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Soft Skills our Human Resources Department Uses Daily

Educator Resources

What is the interviewer looking for? What questions are they going to ask in the interview? What should I include on my resume? These questions may go through your head during the job hiring process. 

When looking for a job, it is always important to stand out and show that you are the best candidate. There are many moving parts when looking into employment, and it is essential to find out what employers are looking for. In the Knowledge Center, we know it can be stressful when going through this process, and we want to help. We set out to get the inside scoop on what employers are looking for. We had the opportunity to ask our human resources team questions related to soft skills and how to prepare for the job hiring process. Check out the answers from the experts!

See the soft skills our Human Resource department uses daily!

What is your definition of soft skills? 

Nicholas: Soft skills are more transferable, interpersonal, and broader than process-specific and technical. "Methods are many, and principles are few. Methods may change, but principles never do." A method may be a maneuver in Excel. A principle may be how to influence people. One is more evergreen than the other. Also, I think of soft skills having to do with people and navigating emotional intelligence.

Melanie: Soft skills are imperative for success. While a bit hard to define, soft skills can be compared to behind-the-scenes work. The work you can't see initially, but you quickly know if it's not there. We can think of technical skills as the opposite of soft skills. Those skills typically involve a series of steps to learn and complete, such as a computer system or process. Soft skills do not have steps to complete. Skills such as customer service, leadership, emotional intelligence, etc., are soft skills. They may be called soft skills, but underutilization or poorly using critical soft skills can have a hard impact on success if they aren't utilized or refreshed often.

Casey: Soft skills are the personal attributes that help a person to effectively get a job done. Soft skills can include a person's emotional intelligence and situational awareness.

Maria: Personality traits and behaviors that work in a collaborative work environment.

What top three attributes do you look for in a candidate applying for a job?

Melanie: A positive attitude, drive and motivation for success, passion for our mission.

Casey: Positive attitude, strong work ethic, and a team player 

What soft skill(s) do you feel you use daily in the workplace? 

Nicholas: In the context of answering emails, I feel I need to be intentional with tone and also intuiting what hints, patterns, and indirect "asks" are going on below the superficial level of the text. That way, I can receive the message and respond appropriately to the heart of the matter, not just what appears to be presented.

Melanie: All forms of communication, leadership, critical thinking, work ethic, confidentiality, problem solving, decision making, customer service, empathy, my list could go on all day!

Casey: Communication and interpersonal skills, adaptability and flexibility, and teamwork

Maria: Critical thinking, communication and collaboration.

Resumes are an employer's first look into a job candidate. What is your favorite thing to see on someone's resume?

Casey: The first thing we look for on a resume is relevant work experience to the position they are applying.

Learn more: Check out our infographic on resumes.

What should be on a resume?

Interviews give a good indication whether an individual is a good fit for the job or not. What is the most impactful thing that has ever happened during an interview? 

Melanie: I appreciate when an interviewee brings examples of their work. Not always tangible examples (that's ok too), but I am thinking more about examples of how they created success in the past for themselves, in business and/or school and in their community.

Casey: While I do not participate in the interviews, I typically conduct a phone screening with the candidate. A phone screening is a tool used so I can hear what they are passionate about, things I do not usually see on their resumes. Phone screening is an excellent opportunity to help determine personality, attitude, and cultural fit. I love hearing their story, understanding why they want this position and to be at our organization.

Maria: I once had a candidate who, towards the end of the interview, outlined the reasons he was interested in the position, his skill set, and how he would use those skills to achieve the organization's goals. This set him apart from other candidates.

It is essential for those looking for a job to practice their answers for an interview. What is your go-to interview question and why? 

Melanie: I like to ask about specific examples or specific times from the interviewee's past. The sharing (words and tone) from happenings in the past can shed light on attitude and motivation, and of course, it can also shed light on their problem-solving approach for the future. The interview panel can then peel back the answer a bit more for more context. The question would be something like this "Tell me about a time when you identified an error" or "Tell me about a time from a specific situation where the outcome wasn't what you anticipated." You'll notice that I didn't put this as a negative or positive, so the panel can determine the tone projected by the interviewee.

Casey: On their phone screening, I love to ask, "Why should we interview you?" This question helps me understand how passionate they are about the job and summarizes how their skills and experience can benefit our organization.

Maria: Tell me about yourself: With this question, I seek to hear a combination of past work experience, present work, future career goals, and skills as it relates to the role the candidate applied for. The answer to this question can demonstrate how well a candidate prepared for an interview.

Learn more: Check out our infographic on interviews.

how to prepare for an interview infographic

Communication skills continue to be the most sought-after or mentioned soft skill. Can you provide some examples of an employee using effective communication skills? And, what are you looking for in a candidate's response when you ask them about their communication skills in an interview?

Nicholas: A candidate appears to have good communication skills when their answer relates not only to what was asked but to the deeper level of what was asked, or to other comments that patterned throughout the interview. It shows that the candidate is listening to the conversation, making the connections, and responding to the core of the conversation, not just reacting to the last statement or to the most recent thought in their mind that may be disconnected from the group discourse.

Melanie: We want employees who can tactfully and effectively communicate (verbal, written and let's not forget listening and body language) with their internal and external customers. Here are a few examples of effective communication I've seen in our employees.

  • Listening -Practicing the repeat back method after active listening ensures mutual understanding and following action items. 
  • Slow to speak and fast to listen.
  • Proofreading any written communication – I always like to share that we should never write anything we don't want a jury or judge to read on the stand one day, so proofreading is essential. 
  • I've had many employees call and say, "I started to type an email but decided phone may be best." If the message gets lengthy, or you feel the need to type LOL or a smiley face, consider making it a phone call instead.
  • Uncomfortable conversations – I like to share that it's important to bring up heavy topics quickly. For the benefit of those we communicate with, get to the point. 
  • Body language and other non-verbal communication are often just as important as verbal communication. Body language, whether positive or negative, is picked up in the first few seconds of being around someone. I often witness our Business Service Specialists smile and stand when a borrower comes through our doors. This is impactful body language that makes lasting impressions!
  • I would remind interviewees that we are looking at their body language and non-verbal signs just as much as the verbal.

Casey: Communication skills are very important. We are looking for candidates to show us active listening, empathy, and non-verbal communication skills. We want to be sure that employees can communicate well with our borrowers, their manager and their team members.

Maria: Communication is an essential skill to have in today's workplace. Employees must convey their message through different channels without misinterpretation or misleading others. 

  • Good communication skills are demonstrated by asking follow-up questions to ensure understanding of the message.
  • It is the ability to demonstrate non-verbal cues when interacting with others.

When I ask candidates about their communication skills, I seek examples where the candidate can address the following: 

  • Situation– address what happened
  • Task- explain the goal you are trying to accomplish
  • Action- the steps to resolve the issue 
  • Results- the outcome as the results of these actions

Learn more: Read up on some more communication tips!

Can you give an update on cover letter expectations regarding formatting, what they should contain and what you look for in a cover letter? Do you have advice for someone just starting with writing their first cover letter?

Melanie: I like to see creativity in cover letters and resumes, so I don't have a format preference, but an applicant should always open the document after upload to a company's applicant portal to ensure the formatting didn't get altered. Poor formatting is certainly not a foot in the right direction. I like to read why the applicant feels they are the candidate for the position and why they want to join the association. What skills, qualifications, etc., could make them stand out from others? Always ensure the cover letter states the correct business name and position. I tend to discount an applicant from the start if they didn't update those two items from the last place they applied. I also feel a well-written cover letter makes an applicant stand out from those who only submit a resume.

Casey: A cover letter is an excellent opportunity for candidates to introduce themselves to the organization and show how their employment could benefit us. 

Some guidelines for the cover letter:

  • Research the company and position
  • Include contact information
  • Highlight relevant work accomplishments in a way that focuses on the needs of the position in which you are applying for
  • Tailor the cover letter to the specific position
  • Check for spelling and grammatical errors
  • Make sure the cover letter matches the same format as your resume
  • Include a conclusion asking for the opportunity to meet or speak with the employer
  • Show enthusiasm for position and company

Participating authors:

Melanie Craig

Chief Human Resources Officer

Farm Credit of the Virginias





Maria Martinez

HR Compliance Specialist

Farm Credit of the Virginias





Casey Harvill

HR Recruiting Specialist

Farm Credit of the Virginias





Nicholas Sargent

Organizational Development and Talent Development Specialist

Farm Credit of the Virginias

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