How to talk up your soft skills when you apply for a job

How to talk up your soft skills when you apply for a job
SEEK content teamupdated on 10 May, 2021

It’s not always easy talking about your skills when you’re applying for a job, but it’s important to play to your strengths if you want to set yourself apart.

One of the best places to start is by looking at your soft skills. These are skills many of us have that often apply across roles and industries. They relate to things like how you work with colleagues, the ways you manage your work, and how you solve problems.

Research conducted for SEEK shows that up to 64% of hirers agree people with strong soft skills are more likely to land a job.

We asked Leah Lambart, Career and Interview Coach at Relaunch Me and Greg Kouwiloyan, Director at Method Recruitment Group, for their advice on how to confidently sell your soft skills throughout the application process.

How to answer questions about soft skills

Hiring managers usually ask questions that require you to demonstrate your soft skills. These are non-technical skills like communication, teamwork, time management, creative thinking and problem solving – skills that relate to how you work, not just the work you do.

Lambart’s advice is to respond with examples that are similar to the types of challenges you would be dealing with in the role. “This will help reassure the panel that you can handle the challenges in a way that is also aligned to the company values,” she says.

Adopt the STAR model

Kouwiloyan explains that an effective way to promote your skills is by using the STAR model to structure your responses — both in a written application and an interview. This approach helps you set the scene and provide clear examples to demonstrate your skills confidently.

S – describe the SITUATION

T – describe the TASK

A – describe your ACTIONS

R – describe the RESULT

“The A and the R in STAR are important ways of reassuring your future employer that you have the skills to be successful in the role,” Kouwiloyan says.

If you’re in an interview, using the STAR method often works well for the kinds of questions where the interviewer asks you to describe a situation. These questions often start out like:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to…
  • Give me an example of a situation where you…

Answering these questions can be a good opportunity to talk about your skills using the STAR method. Or, the interviewer may ask you to describe a particular skill, for example:

  • Can you tell me about how you’ve used your communication skills?
  • How have you shown resilience at work?

Sample answers for common soft skills

Here are examples of responses that can help you highlight soft skills, whether you’re responding to an interview question or giving examples in your answers as part of a job application. These follow the STAR method.

  1. Communication

    Sample answer:
    “A customer called our office to enquire about the process for lodging an application form. She had never completed such an application before and her level of technological knowledge was limited, so I adapted my communication so she understood the process. I talked her through each step and patiently clarified her understanding along the way. I also sent an email to follow up. As a result, she was able to lodge the form and was happy with the service I had provided.”
  2. Relationship management

    Sample answer:
    “In my previous role, I was required to win over a prospective client who had no interest in working with our company due to a negative experience. I requested a meeting to understand what had happened, kept communication open, and managed to develop some common ground based on our mutual interest in surfing. As a result of building this relationship, I was able to get the client to agree to trial us again and they eventually signed up.”
  3. Resilience

    Sample answer:
    “I started a new job during COVID-19 with no handover. At first, I was stressed, but I organised a meeting with my manager and we came up with a plan to get me working closely with an experienced team member. He also took some time out of his week to train me. These things took time, but I persevered, and I felt much more confident to deliver all my tasks. I also learned that you should not be afraid to ask for help.”
  4. Initiative

    Sample answer:
    “In my last role, our team didn’t have a system for tracking client projects, so I took it upon myself to find a solution. I spoke to teams across the business, did lots of research and then got approval from my manager to purchase new project management software.

    The new system required some learning, so I familiarised myself with it and then provided ad-hoc training to other staff members who felt they needed help to come up to speed. This ensured broad engagement with a new system, and saved everyone time by knowing who was working on what.”
  5. Time management

    Sample answer:
    “I work on several projects simultaneously, so I use different systems and tools to keep me on track and deliver the outcomes I need to. I always use my online calendar because it means I can share key dates with others who need to be aware. I also use a few different digital platforms, like Trello, to prioritise and manage tasks and know what stage each project is at. These help me map out my time so I can meet all my deadlines, but also allow other team members to see how things are tracking against deadlines that they need to deliver against.”

While the examples we’ve looked at here relate to soft skills, following the same answer style using the STAR method may also help you demonstrate times when you’ve put your hard skills or technical skills to use.

Talking about your soft skills during a career change

3 in 5 hirers are comfortable hiring people with transferrable skills who don’t necessarily have the right qualifications or industry experience. 

When it comes to promoting your skills during a career change, Lambart says it’s all about making the link for the employer about how your skills could translate.

“I recently worked with a tour guide looking to make a career change into firefighting, so he drew on transferable skills like driving large vehicles, adapting communication for diverse audiences and responding to medical emergencies,” she says.

If you are applying for a new job, take stock of your skills and provide specific examples of how they will translate to the new role. Using the STAR formula as a guide helps you provide context and demonstrate your experience.

Describing your skills can be challenging, but having a method like this to guide you can help. Try adapting these sample answers to your own skills. Then, include them in your application if you’re asked to give examples – or try rehearsing them as part of your interview preparation.

You're more capable than you think. Discover your hidden talents today and put your skills to work.

Source: Independent research conducted by Nature of behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4800 Australians annually. Published May 2021.

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