Soft Skills: Acing The Interview

Before continuing with the main thrust of this article, let’s take a moment to reflect or project – whichever applies to you. (1) You are about to go into an on-site interview or (2), You have not yet received an invite, but why not prepare yourself for the inevitable?

You have constructed a well written, succinct and persuasive resume that stood out of the pack. Building on this success, you built a minimum amount of report and interest and have received and on-site interview invite. Let’s look at some ways of leveraging existing skills and knowledge to greatly increase our chances of receiving a job offer.

Note: This article will not cover anything of a technical nature, that is a topic, in and of itself. We will be focusing entirely on using soft skills to build report and burn a lasting positive image in the minds of your interviewers.

Let’s first define what we mean when we talk about soft skills. If you google the term, Soft Skills, you will find a long list of terms, qualities and attributes. You will see things like leadership, honesty and communication skills among others. In a nutshell, Soft Skills are nothing more than the personal attributes needed for succeeding in both life and business.

Being an attentive and engaged listener is a soft skill – how many situations could you imagine a quality like this would come in handy? How many situations do you feel you could still succeed in without being an attentive and engaged listener? My guess – Not many.

Put another way, employing the use of soft skills is a way of becoming a more efficient and effective human being amongst other human beings – let’s do it. Let’s go over a checklist of the 5 things you must do in order to win over your interviewer. It is worth noting that, while technical competence is very important, it can be, to a degree, overlooked if you make good use of the following soft skills.

1) Eye Contact

There is no denying it, eye contact makes you look both confident and likeable. How many times have you been speaking with someone and they begin to drift off, looking around the room or, even worse, at their phone. I bet you were feeling like they weren’t even listening to a word you said!

Eye contact solves this problem as well as another problem – Confidence. Looking another person in the eye as both they speak to you and you to them, is a way of conveying confidence and assertiveness. In a more subconscious way, it conveys the sense that you are both willing and able to look your problems head on without wavering.

A word of caution, do not maintain eye contact too much – there is such a thing as too much eye contact and it looks really creepy. You want it to feel comfortable and relaxing, if you are forcing yourself to look them in the eye, that is a good indication that you have missed the mark. If this is the case, pull back and reassess.

Pro-Tip: Ask a friend, loved one or significant other to sit down and have a conversation with you. Tell them you want to practice your eye contact and ask for feedback. You can then transition to practicing on random people in stores and restaurants. Try to notice if people respond differently to you, now that you have a new approach to communication.

2) Communication

Language as a whole is such a beautiful thing. It allows us to so accurately convey exactly what we are thinking and feeling – but only if you have a command of the language and yourself. So much is spoken about effective communication but a lot of people miss the mark on what it is exactly. People tend to believe that someone who is an effective communicator is charismatic, think Barack Obama or Tom Cruise, but is that really true? No, here’s why.

An effective communicator, who gets results (as this is the only thing that really matters), is someone who succinctly conveys their points in a manner that is appropriate for their given audience and the context of the environment at the time. Let’s unpack that.

I can explain an issue to you, in two ways – The first (1) is by being very brief and to the point, the second (2) is being verbose and including unnecessary information. But, there is actually a third (3) option – Being brief with my main point but adding auxiliary points and anecdotes to both illuminate and enhance the original point.

Sometimes, being dry is good and other times is is bad. This is something that nobody can really teach you unfortunately. It involves reading your audience – do they like jokes or are they a very structured and rigid group? Because depending on how you answer that question, you will come up with different ways to communicate.

3) Energetic

Show some energy – nobody wants to work alongside someone who lacks enthusiasm for their work or craft. People respond positively to people who, themselves, are positive and are not afraid to convey it.

Don’t just show excitement for being interviewed specifically, show energy for even being in their workspace (assuming you like it), having a chance to meet everyone on the team (ask to meet everyone!) and ask a lot of questions.

While this profession is one that has a rich tradition of employing and promoting technically proficient individuals, it is also an industry that places a great deal of value on the idea of fitting in with the culture. Oftentimes, a more ideal candidate, on paper, will be passed over for someone who got along really well with the entire dev team. Why? Nobody wants to work with someone who they can’t get along with.

4) Conflict Resolution

This one kind of goes hand in hand with another important soft skills, problem solving. Someone who is well versed in conflict resolution will carry a lot of weight. Why is this one important? Because, there are many stressors to being a developer – you need to worry about your users breaking the application you are working on, you need to worry about deadlines and making sure that you are updating your technology to meet current demands. With stressors like that, you are bound to get into it with a co-worker, but what you do about resolving it says more about your character than anything else.

Companies, especially start-ups, do not have the bandwidth, patience or time to deal with little quarrels amongst team members. They have deadlines to meet and they need to produce results. Therefore, someone who is well versed in mitigating issues before they become bigger or happening all together are people who have effectively increased the value of their own stock in the eyes of their employers.

How do you get better at this soft skills? There are a few simple things you can work on, but this is more of a personal attribute that is ingrained and will require active work on your part over time. First, don’t take things personal – having your ideas rejected isn’t the same as having your identity rejected. Second, identify the source – Sometimes, it’s not what a person is saying that is bothering them but what they are leaving out, discover the source and you can nip this argument in the bud. Third, learn to barter – Conflicts are typically resolved through compromise, so do not try to win by brute force. Instead, identify what you are willing to give up to make things work!

5) Collaboration

At the heart of programming is collaboration – open source, teams etc. It is highly unlikely that you will not find yourself collaborating in a team environment at some point in your career, so get used to it!

Before coming into the career of programming, I had a rich history of collaboration in creative pursuits like film and music. This was something I used to my advantage but I also saw how those who did not exhibit this trait would tend to suffer a little because of it.

In order to be an effective collaborator, you need to learn to take criticism because your ideas will be shot down at some point – prepare yourself for that. Next, you need to learn to put the needs of the group over your own needs. What that means is, maybe you want to implement some feature but it doesn’t have an kind of immediate priority – do not try to push the group to work on this, go where you are needed.

The dynamics of a highly effective and collaborating group usually consist of a few different roles:

  1. First, there is a facilitator or leader. This person essentially guides the group and focuses more on promoting communication amongst group members, as opposed to actively contributing ideas themselves. They are the tour guide in a way.
  2. Next, there is the rest of the group, but there are 2 roles here which are in a state of flux
    1. One person from the group will come up with a good idea and run with it, trying to expand on that idea and taking ownership for it as well as creative license.
    2. The rest of the group is now in a supporting role. Their job is to now prop up the one person of the group who had a good idea. They should be asking questions, bouncing ideas around and trying to help that person (and by extension the entire group) expand on that original concept or idea.
  3. Those last 2 parts will remain in a state of flux with people rotating as the discussion evolves over time.

How do you demonstrate this quality in a job interview? Oftentimes, you will be interviewed by more than one person from the same company and they will at some point begin speaking about some internal problem you know nothing about. Take an opportunity to ask them about it and then offer your input in a polite and respectful way at first to convey interest and sincerity and then maybe become more assertive depending on the situation.

Conclusion

Technical skills are very important, no doubt – but they are by no means the only thing needed to land yourself your first dev job. In order to truly pull this off, you need to appeal to people’s emotions and intuition. You need to show that you already belong, once you pull this off they will be practically begging you to work for them!

As with anything, of course, practice makes perfect – so keep practicing these skills. They are by no means skills that are only used in business or during interviews – these are life skills. You can practice them pretty much anyone and on anybody, so get practicing and land that interview!

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