1 What are skills?
You know when people use a word so much it starts to lose its meaning? We here at Debut feel that way about the word ‘skills’. There’s been too much talk about how to get them, and which ones to get, but not enough about what they actually are. This guide will help you nail those graduate job applications by helping you build a strong foundation you can build your CV and cover letter on. Let’s get stuck in.
A skill is the ability to use knowledge to effectively execute a task. For example, cooking is a useful skill. Or being able to navigate a forest with no map. Or even being able to hold a crowd’s attention without faltering.
Different employers will look for different skills for different open positions. Which, at first glance, seems terribly unhelpful. How would you know which skills you’ll need for the job application?
We covered dissecting job descriptions in our guide to tackling job applications. Basically, all the information you need to figure out what skills you might need for a job can be found in the job description – if it’s detailed enough.
Otherwise, you could compare and contrast different job descriptions for similar roles to see if there’s any overlap. Usually, there will be! For example, most marketing roles will require both hard technical skills such as being able to use Google Analytics, and soft skills such as organisation and time management. Speaking of…
Hard skills vs. Soft skills
If, like us, you’ve ever found it difficult to define hard and soft skills, don’t fret. It’s actually pretty easy to distinguish between the two.
If, like us, you've ever found it difficult to define hard and soft skills, don't fret. It's actually pretty easy to distinguish between the two.
Hard skills are teachable skills. They are skills you can sit in a classroom and learn, or sign in to a webinar, or read a book to improve. Essentially, hard skills are also quantifiable. You can progress by grade when you learn an instrument. You can pass a driving test. Perhaps you could even take exams to affirm your progression in a certain hard skill.
Today, hard skills are unfortunately no longer enough to progress in your career. As automation and tech obsoletion result in more and more entry level jobs disappearing, employers are looking for candidates with soft skills in addition to their technical ability. Why? So they know whoever they hire will be able to adapt to change.
Soft skills are a little harder to define. Naturally, if hard skills are skills you can teach and quantify, soft skills are the opposite. After all, it’s not exactly possible to get a qualification in leadership, or persuasion.
Thinking about the differences between hard and soft skills too much is probably a redundant activity. After all, you’ll need both in equal measure to impress a recruiter. We’ll show you how.
2 How to demonstrate skills in your CV
We’ve got a few key tips on how to make your CV shine with all of the skills you have.
Keep it quantifiable
Soft skills are fairly hard to demonstrate on your CV. Don’t fret though, this is why job applications are usually made up of the dynamic duo of the CV and cover letter. As your CV and cover letter should contain different content and shouldn’t overlap (why repeat the same thing?) keep your CV focused on your hard skills.
Always have numbers and examples, as these will build trust with the recruiter.
Why? Because CVs should be as compact and concise as possible. Which means it’s the perfect medium for numbers and percentages. Did you increase your society’s Facebook page likes by 200%? You’ve demonstrated the hard skill of social media management. Did you take part in Model United Nations at university for a few years? This demonstrates research skills and debate skills.
It’s important to make sure you backup your skills-based points with answers. Always have numbers and examples, as these will build trust with the recruiter.
Be honest, don’t embellish
Because hard skills are so easily checked, it’s always best to tell the whole truth, and nothing but. This is a good way to keep your CV concise and relevant. It’s not like you need your Grade 3 Theory of Music qualification to apply for a content marketing position after all.
A ‘skills’ section on your CV could work – but you need the evidence.
Collect those receipts. A lot of CVs have this trendy little box that says ‘skills’. They are usually a collection of bullet points with things you couldn’t squeeze into your employment history section. For example:
- Google Analytics
- Microsoft Office
If you have these skills and want to show them off, great! If you don’t, watch out, as if you get selected for a job interview this section will get picked apart. There is no hiding from your interviewer. Want even more advice about creating an amazing CV? Head over to our ultimate CV guide for even more insights.
3 How to demonstrate skills in your cover letter
Demonstrating skills in your cover letter is slightly different than doing so in your CV.
It’s all about the balance of hard and soft skills
Employers will be searching for a combination of both in your cover letter. Demonstrating soft skills such as leadership, communication skills and organisation is just as important as highlighting quantifiable hard skills.
This isn’t as impossible as you think. You could this, for example:
“I implemented a new sales technique that helped my team exceed their quarterly targets by 75%”.
This sentence highlights both hard and soft skills. It shows that you’re clearly skilled in sales, but also highlights great leadership, a strong sense of initiative, and teamwork, which are soft skills.
Avoid buzzwords as much as possible
Employers don’t want to be told you’re passionate, or innovative. They want you to demonstrate it. The reason why we advise against buzzwords, is because they waste vital space on your cover letter.
If you spent three months on a successful side hustle, talk about that and why you chose to launch the project. It sounds much better than ‘passionate’.
Similar to what we said about CVs, use anecdotes or numerical examples to show your passion, or initiative. If you spent three months on a successful side hustle, talk about that and why you chose to launch the project. It sounds much better than ‘passionate’.
Want even more advice about creating an amazing cover letter? Head over to our ultimate cover letter guide for even more insights.
4 How to demonstrate skills in your interview
Here’s where soft skills really come into play.
Realistic confidence in your skills is key
Say it loud and say it proud: you are good at what you do. As long as you’ve got evidence to back up what you’re trying to advertise, you’re golden. You’ve been invited to this job interview for a reason.
But don’t be tempted to brag! There’s probably still tons for you to learn and room to improve. Just be polite, but don’t be modest. Don’t throw away your shot.
The more anecdotes you have, the better
Employers aren’t going to ask you, “tell me about your three weaknesses,” and expect you to list them out like bullet points. The interview is the perfect opportunity to show off your soft skills; or rather, your people skills.
Introverts, this might be painful to hear, but you’ll have to do the bulk of the talking during the interview. Not to say you need to go on for ages, but you need to take control of your own narrative. In a strengths-based interview (which basically is a skills-based interview), you’ll have to tell a story that’ll highlight your skills. Often they’ll test you on things advertised in the job description – which is all the more reason why you should study it carefully.
Run through the job description and make sure you know your CV and cover letter off by heart. Also, think about specific impressive examples from your career you can adapt to different questions. For example, running an event can highlight many different skills. Organisation, grace under pressure, communication skills. All you have to do is slightly tweak these examples to fit the question asked.
Think about how your skills can benefit the company you’re applying for
At this stage, it’s not really about you. It’s about them. Your interviewer is trying to suss out just how much you’ll be contributing to the company, and how little help you’ll need to do the job.
Talk about how your experience in X (previous job or activity) will help you develop something in Y (new company). The more you can do this, the more convincing your pitch of yourself will be.
Put all these tips and advice into practice and you’ll be flying when it comes demonstrating those crucial skills which are going to nab you a dream graduate role.