Undergraduates and graduates study to increase their knowledge and competencies related to their particular field such as marketing and advertising to become an international marketing manager, or supply chain and finance to become a Chief Operating officer in a large factory. Whatever field you are in, though as students we have big dreams, getting this first job or even a ‘student’ job is challenging.
Experience in the professional world is highly valued by employers, but this as student or recent graduate, you can unfortunately not show yet, so our emphasis needs to spotlight other skills, such the high demanded ‘soft skills’. Based on the study done by Al Asefer, and Zainal Abidin (2021) employers focus their attention, besides the necessary basic hard skills related to the specific job, on certain soft skills which they value when considering candidates for employment. 85% of the employers confirmed the importance on the most common soft skills for employment besides the knowledge and skills related to the discipline.
Employers want team players
The interest of employers in these soft skills can also be seen in the recruitment offers that require skills such as critical thinking, teamwork and communication skills, amongst others.
A recent study conducted by Bal in 2020, even ranks teamwork as the most important competence that will contribute the graduate professional success. In the below seen graph, other competencies have been ranked as per their importance for employers, when hiring new graduates.
Table 1: Ratings of the Importance of Graduate competencies Source: Bal (2020, p.82)
Recent graduated students or even those who are still at university, grasp the importance of these soft skills as they can see the different requirements for all current job offers include one or more of these attributes that will enhance the collaboration within the employer’s company and thus, successful employment. Currently we can see the need for employers to have candidates with strong ‘team player’ skills besides the knowledge of digital tools and respect for rules and regulations. But as seen in the World Economic forum (2022) a shift of 25% in skills was seen since 2015- An even further shift of around 50% of the skills set that will change is projected for 2027, increasing the importance of the soft skills.
Demonstrating your soft skill to the recruiter
While it is established that one needs to possess these soft skills to increase your employability, how can you demonstrate this to your potential employer? First of all, when sending your CV to the company, make sure you highlight the soft skills you possess, especially those the recruitment advertisement mentions. As a tip, you might want to use similar wording, so the employer identifies them immediately. For example, some employer will ask for ‘Eye for detail’ while others use rather the term ‘detailed organization’. The same applies for teamwork, some employers will ask for ‘team players’ others for a ‘good team worker’. Mostly HR managers that wrote the recruitment offer are also the ones making the first selection based on the CV or have programmed their (Applicant Tracking System) ATS to scan CV’s for these keywords. The higher the similarity with the query set up by the employer, the higher your chance to get the interview.
Indeed, once invited for the interview you still need to demonstrate successfully that you posses this skill. How is this possible in an interview of perhaps 15 even 45 minutes? The key to ace an interview is preparation! Prepare your answers to the most common questions, research information about the company and even the interviewer but most of all scrutinize through the recruitment offer, it gives you so much clues as to what organizational culture they have, and the competencies and skills they are looking for.
Professional recruiters will probably use a structured or semi structures interview technique, which means, using similar questions for each candidate. This interview framework reduces certain interview biases and makes sure the interviewer addresses all the needed competencies and skills. While some criticize this technique (Chauhan, 2022) it is still widely used and gives a high level of reliability and validity to the interview process, enhancing its successful use.
Behavioral questions and your STARR reply
During these interviews, you will certainly be asked a question regarding teamwork, so how can you transmit your level of this soft skill to the potential employer? The interview question will probably be put in a ‘behavioral question’ format, meaning asking you to elaborate on how you behaved as a team worker in the past. Typical interview questions of that type are ‘Tell me about a time you worked in a team, what was your experience?’ or ‘when was the last time you made a contribution to your team at work, (or even in your education group), how did it go?’. Your potential employer wants to know how you act as a team player and by asking you real examples of the past they can predict future behavior. Even those with limited professional skills can answer to these questions using their personal experience either in an educational environment or even their sports groups to demonstrate this transferrable interpersonal skill.
Although without preparation you will probably be able to give an answer to this question, it is recommendable to plan a good example that clearly demonstrate your strengths. The use of the STARR technique by Henrickson, Jephcote and Comissiong (2022), might help you to prepare your experience your want to share. The STARR acronym stands for the different parts of your ‘story’ that you will elaborate on: Situation: when, where, who was involved. Task: what was your role or position at that time, Action: what did you do, Results: was the action successful, what was the outcome and the last one: Reflection: what have you learned from this and how will it affect you in the future.
Allow me to stress that the example or experience you will give needs to be a REAL one! Making up the ideal situation will not help you as professional recruiters will be able to detect this. Surely you have good experience with teamwork and you can highlight particularly these that demonstrate your skill. Of course, you can use this technique to have all different type of examples ready for your employer to demonstrate your abilities as well as your knowledge.
Future trends: Asynchronous interviews
Recently the trend to use asynchronous interviews is growing, asking you to record yourself while you answer questions you either have received by email or in the more advanced ATS systems, you will see the question on your screen, get a minute to prepare and then need to elaborate on your answer while the whole session is being recorded. This allows recruiters to share these recorded answers with the Human resources director and other managers within the organization. You can use the same technique of structuring your answers and demonstrating your skill through this story telling STARR technique. Even if the question is not asking you about a past experience, it will give a more ‘realistic’ feel to it if you do.
Picture: Application for asynchronous interview ‘sparkhire’ (Miller-Merrell, 2022)
Looking into the future: Artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms are already being used often in the recruiting phase of evaluation of CV’s but the use in Asynchronous video interviews shows it can also detect and report on communication skills and other personal traits, such as team work (Suen, Hung, and Lin, 2020). So, getting prepared for a recorded video interview might be the next trend!
By Vera Champagne, 9 September 2022
Al Asefer, M. and Zainal Abidin, N.S. (2021) Soft skills and graduates’ employability in the 21st century from employers’ perspectives: a review of literature. International Journal of Infrastructure Research and Management, Vol. 9 (2), pp.44-59.
Bal, E.A. (2020) ‘Recruiting new graduates: What success profile are organizations looking for?’. GROWTHA, pp. 75-96.
Chauhan, R.S. (2022) ‘Unstructured interviews: are they really all that bad?’. Human Resource Development International, 25(4), pp.474-487. DOI: 10.1080/13678868.2019.1603019
Henrickson, L., Jephcote, W. and Comissiong, R. (2022) ‘Soft skills, stories, and self-reflection: Applied digital storytelling for self-branding’. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies , 0(0), pp.1-21, DOI: 10.1177/13548565221091517
Miller-Merrell, J. (2022) ‘Spake Hire’s interview platform reduces time to hire’ Workology.com. Available at: https://workology.com/spark-hires-interview-platform-reduces-time-to-hire/ (Accessed: 8 September 2022)
Suen, H.Y., Hung, K.E. and Lin, C.L. (2020) ‘Intelligent video interview agent used to predict communication skill and perceived personality traits’. Human-centric Computing and Information Sciences, 10(3), pp.1-12. DOI: 10.1186/s13673-020-0208-3
World Economic Forum (2022) Here’s why the world of work urgently needs to put skills first. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/03/work-skills-first/ (accessed: 7 September 2022)