The importance of learning how to describe yourself starts at the very beginning of any job application process. First, you talk yourself up in private. (That's what gives you the confidence to apply for a job in the first place.) Next, you figure out how to describe this in writing, in a cover letter or a résumé. Then, if you're lucky, you get to explain everything in full during an interview.
"Since recruiters tend to look at résumés for less than 10 seconds, I believe most focus should rest on the candidate’s accomplishments and their top three to five most complex skills that relate to the job," says Shannon Breuer, the president at Wiley Group. "Those who load their resume mostly with interpersonal skills tend to lose the attention of the reader because it’s hard to assess the level of skills without accomplishments and results to validate them. Also, many new hires are expected to increasingly have a base of technical or specific industry skills, so not having them becomes a red flag."
Instead of randomly picking adjectives that sound impressive, think about the specific job, industry, requirements, and what skills might be important to perform well. Then, be honest about where your talents are and jot down examples of times you lived up to this professional ideal; that will make it easier to explain it concisely later in interviews.
Here are nine great attributes to start with:
1. Empathetic or Compassionate: Breuer tells Refinery29 this is a big one for people in service roles. Contrary to the saying, the customer is not always right — but they do always want to feel heard.
2. Tough Negotiator: Point this out if you are looking for a job in sales, Breuer says. You may assume it is a foregone conclusion, but there are plenty of people who are too embarrassed to ask for what they want or need. That's a no-go in a job like this.
3. Organized and Detailed Oriented: Going out for an accounting or project management role? Play this up, Breuer says. But remember: You don't want to lie (especially if the truth can be figured out very easily.) If organization isn't your strong suit, talk about another skill; don't play up your love of color-coding before the job if you'll have too-steep a learning curve later.
4. Collaborative Team Member: Vicki Choi, the director of HR at Course Hero, says this is a very important one for candidates. "Including interpersonal skills on your résumé is a great way to stand out and demonstrate that you align with our core values," she notes. If a position you are interested in involves a lot of teamwork, showcase your ability to go from working independently to brainstorming or implementing group projects.
5. Creative Problem Solver: Add this one if you're good at getting unstuck, Choi says. Generating solutions to problems can be just as important as doing a job well in the first place.
6. Communicates Honestly: Being honest doesn't mean telling people where they can go if they make you angry, or blurting out every thought that comes to mind. It does mean being willing to talk through any hurdles, even when they're uncomfortable. Work isn't always a cake walk. Many managers want to hire someone who doesn't shrivel up at the first sign of a difficult conversation.
7. Inspires Others: Choi is a fan of this skill. You may not consider yourself to be an optimist or know how to get people to shine when they're feeling down. But being good at building others up is an excellent skill for people who work in teams or are seeking managerial positions.
8. Transparent: Choi says she specifically looks for candidates who are "willing to be transparent about their successes, failures, and progress." That can come up at the very beginning of an interview — think of the "What's your greatest weakness?" question, for example. If you are proud of certain accomplishments, share them! If you are still working toward a few goals, explain what you are doing to get there.
9. Dynamic Speaker: Breuer says job seekers applying to lead large sales teams, or in a public relations role should include this on their résumés. If you are great at giving presentations, point that out. (And make sure to document your history of doing so in case the topic comes up in an interview.) Public speaking is difficult for many people. If you love doing it and are good at it, you can make yourself look like an even better hire.