Soft Skills to Ace the Interview

The dictionary definition of soft skills is “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.” As opposed to hard skill which are more job specific and technical in nature, soft skills are a way of expressing emotional intelligence which is an area of cognitive ability that focuses on building and maintaining relationships with other people.

“It’s easy to think you are faking these.”

For something to be considered a soft skill the rules for mastery should not be clear cut. Unlike hard skills such as math your effectiveness may be influenced by your emotional state and that of those you are interacting with. These skills are not job specific and can be useful no matter your career be it psychology, medicine, programming, sales, etc. Soft skills come naturally for some but have to be cultivated in others. However they need to be refined and worked on constantly.

“Technical skills will get you in the door for the interview but it’s your soft skills that will get you past the dozens of other qualified applicants.”

Soft skills are the skills we use to communicate with those around us. They help us to be more diplomatic, respectful, and professional even when presented with frustrating situations. When being evaluated for an interview or promotion your soft skills are what they look at when determining if you will “be a good fit” with the team.

Episodes in the series

Episode Breakdown

11:00 Communication

This skill will be the most obvious to interviewers. If you are nervous or uncomfortable communicating with others it will show. They will also be able to tell if you are comfortable talking to people. It also shows if you are able to understand and follow instructions.

“Dude was so nervous in the interview that he was flipping a pencil with his fingers and it goes flying across the room.”

When interviewing you want to have prepared responses and stories that express your communication skills. Have a few stories that you know well and can tell to anyone. Adjust your tone and style based on the audience.

Make an effort to add intonation and expression. Smile when shaking the interviewer’s hand. Avoid being boring or dry in your conversation.

“You do not want to sound like Ben Stein advertising eye drops.”

Build up the ability to explain complex concepts to non technical coworkers, managers, and clients. Employers need to know that if you find yourself in front of a client you won’t run them away. You’re not applying for a sales position so don’t worry about this happening too often. Be able to explain technical terms and issues without talking down to those “not in the know”. Imagine your doctor talked down to you for not knowing where the radial artery is located. It’s easy to forget that we work in a highly specialized field that even those around it don’t know all the details.

24:48 Work Ethic

Work ethic is your attitude toward getting the job done and putting in the effort needed to get there. Weave into your conversation how the importance of the company’s mission. Focus on the value you can provide to the company.

“If you watch Game of Thrones you want to do what Tyrion does. He always figures out what the other party wants and then figures out how to align that with what he wants.”

It also includes how you handle moral and ethical situations at work. They want to know if you will act ethically and in the company’s interest. This can also show loyalty.

Past performance can be an indicator of future results. Give concrete examples of how you went above and beyond at work. Be able to show how you have provided value to prior employers.

31:06 Time Management

“My main thing is to always be on time” ~ BJ’s Mom

There are many reasons to be late, plan for them. Tardiness is not excusable when consistent. Being on time shows respect for you employer and coworkers.

“If you are late that could potentially cost the company money.”

Time management is how you organize your day with your tasks and responsibilities. Take time to prioritize the tasks that you need to accomplish. Create a checklist with the higher priority tasks at the top. Be flexible as priorities can change. Be ready with some examples of how you organize your day.

Know how you handle pressure and deadlines. Be able to demonstrate this skill through showing up to the interview on time and organized. Consistently think clearly and compartmentalize stress.

40:15 Attitude

“Our grandfathers could never have conceived of the world we live in now.”

A positive attitude in your interview can set you apart from the other interviewees. It shows that you want to be there and will not bring the team down. Excitement about the field (programming in general or language/framework specific) show that you will continue to learn and grow.

Your attitude not only effects your work but can influence others as well. A positive attitude can improve coworkers morale. It can also motivate others to work harder.

Employers want to know that you will maintain a positive attitude even during death marches and tight deadlines. Be able to set aside the stress and get the work done. If moving up into a leadership role you want to demonstrate how you motivate others even when you are stressed.

44:06 Confidence

Confidence in yourself shows that you trust your own abilities and judgement. This is something a manager looks for in someone to take a lead or mentoring role. A little bit of confidence can go a long way.

“Confidence is more like salt.”

The way you dress and present yourself is an indicator of your confidence. Dress for the job you want, not always the one you have or are interviewing for. Present yourself as someone that can do the job above yours. Your body language is one of the first things employers will notice about you.

“If you are very smart but don’t come in with confidence people aren’t going to listen to you.”

Demonstrate that you have confidence through decision making and decisiveness. Shows that you have the ability to put things in perspective. Are able to assess information and weigh options. Can anticipate and accept consequences.

Practice acting in a confident manner. Rehearse speaking with a confident tone. Make direct eye-contact when talking with strangers. Adjust and practice sitting and standing straight.

51:15 Complex Skills

These are combinations of the core skills mentioned above. Each one uses two or more of them in combination to form a complex skill.

Adaptability

“They want to make sure you have 12 years of experience not 12 of the same 1 year of experience.”

More important for the senior developers. This is the ability to grow and stretch your more technical skills to adapt to changes in languages, frameworks, and current trends.

Teamwork

You need to be able to “play well with others.” This is your ability to work with others to meet a common goal.

Responsibility

Being aware of when to accept responsibility for your mistakes and successes. Have a level of humility and willingness to learn and grow.

Motivation

“I hate micromanaging people.”

Be able to work without constant supervision. This demonstrates reliability, commitment, and efficiency.

Conflict Resolution

This is the ability to persuade and negotiate. It involves building rapport with others.

Problem Solving

Demonstrates analytical, creative, and critical thinking. Being able to approach problems with a level head will allow you to efficiently find solutions.

55:15 Tips and Tricks

Prepare for your interview.

Look up the company and learn what it is they value. If possible look up your interviewers on social media, you may have something in common. Review common interview questions both technical and non technical. Plan your route to the interview. Get a good night’s sleep before. Arrive early! If you hit more traffic than expected you are still on time.

Practice interviewing to increase your skills.

Highly effective athletes at the top of their career practice what they do daily. Get comfortable answering interview style questions. You can find them through a simple google search.

Interviews are a structured interaction.

Even if you are not comfortable around new people or are shy you can take some solace in a known structure. You will do most of the talking. The interviewer will ask you questions expecting you to expound on them. If you are not comfortable in the area give a short answer and redirect to an area you are comfortable. If you are comfortable expound and try to hit the soft skill they will be looking for in a future employee.

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IoTease: Product

Disney Magic Wristbands

If you aren’t a season ticket holder or haven’t been to Disney recently you might not know about their delve into the world of IoT. When you purchase tickets for the theme parks for a little extra you can get these magic wristbands that are used for a multitude of purposes. If staying at a Disney resort they are your room key. They also act as your ticket to get into the park and for the FastPass program. Some of the rides take pictures and you can swipe your wristband to collect the pictures that can later be viewed through your account. It’s a fun way to see the internet of things being used in a large scale environment.

Tricks of the Trade

Your ancestors were not soft people. You are a single step on a whole staircase of great successes that comprise the history of your own people. If you internalize this, confidence is a lot easier, because you know others have done it before and that they are part of you.

Editor’s Notes:

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