Great grades and technical skills can help you get ahead, but if you really want to advance your career, you need more than book smarts. To make it in the professional world, you need both the brains and the personality—a social expertise better known as "soft skills."
What Are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are the social tendencies that make you a joy to work with. These interpersonal skills give you the competitive edge to stand out among a pool of qualified, intelligent applicants and co-workers.
While "hard skills" refer to your actual ability to complete a task, "soft skills" refer to your personal characteristics. To get a better idea for how these skills come into play, think about the type of person you would want to be paired with for a group project. You want someone who's intelligent and proficient at the task at hand—not an unkempt, micromanaging genius.
The ideal partner is someone with traits that make them easy to work with. Examples of these traits might include strong communication skills, likeability, dependability, and good hygiene. Having a sense of humor doesn't hurt either, especially when you're stuck with said partner pulling an all-nighter.
Strutting Your Soft Skills
When preparing for an interview, think about how your personality traits make you ideal for the job. Are you applying for a position in HR and you're a great judge of character? Are you applying for a sales position and you're a master conversationalist? Don't just tell your interviewer about these traits—demonstrate them.
The key to your interviewer's heart is to loosen up and give them a taste of your personality. Introduce yourself with a firm (but not painful) handshake. Eye contact is always good in these situations, and smiling doesn't hurt either. Try to approach the interview as an opportunity for you to learn more about the company and for them to learn more about you.
When asked questions, be engaging and honest with your answers. Coming prepared with a couple of questions of your own is also a good idea, as it shows you're genuinely interested in the company. At the end of the interview, email or handwrite the interviewer a thank-you note referencing something that you discussed. This shows that you were listening and also demonstrates good communication skills.
Always remain professional when showcasing your personality. Keep in mind that this is, after all, an interview. So while you should be yourself, you should also be tasteful and use your best judgment. You want to suggest the potential for a future professional relationship, while conducting yourself in a mature, respectable manner.
At the end of the day, businesses want to hire someone who's a functional worker and an agreeable person. They want an employee who not only produces great work, but is also fun at the end of the day.
Successful interpersonal relations could give you a competitive edge in the workplace. Almost anyone can learn hard skills, but soft skills aren't so easy to come by. You can be trained to serve food, edit papers, or lead tours, but it's not as feasible to train individuals to be motivated, amicable, or patient.
So if you're not quite as experienced or book smart as the next guy, flaunt those soft skills. They just might be enough to land you the job or help you get ahead in your current position.