Want hiring managers to swoon over you? First, you have to figure out exactly what makes you so awesome at what you do.
Many job seekers have a hard time taking a step back, looking at themselves in the mirror, and scrutinizing what they see. If you’re not sure what to look for, how exactly are you supposed to stand out from the zillions of other candidates? And we’re not just talking about your job interview attire—we’re talking about reflecting on your professional skills.
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself what makes you so awesome at your job? More important: Have you ever adequately answered that question?
The vast majority of job seekers don’t think through what skills they bring to employers. And, among those who do take stock of their career skills, many underestimate or overestimate their skill set. Neither scenario is a good look, but the former could remove you from the running sooner.
Not only do you risk failing to make it past the initial screening stages if you lowball yourself, but if you underestimate your skills, you might also undercut your value.
So what exactly are you good at that would make a company love to have you on their team? Take these six steps to make an accurate assessment of your career skills.
Looking for a good starting point? Make a list. Refer back to the job posting of your current position, and see what skills were mentioned as requirements. Most likely, you’ll find it easiest to pinpoint hard skills, like computer literacy or fluency in a foreign language, because they’re the things you’ve learned through schooling or training, and are often tied directly to your work experience or degrees and certificates you’ve earned.
But when writing down your hard skills, it’s important to drill down to specifics, says Kathy Robinson, founder of Boston career-coaching firm TurningPoint. For example, instead of just telling a hiring manager that you’re proficient at Excel, talk about what Excel tools you’ve mastered. Do you know how to create pivot tables? Build macros? Write formulas? The more specific, the better.
Now it’s time to go beyond your technical know-how. Some of the most important professional skills can’t be taught in a classroom or measured on paper. These soft skills include analytical thinking, verbal and written communication, and leadership. In fact, research from the Society for Human Resource Management found that employers actually care more about soft skills than they do technical abilities like reading comprehension and mathematics.
Think about what soft skills are in your repertoire, and focus on how you’ve applied those skills. How have you proved yourself to be a team player? How have you resolved conflict with co-workers? How do you adapt to unexpected challenges?
A good indicator of your professional skills, says Jansen, is how managers have appraised your performance in the past. When reading old performance reviews, pay attention to not only your strengths but also your weaknesses—and think about what steps you’ve taken to improve in those areas.
Hartman recommends speaking to former managers to see what skills they think make you a top performer. (Current and past co-workers can also be good sources.) One of the best things you can do to impress a hiring manager is to use feedback from other people that endorses your skills.
One warning: You shouldn’t be soliciting feedback from your office bestie. Find sounding boards that you can turn to for honest feedback on your performance.
A number of employers today are asking job candidates to take behavior or personality tests like DISC or Myers-Briggs. These self-assessments help you understand your interests, emotional intelligence, values, personality traits, and motivations. As a result, you’ll be ahead of the curve if you take some of these tests on your own.
Once you have a comprehensive list of your skills and some anecdotes of them in action, it’s time to apply them to the needs of companies hiring. You can do that by looking at job postings, specifically from companies and organizations that are at the forefront of your industry. You can find postings in your career field by searching for jobs on Monster. Note which skills frequently show up in ads and see where your own professional skills overlap. This will give you a good indication of which of your skills you should highlight on your resume and in your cover letter. Customize your resumes and cover letters for each new job ad you apply to, making sure to use the same keywords that the companies do.