A lot. For instance: Are you team-oriented? Can you solve problems creatively? Can you communicate ideas effectively?
These are generally referred to as "soft skills," qualities that employers always seek. And the perfect place to display your numerous soft skills is in an interview.
Be a Problem Solver
Remember those awful word problems you had to solve in fourth-grade math class? Good news: It wasn't a waste of time.
Problem-solving skills are widely valued in the business world and companies are on the lookout for candidates who can solve problems quickly, creatively and cheaply.
From cutting budgets, to handling crises, to meeting seemingly impossible deadlines, just about every job will eventually ask you to play Sherlock Holmes.
Some interviewers may ask tricky questions directed at gauging your problem-solving skills. For instance, "How many blue cars are there in the United States?"
The interviewer will then want to hear how you'd go about reaching an answer. You might say:
"Well, there are about 270 million people in the United States. Perhaps 40 million of them are under 16, and perhaps another 40 million don't have driver's licenses. So there are 190 million people who are eligible to own cars ... "
And you continue until you reach a final answer. The accuracy of the number is as not important as demonstrating to the interviewer how you'd go about tackling a tough question.
Most interviewers, thankfully, do not play these Jedi mind games with candidates. Rather, they will likely ask you some direct, open-ended questions. For example, "Tell me about a time when you faced a tough problem. How did you solve it?"
The way to ace these questions is simple: Preparation. Before you go into any interview, you should have a list of at least 10 examples of how you solved a problem effectively. Recall the main goal of each task, how you solved it, why you chose to solve it that way and what it reveals about you. Having this list handy will allow you to respond to any question quickly and confidently.
Be a Communicator
No matter how big your brain is, it'll likely go unnoticed unless you are able to communicate your thoughts to others. This is why so many job postings ask for candidates with strong communication skills -- especially public speaking skills.
Are you beginning to sweat already? You're not alone. Glossophobia -- the fear of public speaking -- is the most common phobia in the U.S. That's why employers are always on the lookout for candidates who don't curl into the fetal position every time they must speak out loud.
To emphasize your communication skills during an interview, try some of these tips:
- Practice describing your last job in under two minutes. Practice in front of a mirror.
- Have a friend ask you questions that you expect to encounter in an interview. Remember to answer clearly and slowly.
- If you do not understand a question, instead of panicking, just ask the interviewer to elaborate.
- If you find yourself getting nervous, just take a deep breath and relax your shoulders.
- Remember to look directly at the interviewer as you speak.
- Try to stay away from lazy language (e.g., "gonna," "wanna").
- Last, but not least, remember the breath mint!
In his book Working With Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman posits that it is not your intellect, experience or skills that make you successful; rather, it is your emotional intelligence -- how well you can "read" other people's emotions and feelings in the workplace.
One of the best indicators of strong emotional intelligence is the ability to work well with others on a team. And because most companies have more than one person working there, being a strong group worker can be an invaluable selling point during your job search.
Being a good group worker involves more than putting in your required share of the work; it also involves being a leader when necessary, knowing when to make your opinions known, knowing when to defer to others and moving the group towards the optimal result with minimal conflict.
To emphasize your group skills in an interview, make a list of projects that you have worked on with past coworkers. Consider the unique additions you brought to the group, and be prepared to discuss those special talents. And if you have ever solved a group conflict at a past job, be sure to note that as well -- that's interviewing gold!
It also couldn't hurt to mention if you previously coordinated with other departments, sat on a committee, or hold any memberships in professional associations -- they signal your interest in getting information from others.
Be a Multi-Tasker
In an ant colony, each ant performs one, and only one, task for the majority of its life. A soldier, a forager, a queen, a digger -- each ant only has one job on its tiny insect mind.
Human workplaces, however, are more complex. Businesses want to save money, and one way to do this is to hire employees who are able to simultaneously perform a variety of separate tasks at the same time. This highly desirable trait is commonly known as "multi-tasking."
To display your ability to multi-task:
- Make a list of complex projects you handled in past jobs and write down the various tasks that it involved.
- If asked to discuss a past project, give specific examples of how you were able to balance several crucial tasks.
- During the interview, show a willingness to handle all kinds of responsibilities, not just a select one or two. Not only will this display your enthusiasm, but it will also suggest that you are interested in taking an active role at the company -- and workers who show a desire to branch out of their pigeonholed roles are the kind that get promoted.