Soft skills? Hard skills? What’s the difference? And why the heck do I care? In this episode I’ll explain exactly what hard and soft skills are and how you can use them to effectively sell yourself in job applications, interviews and even salary negotiations!

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32. Communicating your soft skills – Transcript

[00:00:00] Hi, there I’m Bec McFarland the host of the Pop Your Career Podcast. As a career coach, I’m most passionate about helping my clients to discover their own personal flavour of career fulfillment. In this podcast, we are going to be exploring ways that you too can feel more fulfilled by your work. So strap yourself in, get ready for the ride. The tips around here are fast and in abundance.

[00:00:29] Hello. Hello. It is Bec McFarland here helping you to do better and be better in your career. Today I am talking to you all about soft skills and how to communicate them. So what we’re talking about is a little way that you can start to break down your soft skills so that you can communicate them more effectively and confidently in your [00:01:00] resume cover letter, selection criteria, and even in your interview.

[00:01:04] But before we dive into that, I thought I should really clarify for you what is a soft skill and why they are so important. So when we are talking about your soft skills, these are more like your personal qualities. So as opposed to hard skills, which are skills that you can typically measure and define and get like training on. They’re more technical. They could be job specific knowledge. You learn them through education, formal training, hands on experience, and they tend to be things that you can like measure. It’s a little bit more black and white, like you’ve either got a hard skill or you don’t. That could be, you know, using a specific type of software or technology. It could be financial skills. Specific skills that are related to your job. Things like sales and [00:02:00] marketing, social media management, research, analysis, risk management, auditing, governance, those skills where it is a little bit more clear.

[00:02:10] So as I said, the soft skills are more like personal qualities. These are like the people skills, really. Things like leadership, emotional intelligence, communication, negotiation, relationship building, stakeholder engagement, all of those types of things, right? So what happens is that I find that it tends to be a little bit easier to communicate your hard skills because they are black and white. You’ve either got them or you don’t, and you’ve probably got a lot examples from your career of when you’ve actually employed those hard skills and been able to achieve an outcome.

[00:02:50] In terms of the soft skills though, I think it can become a little bit more difficult to communicate them because they could be seen as being a little bit wishy washy. [00:03:00] It is a little bit more difficult to describe when you’ve used those soft skills and done something well, and I find that it just overall tends to require a little bit more effort.

[00:03:13] What can happen as a result of this is that a lot of people forget to talk about their soft skills when it comes to an interview, or they just aren’t as strong when it comes to articulating them. And what can really happen in this case is that it can lead an employer to believe that you’ve got exceptional technical skills and that you’re a really great operator, but they may end up having some concerns about your interpersonal skills, the way that you relate to other people, the way that you work as part of a team, the way that you do things like innovation and continuous improvement. Also, you know, those other personal qualities that we take for granted. Things like the honesty, the integrity, time management, productivity, punctuality, all of that kind of thing all falls under your soft skills. [00:04:00]

[00:04:00] So what I’ve noticed with my clients is that one of the things that they struggle with the most about communicating their soft skills is really explaining what those soft skills actually are. So what happens is that we often have a few different soft skills that come really naturally to us. They are things that are just like inherent capabilities. We’ve probably been able to do them really well since we were young, and they just Something that we’ve got in our tool belt that we do on autopilot without even really thinking about it.

[00:04:36] This episode is brought to you by the Career Clarity Quest, my absolutely free, seven day program, which is designed to support you in getting so much clearer about your next steps. Find it at

[00:04:56] Today I’m gonna use the example of stakeholder [00:05:00] engagement because this is one that comes up quite a lot. So when you’ve got stakeholder engagement, for example, as one of your key soft skills, it’s something that you are able to do and that it contributes to the outcomes that you’re able to achieve in the workplace.

[00:05:15] What I find is that you tend to just go about doing stakeholder engagement without ever really stopping to think about what the steps are that are involved in that. And so when it comes to actually explaining your stakeholder engagement in an interview or in an application, we often just rely on those two words.

[00:05:39] So we say, I have exceptional skills in stakeholder engagement, or I did stakeholder engagement on the project. I was responsible for the stakeholder engagement. And what then happens is that we are really relying on the person on the other end, so the [00:06:00] panel member, whether they’re reading your application or they’re there in the interview to interpret those two words in the same way that you interpret them.

[00:06:09] But when we really look at what’s going on, those two words, stakeholder engagement could mean completely different things to you than what they mean to me, or a person that’s on a panel. And unfortunately, as I’ve said before, anytime that you are relying on a panel member to read between the lines and come to some kind of conclusion, they will usually come to a conclusion that’s different than the conclusion that you had hoped them to come to.

[00:06:36] I find that the other thing that happens is that when we just rely on those words to explain what we do, we’re kind of saying like, you know, that’s something that we do really well, but I often find that when we rely on just using those two word explanations, it comes from this place of like taking advantage of our strengths. When I would [00:07:00] speak to a client who has stakeholder engagement as one of their key strengths, I usually hear things from them like, oh, but doesn’t everyone do that? Or Isn’t this just the way everybody operates? They tend to not really realize that their strength is actually quite different to other people. And I know that this is really common with a lot of things that people tend to do really well or easily or naturally. Right?

[00:07:31] A perfect example of this is like people who drive a manual car. If you’ve been driving a manual car for years, then generally you’re doing it on autopilot. You are changing up and down gears, clutch in, clutch out, all of those kinds of things, and you’re not really thinking about it. So when you go ahead and you describe to somebody you know, like I drive a manual car, it’s really no big deal for you because you’ve been doing it for so long, you’re good at it. It doesn’t require any additional thinking from [00:08:00] you. But what you’re taking for granted is the fact that not everybody has the capability at the moment to drive a manual car. I mean, technically, most people could learn if they were that way inclined, but not everybody can do it.

[00:08:14] So you really taking advantage of the fact that this is a skill that you have. If you were, for example, explaining to somebody driving a manual car and they had never driven a manual car before or didn’t understand how that would work, then they may come to a different conclusion because they don’t really understand what those words mean. Does that make sense?.

[00:08:41] What I’m doing is encouraging you to really accept and embrace the strengths that you’ve got, and once you do that, look at the way that you can actually break them down. So one of the ways that I really like doing this is I encourage my clients to use like a mind map technique.

[00:08:58] What I would do [00:09:00] in this instance is I would put those words stakeholder engagement on the middle of the page, and I would start to bounce out ideas of like, what does that actually look like? So one of the things that you might do as part of your stakeholder engagement is building rapport with people. That would be your first point.

[00:09:22] Another thing could be that you have a strategy for following up with people regularly to maintain the relationship, right? That could be another point. Now, you can see that with both of these suggestions that I have provided that each of those, we could actually go into a little bit more detail as well.

[00:09:41] Okay, so something like building rapport for somebody who doesn’t have stakeholder engagement skills or that isn’t one of their strengths, they might hear those two words and think, oh, building rapport. Like what? What the hell does that mean? And so you might then break that down into further [00:10:00] detail and talk about the fact that when you’re building rapport with somebody, you may maintain good eye contact with them. You may mirror and match their behaviour or their voice tonality. There may be other things that you do in order to really bridge that gap and quickly start to develop a common ground with somebody that you’ve just met or somebody that you haven’t seen in a while.

[00:10:26] You can see here that once we start to break it down, we’re actually looking at the specific actions or the specific behaviours that make up that particular strength or soft skill, like in this instance, stakeholder engagement. What happens when we do this and when we start to mind map our ideas, is that we’re actually providing ourselves with the language that we need in order to be able to articulate what we do. It means that when you come to an example and you are [00:11:00] describing to a panel in an application or in an interview, what you did on a project, instead of just saying, I implemented stakeholder engagement, or I utilized my stakeholder engagement skills, you can actually start to go a little bit deeper and talk about the actions that contributed to that overall behaviour.

[00:11:24] This could mean that we start to say, you know, I went into the meeting and was really focused on building rapport with the other person because we’d never actually met in person before. When we sat down, I made sure that we were sitting side by side so that there wasn’t a table in between us, as I felt that this was a greater way to be able to engage with that person and form a connection.

[00:11:51] As we were talking, I mirrored and matched their behaviour, and I also made sure that I made good contact and demonstrated positive [00:12:00] and active listening skills like nodding when they added a new comment to the conversation or smiling when they said something that I resonated with.

[00:12:11] So you can see here that we started off with those two simple words, stakeholder engagement, but we’ve actually been able to break it down, go a lot deeper and give the panel a lot greater understanding of what stakeholder engagement actually means to us without taking it for granted, without assuming that everybody has the same definition of those two words, and in doing so, we are further describing our capabilities and our ability to understand our own strengths.

[00:12:47] As I said at the beginning of this episode, it is really, really common that people leave out their soft skills or they don’t go the extra mile when it comes to selling their soft skills in an application or [00:13:00] an interview. But I’m hoping that this idea gives you a little bit of food for thought and prompts you to spend a little bit of extra time next time you are preparing for any interview in thinking about what your soft skills are. What are those strengths that you bring to the table and how would you describe them to a layman or somebody who doesn’t have this as one of their own core strengths?

[00:13:24] I hope that you have a fantastic week. Best of luck with articulating your soft skills in your next application process. If you’ve got any questions, you know where to find me. I’m @PopYourCareer everywhere, and I’m looking forward to seeing you again in the next episode. See you later.

[00:13:42] Thanks so much for listening to the Pop Your Career podcast. I hope that you’ve enjoyed today’s tips and that you found value in what I’ve shared with you. If you like your career advice quick and entertaining, I would love for you to subscribe. Also leave me a rating and [00:14:00] a review. If you wanna continue the conversation, come and join me over on social media. You can find me everywhere at Pop Your Career. I’ll see you soon.


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About the author 


Bec McFarland is an experienced HR practitioner, manager, career coach and the creator of Pop Your Career. She delights in sharing practical, straight to the point career advice, spending time with her family and eating Mexican food.