Are you looking for a new role and wondering how to stand out to a potential employer? We’ve got you covered with our insights for improving your job search.
Even in a candidates’ market, there’s still a need to stand out from the crowd. To do this, you need to first understand what makes you unique and identify your strengths. And remember – the skills and attributes attracting potential employers are rapidly changing as workplaces become increasingly digitalized and automated, and as artificial intelligence becomes more mainstream. Looking at the future of work, the McKinsey Global Institute predicts the “need for manual and physical skills, as well as basic cognitive ones, will decline, but demand for technological, social and emotional, and higher cognitive skills will grow”.
To maximise your chances of success and help you to future-proof your career, we share some key tips to hone in on, including the importance of soft skills.
Defining your strengths
Careers Consultant and Executive Coach Sarah Robinson defines a professional strength as “something you are good at doing (a skill) but also enjoy using and feel energised by.” She adds: “You may feel fulfilled when you use it, like the ‘real you’ and that you could use it constantly without becoming tired. Sometimes we can learn to be good at something, but it doesn’t always energise us.” If you are currently in a role that isn’t giving you the chance to apply your strengths on a regular basis, Robinson warns, you will eventually begin to lose motivation, get bored or restless, burnt out or stressed.
Understanding yourself is essential to being able to identify the strongest opportunities in the job market and to successfully communicate what you offer to potential employers, explains Robinson. Do the groundwork, she says, and ask yourself: “How do your experiences, strengths, skills and values align with the job role and the organisation’s culture?”
In Robinson’s experience, many of her clients struggle to figure out what they’re good at and enjoy doing. As a starting point, she recommends exploring the Strengths Profile online assessment tool, which maps both “realised and unrealised strengths, learned behaviours and weaknesses across 60 different strengths”.
The rise of soft skills
While hiring managers have historically prioritised hard skills, savvy employers now see soft skills as a key differentiator. Soft skills are personal traits that enable someone to interact well with other people. According to research by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Center, well-developed soft skills account for around 85% of job success, versus 15% for hard skills. But the most in-demand candidates are the ones who can demonstrate both. So, what are the top soft skills employers look for?
Pinpointing the exact technical abilities and skills that will be needed in the years to come is challenging, but there are some core soft skills vital to most roles, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. These include communication, problem-solving and teamwork. Robinson also puts these three skills at the top of the list for hiring managers, alongside relationship building with stakeholders. The National Soft Skills Association cites critical thinking, and “a positive attitude” as among the most important soft skills, while the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report lists “critical thinking and analysis, as well as problem-solving, and skills in self-management such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility” among the top traits employers see as rising in prominence in the lead-up to 2025. Dr Grace Lordan, Founding Director of The Inclusion Initiative at the London School of Economics, says: “If you want to be future proof, look hard at your soft skills.” She rates resilience, alongside adaptability, curiosity and creativity, as some of the most beneficial soft skills to have in your toolkit right now.
Robinson notes that “soft skills are an essential part of who we are and how we work with others, yet they can be hard to quantify”, and says we often take them for granted. While these skills are important to cultivate, she advises candidates to avoid a generic list of soft skills on their CV – “it adds little value if you don’t share clear examples that demonstrate how you do what you do and bring it life.”
Hybrid working is another factor causing employers to look beyond hard skills. According to a global report by employer branding agency Universum, companies are increasingly considering “mindset” when assessing would-be recruits. Its Employer Branding NOW 2022 survey notes a “pivot towards people who will power remote workforces” – those with attributes such as “collaboration, integrity, ethics, and an openness to diversity”.
Improving the job search
While identifying your strengths and thinking hard about your soft skills will force you to spend some time self-reflecting, there are also some practical steps you need to consider. Robinson shares some more top tips:
- Don’t be put off applying for a role if you don’t meet all the ‘essential’ criteria, especially if some skills are trainable and can be developed with the right candidate
- Look beyond job titles, which can be misleading or unclear. Pay attention to how the employer explains the role, where it fits into the team and the organisation, the key deliverables and outcomes expected, and opportunities for growth and progression
- Reach out to the recruiter before applying to find out more about the role, particularly if you don’t meet all the criteria or are unsure if you’d be a good fit
- Be specific in explaining your ‘why’ – what are your reasons for applying? What stands out for you in the job spec that is a great fit for your experience and strengths? What excites you about the opportunity? Being clear, specific and authentic in your reasons for application can be a huge differentiator between candidates.
A winning attitude
The acceleration in demand for STEM expertise has caused many companies to re-think their traditional hiring methods. According to SThree’s STEM insights report, “employers have now realised they need to re-focus their approach to finding talent if they are to successfully recruit into key jobs.” More companies are branching out and considering hires from outside STEM industries, are open to attitude over experience, and willing to take on younger talent – training them up in the necessary hard skills from scratch. Showing the right attitude and values is starting to matter a lot more. Robinson says: “Never underestimate the value of a positive attitude, a strong work ethic, a willingness and enthusiasm to learn and grow, and the ability to pick up new skills quickly – all of which can sometimes compensate for a lack of experience.”
A final word to all those contractors out there. Unlike permanent workers, it can be harder to upskill and learn on the job, says Robinson. She therefore suggests considering ways to “show commitment in your own professional development and ongoing learning”. These include staying up to date with industry trends and standards, undertaking short courses, a professional qualification by an industry body, or a refresher workshop, or tapping into the wealth of shorter training via platforms such as LinkedIn Learning.
Whether you’re clear about your next role or need some guidance on the best fit, we’re here to help. Get in touch today.