What are soft skills?
When employers are searching for candidates on Handshake, they're usually looking for hard skills: specific competencies like Python, Spanish, or Photoshop.
Your soft skills, on the other hand, are about personal qualities that influence how you do your work. For example, these could include creativity, communication skills, and showing initiative. These skills are just as important to employers. Here’s how to show your soft skills in your job application.
Start with the job description
The best place to start is always the job description. It'll tell you which qualifications are most important to the hiring manager. You can then tailor your cover letter and resume to highlight these qualities. Check out these examples from real Handshake job descriptions for soft skills that employers are looking for:
- Effective communicator and collaborator
- Comfort with ambiguity, proactive nature and bias toward action
- Extremely organized and detail-oriented
How do you demonstrate that you’re collaborative, organized, and a great communicator? On your resume and cover letter, in the form of a concise story.
How to list soft skills in your resume
While it’s tempting to just put “self-starter” and “hard worker” in the skills section of your Handshake profile or resume, this doesn’t sound convincing on its own. Highlight soft skills in your bullet points by using precise verbs, giving some context, and telling the reader the result of your action.
Avoid vague words like “participated in,” “assisted” or “responsible for.” Instead, see if you can use verbs directly from the job description.
For example, instead of saying that you “assisted with a sorority fundraiser,” describe it more precisely to show your teamwork and organization skills:
“Collaborated with 2 co-planners to plan and execute pancake breakfast with 15 volunteers that raised $5,000 for the local women’s shelter.”
If you’re looking to show off your communication skills, don’t just say, “Attended client presentations.” Instead, elaborate and say,
“Presented research and insights to a high-growth startup marketing team as a member of the undergraduate consulting club.”
Cover letter with samples
Show off your skills in action by telling stories in your cover letter. It’s always a good idea to write one, especially if you’re applying for a job where you don’t meet as many requirements.
You may have heard about using the STAR method in interviews, but it works great for cover letters, too:
Situation: describe the context and introduce the story or problem.
Task: what was your role or responsibility in the situation?
Action: describe the specific way you solved the problem.
Result: finish your story by saying what the outcome was.
For example, say the job description is looking for someone with strong organizational skills. You know you’re a pro at this because you were the secretary of your school’s fencing club. In your cover letter, you can write,
“I am used to juggling many small but critical details. As secretary of Acme University’s 32-member fencing club, I created a new set of Excel spreadsheets to track attendance at practice. This made it easy to see who was eligible to attend tournaments.”
Trying to demonstrate that you’re a self-starter?
“For the past two summers, I have worked as a day camp counselor for kids aged 8 to 10. I noticed that the morning drop off period was particularly chaotic, so I introduced the Morning Meditation Minute. I’d write a meditation prompt on a whiteboard, and the campers could independently walk over and start the activity without my help. Once everyone finally arrived, we had a much calmer group to start the day!”
You don’t have to use only work experience in your stories. For example, you can demonstrate your leadership skills or ability to work under pressure by describing a group project in one of your classes.
Continue talking about soft skills in your interview
The STAR method is a great way to show off your soft skills in interviews. Use the STAR method to answer any question that begins with:
- Tell me about a time when…
- Have you ever…
- Give me an example of…
- What would you do if…
Conclude with a thoughtful thank you note
Your actions during the application and interview process show your soft skills, too! Want to show off your attention to detail and great communication skills? Follow up with a thoughtful thank you note.