It’s well known that high-level qualifications, industry-specific knowledge and relevant experience are key factors that employers consider when recruiting and are often the deciding factor to whether a candidate is asked for an interview or not. But success isn’t just birthed out of these so-called hard skills. STEM professionals can often make the mistake of focusing too much on showing their technical and mathematical expertise, scientific mastery and data analysis in an interview without demonstrating what makes them different from the next candidate who has the same qualifications.
As the job market becomes more competitive, a fancy CV detailing the list of your academic successes will only get you so far. The interview provides you with a chance to show employers why they should hire you. Demonstrating your soft skills is what will enable to successfully do this.
What are soft skills and why are soft skills important?
Soft skills apply to any profession; they are the personal attributes that complement your hard skills. These include the approaches you take to your work and the ways in which you present yourself and communicate to others. Employers want to see candidates who can demonstrate strong teamwork, critical thinking, and leadership skills. They want to see how you can use your hard skills in a way that enables you to work efficiently in multiple work situations and can act decisively in times of challenge. Demonstrating this in an interview is crucial to help distinguish yourself from other candidates and show to the employer that you are the one they should hire. This blog will provide you with the key soft skills that companies want to see and how you can demonstrate them effectively during an interview.
Key soft skill examples
• Skilled communication
Close attention will be given to how your thoughts are translated and expressed during the interview. How you articulate certain points and make sense of the questions asked will be used to assess the adequacy of your communication skills and if they are enough for the position being offered. This is particularly important for professionals within life sciences as the industry is reliant on the transfer of complex data and science between a wide variety of people. Employers want candidates to demonstrate they are competent enough to communicate accurately and translate important knowledge to colleagues, stakeholders’ senior leaders, patients, government representatives, etc.
To demonstrate communication skills, actively listen throughout the interview and ensure your responses answer exactly what the questions are asking. Don’t interrupt the interviewer when they are speaking and respond clearly and concisely demonstrating your ability to effectively and coherently express your point.
• Problem-solving skills and innovative thinking
You may possess the right technical skills for a role, but how do you respond when challenges come your way? Are you resilient enough to be able to make fast data-based decisions? Companies want to hire professionals who can apply their knowledge and expertise in a myriad of situations, especially in times of hardship. They want to see that you are capable of confidently making strategic decisions without always needing managerial or senior level help. To demonstrate this, provide clear examples of times you have used your problem-solving skills successfully. Don’t just explain the result of the decision, explain the journey too. Detail exactly what the problem was, how you approached it and justify why you decided to take the steps you did. This will enable the employer to understand your thought process and the approaches you take to your work.
It’s also important to portray yourself as an innovative thinker in the interview. Do you have examples of when you applied both your analytical and creative thinking to make a decision that resulted in a successful outcome? Think of times when you have thought outside the box or taken an unconventional route, such as developing an alternative methodology for a certain process, or a new approach to translating or analysing data. By showing your innovation and creativity, it shows the interviewer you are reflexive and adaptive as a professional. These attributes are becoming critical within the life sciences due to the need to be able to adjust to constantly changing laws and regulations, the emergence of new products, new technologies, etc.
• Teamwork and leadership skills
Employers will privilege those who have efficient leadership skills and can work effectively within a team setting. Even if the role you apply to isn’t managerial, it’s still important to show how you can manage a team successfully. Most STEM roles revolve heavily around collaboration. Professionals learn from each other, share their findings, liaise with different specialists, and are required to communicate effectively with clients.
Interviewers will assess your ability to do this by asking questions such as ‘what makes you a good leader?’, or ‘describe a situation in which you have led a team’. Prepare some examples in advance where you have demonstrated these skills. This could be as simple as describing a time you contributed to an idea in a meeting that was taken forward. If you do have an example of when you led a team, explain how you created synergy and success within the group. How did you delegate certain jobs, monitor progress, and meet the required deadlines? Illustrate when you have helped other colleagues in times of need. Emphasising your interpersonal skills and showing that you’re a caring employee further demonstrates your ability to work well with others.
• Enthusiasm and passion
Employers want to see genuine interest and passion from candidates about the role and their organisation. They want to see that this is something you will put your energy and effort into and that you agree with the underlying values of the company. If you can show this, it will assure them that you will carry this enthusiasm throughout your career in the company and particularly when talking to key customers and stakeholders.
You can demonstrate your keenness for the role and company by building up a strong rapport with the interview panel from the start. Arrive early, intently listen to what they have to say, and actively ask questions throughout to get to understand and know about what the organisation entails.
In addition to this, you should prepare a strong, well-informed and persuasive answer to the common interview question of ‘why you think you are right for the role?’ or ‘why you want to work for this company?’. Make sure you have done adequate research about the organisation and understand their values and convey this in your answer along with demonstrating your passion for the specific role.
Soft skills are highly personalised and individual. Their subjectivity is what makes them paramount to demonstrate during an interview. It can be the deciding factor when two candidates of the same education and experience are in line for the same position.
Continue to develop your soft skills and take note of specific experiences where you have used and acquired key skills. Use these as examples during an interview to effectively demonstrate how you are more than just the qualifications and technical skills listed on your CV.
Our Pharma Partners team are experts in life science recruitment, and specialise in pharmaceutical physicians, medical affairs, R&D, and the pharmacovigilance space. You can take a look at all our roles here, or get in touch with use for a confidential discussion.