Career Inc's managing director shares his top ten list of the skills recruiters are on the look out for.
Communication skills broadly refers to one-on-one verbal language skills, writing skills, presentation skills, and the ability to convey thoughts, opinions, suggestions, questions and answers in an appropriate and professional manner. Another element of communication is listening skills. How often have I been in an interview with someone who obviously doesn't listen well?
Let's face it, listening is tough when you are sitting across from a prospective boss, nervous and feeling like you'd rather be in the dentist's chair. I learned long ago that you must focus on the person in front of you - you need to listen intently to every nuance of every question that the interviewer asks. And if you listen well, then you will obviously ask much more perceptive questions yourself.
While it is indeed important that you fit that job description, the whole area of job-related skills is flexible, depending upon the company and the hiring manager. In some organisations they will take as little as 60-70 per cent of what they were looking for in order to have a person who seems to fit the personal chemistry attributes and company culture. If you've got a list of IT skills a mile long, but you only fit 50-70 per cent of what they are looking for, don't worry, you've still got a shot!
In the good old days, ten or 15 years ago before cutbacks and downsizings, employers were content to find people who brought one highly specialised skill to the table. While this kind of hiring still takes place, most employers will now go out of their way to hire those who bring multiple skill areas with them: engineering and computer science, science and business; combination skills can dramatically affect your promotability.
As a recruiter, I've come across more than one hiring manager who has indicated that her number one determination for a hire comes from an applicant's record of success in what is called lifelong learning. Are you inspired by continued learning and development? What is it that you have learned recently? What do you want to learn in the future? These are the kinds of questions that employers will ask.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that this refers only to those hard skill areas that impact your job, such as training in new engineering or leadership skills. Certainly these are important, but don't hesitate to mention that you've been taking up Tai Chi, or that you've gone back to school in the evenings to learn more about programming. These show that you try to constantly improve and enrich your mind.
This one is a no-brainer. Absolutely no one wants to hire the wild individualist who refuses to fit into a team. Have you worked in a successful team-based environment? How have you contributed to the team's success? What have you learned about teams in the workplace? You'll need to prepare yourself for concern in this area, as it regularly comes up in job interviews. All of the companies represented at these recent job fairs felt that it is a key determination in a hiring decision.
Who is it that benefits from the work that you do? Your boss? The computer lab down the corridor? These people are customers! A focus on customers and on customer service is essential in order to bridge the gap into your new job. Do you know who your customers are? Are you familiar with the needs and expectations of your customers? How have you supported your customer's success? These questions and more will be asked of you in order to determine your understanding of this critical skill area.
Many companies choose to learn about your level of initiative through their reference checking process. They will ask your references these kinds of questions: Have you ever gone above and beyond the call of duty? What have you done to exceed the expectations of those whom you support? What kind of work hours do you keep?
My recommendation is that you don't allow companies to get their sole determination of your initiative by talking to your references. Instead, come up with examples before your interview. Be prepared to talk about some of your most important accomplishments, paying special attention to those situations that show you have taken the extra steps necessary to satisfy the needs of the project and those who are counting on your efforts.
I found it interesting that, despite the fact that the speakers hadn't compared notes in advance, there was a common thread in each of these seminars. That common thread was that people in industry are subjected to constant change.
A key part of your interview preparation will be to find some examples of how you have adapted to unexpected circumstances. In one human resources manager's presentation, he tipped the audience off to two questions that he likes to ask in interviews: What are your thoughts about why organisations have a need for change? Have you sought to maintain or exceed your results in the face of change?
I'm not certain that this is even a word, but I can tell you from personal experience that recruiters and employers use this expression all the time. Promotability refers to a gut-level instinct that an interviewer develops regarding an applicant's ability to grow in an organisation.
As interviewers, we ask ourselves, "Does this candidate demonstrate the overall behaviours, skills, knowledge and desire to grow?" (Or, is this person simply going to do this job adequately and then be of no further use to the organisation?). It is to determine your promotability that you are asked about your short-term and long-term career expectations by employers. It isn't so important that you pick just the right long-term career goal when asked, but that it is evident that you have a plan.
People who are promotable have career plans in place, and they know where they are on that plan at any point in time.
If you are a technical employee, you might be wondering why these several career speakers identified this as a critical skill area. While it may be considered by many to be in the communication category above, it is actually important enough to be considered a separate skill area.
All employees must have the ability to sell, and this becomes evident in the way that you describe your own strengths in a job interview. Many engineers don't see this ability as an attribute, but in reality, where would you be in a company if you couldn't sell your project to management? (Or for that matter, if you couldn't sell your previous contributions in an annual review?).
By David G. Jensen, managing director of Career Inc.