the number of people you managed, but including data points around accomplishments such as reducing turnover, expanding the department, increasing training, etc. Here’s an example from the article of how this looks in a resume:
Developed and independently initiated mentorship program to alleviate high turnover of new staff members, resulting in the matching of 23 mentor-mentee pairs and a significant reduction in staff turnover.
Finally, when you land that job interview don’t forget to weave soft skills into the dialogue. Interviewers don’t always ask the questions you want to answer, but there are ways to pivot the discussion to focus on your core personality strengths. Just remember, don’t parrot back what’s being asked, but instead tell your own story. In many ways, your soft skills are what make you unique and they’re ultimately what will set you apart from the competition.