Professional skills are important, but make no mistake; it’s personal attributes that dictate whether or not you succeed at work.
Personal attributes are what drive soft skills, which two-thirds of employers say are most in demand. Listening skills are based on curiosity. Punctuality is at the root of whether or not someone consistently shows up for work on time.
Soft skills, not to mention the personal attributes behind them, are much tougher to train than hard skills. Someone can be taught how to code; they can’t necessarily be taught how to be kinder.
So which personal attributes matter most to employers? Eighteen stand out:
Honesty is the foundation for a high-performing team. If you cannot be trusted to tell the truth, then you certainly can’t be trusted with things like sales and the customer experience.
Furthermore, dishonesty can be contagious: If others on the team see you fibbing, they’re more likely to do so, too.
How to Demonstrate Honesty
Be upfront in your application and interview. Was your college GPA not so stellar? Did you get fired from a previous position? Be honest because employers will find out.
Related to honesty, this personal attribute is about sticking to your moral principles. Be a good example to others. Never fudge your performance figures, always tell customers the truth, and be a good steward of company money.
How to Demonstrate Integrity
Describe a time when you were tempted to bend the rules for a reward. What discouraged you from doing so? If you did bend the rules, was it for a morally valid reason?
It’s important to make a distinction about this personal attribute: Thriftiness is not the same as cheapness. A cheap person buys candy because it’s on sale; a thrifty person doesn’t buy it at all because she knows she doesn’t need it or she finds a better deal. Employers want to hire people who will find cost-effective ways of doing things for the company.
How to Demonstrate Thriftiness
Learn as much as you can about ways to save the company money. Understand the terms group purchasing, negotiation bargaining, and have ideas on how to find cost-effective vendors. You don’t have to come up with all the answers during the interview, but surprise them with your understanding of different options.
If you’ve been hired to do a job, and it’s on you to get it done. This is especially true during crises like the coronavirus: Responsibility is critical for a productive remote work culture.
How to Demonstrate Responsibility
Prove that you can handle the small things. If you’re applying for a writing role, for instance, submit the test on time and in good shape. You need to show you’re reliable before you can be considered for a full-time role.
Employers want someone who will understand the new world that businesses need to operate in and thrive. Understanding new ways to communicate and organize things can impress an employer.
How to Demonstrate Tech-Savviness
Make scheduling naturally easy for them via email. Use productivity apps to speed up your work efficiency. For example, you can use Mixmax to imbed your schedule into the email discussing the interview. It has a visual feel that you can even personalize. Something like this can make you stand out among other applicants.
This personal attribute is about being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. No matter your professional role, you have to be able to relate to your team members as people.
How to Demonstrate Empathy
Get in the interviewer’s emotional groove. Express sympathy for a stressful experience s/he shares. Be genuinely happy about something good that happened to them recently.
Some roles require more sociability than others. Salespeople must be social if they want to stick out in prospects’ minds. But to a degree, this personal attribute is important for everyone at work. Even writers and engineers must be pleasant to be around.
How to Demonstrate Sociability
Be tactful. Add to the conversation without dominating it. Engage people, particularly introverts who may not feel comfortable striking up a conversation themselves.
Here’s an article about networking that can help you socialize better.
Things change quickly in business. Aside from outbreaks of disease, clients change their mind. Supply lines snap. In situations like those, flexibility is critical.
How to Demonstrate Flexibility
Stay calm in the face of uncertainty. Treat unexpected changes as opportunities rather than reasons for fear. Change up your own schedule periodically: If you typically exercise around lunch time, might working out in the morning make you more productive?
Especially during times of change, perseverance is the personal attribute that keeps you going. If you keep working when times are tough, you’re going to struggle in the modern workplace.
How to Demonstrate Perseverance
Tell the interviewer about a time when you were discouraged but pushed on. Afterward, follow up frequently. Show that you won’t give up on the opportunity simply because there are other applicants.
Learn more about How to Persevere (And Get Ahead!) When the Going Gets Tough.
Loyalty is a personal attribute related to perseverance that every employer looks for. Who wouldn’t want a worker who sticks with the company through thick and thin? Often, loyalty is rewarded with raises and promotions.
How to Demonstrate Loyalty
Emphasize long-term commitments you’ve made in the past. One reason most employers prefer college graduates is that it shows you can stick with a degree program for four years.
In the knowledge economy, employees have to be lifelong learners. People with curiosity are interested in a wide range of different topics, but they’re also willing to dive deeply into them.
How to Demonstrate Curiosity
Discuss your hobbies, especially if they differ from the work you do. Don’t think of them as irrelevant to the interview; realize that they make you a more interesting, memorable candidate.
Work can’t be sunshine and roses all the time. That’s why positivity is so important. If you get down in the dumps easily, you’ll provoke pessimism from others on the team.
How to Demonstrate Positivity
Don’t fake happiness, but do try to see the silver lining in things. If the interviewer asks about a time you failed, explain what you learned from the experience. And be sure to smile: A cheerful demeanor makes other people want to be around you.
If you’re not a naturally positive person, this article can help you get there: How to Tap Into the Power of Positivity
Of all the personal attributes on this list, authenticity may be the most difficult to define. It’s about being genuine. What you express has to match how you really feel about a situation.
How to Demonstrate Authenticity
Counterintuitively, the best way to show authenticity is to not try to show it. Just be yourself: If you’re having a great day, let that show. And if you just had a relative pass away, realize that it’s okay to be upset about that.
Professional life is tough enough without this attribute. Generosity makes the world around you warmer, which everyone appreciates. And if you believe in karma, you believe that generosity will come back to you in all sorts of ways you can’t see.
How to Demonstrate Generosity
Generosity isn’t just about giving gifts — though it never hurts to surprise someone with a treat. Be generous with things like compliments and feedback as well. Even your interviewer deserves to know when s/he’s done a good job.
Transparency is similar to honesty, but there’s an important wrinkle that distinguishes this personal attribute. Operating with transparency means letting your team members see the good, bad, and the ugly. More than telling the truth, it’s about defaulting to openness.
How to Demonstrate Transparency
Volunteer information. Tell the interviewer how he or she can contact your prior employers. Bring a copy of your college transcript with you to the meeting. Encourage questions, even after you’ve left the building.
Misconceptions surround this personal attribute. Maturity isn’t about not making fart jokes; it’s about being sensitive to the reality of a situation. A mature person respects the interviewer’s decision to cancel at the last minute because her kid needs to see the doctor. When there aren’t enough cookies for everyone to have two, a mature person resists the urge to take a second.
How to Demonstrate Maturity
Be thoughtful of others. If your interviewee needs a break, offer to chat in five minutes. If you don’t get the job, don’t trash the company you applied to on Glassdoor.
Being kind is about having compassion. We all make mistakes, and we all deserve to be given a chance to do better. Bad things happen to good people.
How to Demonstrate Kindness
Avoid passing judgment. If the interviewer is a little late, don’t get irritated about it. Chances are, s/he was simply stuck in traffic — something that has undoubtedly happened to you at some point as well.
Diligent people do their homework. They not only have attention to detail, but they do the work to get the details right. This personal attribute can show up in everything from how you dress to how you schedule your days.
How to Demonstrate Diligence
Stick to instructions strictly. If the interviewer asks you to bring an example of a small business video ad you created, don’t show one for a big company. Don’t show a radio or digital ad. And bring a backup, just in case the interviewer wants to see a second.
Personal attributes can’t make up for shortfalls in professional skills, but you might be surprised how much they matter. Be your best self, and let employers judge you for who you are. More often than not, good people are the ones who get good jobs.
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