Last week, we discussed a few steps you should take to learn about the company and people that will be interviewing you for a job. This week, we will talk about some of the things you should be prepared to discuss once the interview is underway. It was good enough at one time to practice the so-called “tough questions,” such as “tell me about yourself,” and “what is your greatest weakness?” Today, interview processes, even for entry-level jobs, may be more sophisticated, and your competition may be more sophisticated, too. So, even in a job market noted for labor shortages, it’s important to stand out. A great way to stand out is showing you have the right skills for the job.
Employers generally formulate their interview questions around the skills they are seeking in a candidate. These skills can be described as:
- Job-Specific: Technical skills, often referred to as “hard skills” that are gained through education, training, and hands-on experience.
- Transferable: Skills such as problem-solving and organization that you may bring from unrelated jobs.
- Interpersonal: Skills such as communication and collaboration. Career specialists often refer to these as “soft skills” or “leadership skills.”
It is essential for you and the employer to verify that your skills match the job. Neither of you will be happy when there is a mismatch between your skills and the skills the job demands. As a result, you will probably be on the hunt for yet another job in very short order.
Some of us can talk our way into a job, and then learn the required skills “on the fly.” Recognize, though, that this can be a risky strategy that will not always work in a world where pre-employment skills testing has become common.
The competencies you should have to perform a specific job are often referred to as technical skills. You probably listed a dozen or more technical skills in the core competencies section of your resume, and then included up to 50 skills on your LinkedIn profile. And your prospective employer may have selected you for an interview because they searched LinkedIn, or their ATS database, for candidates with some of the job-specific competencies you listed.
Now, you may want to prepare for a detailed discussion of some specific skills. Identify at least five job-specific skills that are required for the position you are seeking. The best source for this information is the job description or job posting. If you do not have the job posting or position description, there are two excellent federal government sources for the information. These include O*NET and the Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Technical skills are the competencies required for your job function and profession. For example, the top five skills one of my most successful clients, a business analyst, prepared to discuss at her interviews included business process improvement, functional documentation, requirements elicitation, solution design, and system implementation.
While the core competencies in this example are IT related, many core competencies, such as the ability to perform legal or financial research and analysis are not related closely to technology.
Job-specific competencies can be demonstrated through objective tests. It’s a good idea to only discuss skills that you would pass a professional-level exam on if asked to do so.
Do not confuse “technical skills” with “technology skills.” Basic technology skills, including your ability to use productivity software such as MS-Word and Excel are expected in nearly every job today, just as literacy in your native language is expected.
Transferrable skills are competencies that are not necessarily related to your current job. They can be either technical competencies or leadership and interpersonal skills.
Skills that are transferrable are especially important when you are changing careers. For example, a recent client used the cost-cutting skills she honed as a buyer in the fashion industry to cut costs as an accounts payable manager in the construction industry.
Students entering the workforce this fall should also keep the transferrable skills concept in mind. For example, taking notes in class transfers nicely to taking notes in meetings. Years ago, I pointed this out to the hiring manager at an interview for an entry-level professional job—and got hired. Recognizing and capitalizing on your transferrable skills, then, will enhance your career marketing strategy.
Coaches and hiring teams consider interpersonal skills—also referred to as people skills and leadership skills—essential for every job. A few examples provided by Dr. Elnora Tena Webb, a leadership coach, include effective communications, reliability, authenticity, integrity, and honesty. You’ll find a more detailed discussion of my talk with Dr. Webb in a previous post.
Employers don’t search their databases for job candidates that say on their resume that they have honesty and integrity because nearly every resume in the system would come up. You have to demonstrate these skills and characteristics in all your business dealings and be prepared to explain how your honesty and integrity resulted in greater customer trust and a healthier bottom line for your company.
Chances are that you’ve done a pretty good analysis of your technical skills, transferrable skills, and interpersonal skills if your job search letters, resume, and LinkedIn profile got you to the interview. You need only to use these documents as your talking points as you prepare for interviews.