Startup Skills: Firming up your Soft Skills | Work In Startups

Startup Skills: Firming up your Soft Skills


This is the second in our mini-series on startup skills. Now that you’ve mastered your Hard Skills (having built your personal website from the ground up and mastered SEO), are you ready to crack those pesky soft skills?

Soft skills. What are they? Why are they important? How do you demonstrate them in your next startup or scaleup job application?

We’ve collated some of the best resources and tips for building up your portfolio of soft skills so you can perfect your startup CV.

What are the differences between hard and soft skills?

Hard skills (as we’ve discussed previously) are capabilities that can be tangibly proven through a qualification or direct experience. Soft skills (what we’re focused on here) fall into a more vague category, as they can vary from inherent abilities to personality traits. Things like: time management, organisation, leadership, team-work, confidence, people skills, communication, creativity, logic, motivation and ambition. They are often qualities as well as skills – which can make them hard to crack!

Startup hiring managers regularly say that they want to see a balance of hard and soft skills – when looking at a job description you may notice that there are more hard skills in a ‘must have’ section and more soft skills in the ‘nice to haves’. This is simply because it is harder to assess soft skills in a candidate! Employers may try to use competency-based interview questions to get at how tight your soft skills actually are (no prizes for guessing the topic of the next installment).

To really smash an interview or application you should recognise what soft skill your prospective startup employer is trying to assess and demonstrate it. To help we have some advice on how to build up your soft skills:

Remember: some of these skills and attributes come more ‘naturally’ to some and less ‘naturally’ to others. It’s likely that you will have a few you are already strong on, so maybe focus in preparing on your weaker skills just in case. Don’t worry though – all soft skills are developable, from any base!

  • Organisation and Time Management – So you’re armed with some examples, try experimenting with different methods of organising your current work life and task management (and recount how you apply these to projects). Some examples people at our office use are; running to-do lists (written and on apps), ‘blocking’ tasks into a calendar and using all-inclusive productivity software like ClickUp (they also have a great blog with tips on this topic). Your system needs to be flexible to account for a sudden task, day-to-day operations and planned projects.
  • Leadership and Teamwork – Regardless of personality type or inclination, being able to point to examples of your strengths in both of these distinct areas is pretty key. On the leadership front, try and identify two or three clear projects or workstreams in your past where you were having to make key decisions – it doesn’t have to be where you simply managed a team of people! While there’s no nifty app or article we can suggest for building your overall team skills – just get stuck in! Come armed to your interviews with a few clear examples of big and small teams you’ve been part of, and where your efforts helped another team member solve an issue or develop their own workstreams.
  • Communication – There are two sides to  good communication skills; what you say, and what you don’t say. When expressing yourself either vocally or via email to the hiring manager, make it as concise and clear as possible (think along the lines of bullet points). No-one wants a novella in their inbox at 9am! Same goes for your CV – keep it on a single page if you can and make it really easy for the startup to see your key experience and selling points!
  • Creativity and Problem Solving – Providing unique and creative viewpoints or strategies when problems arise at work is tricky. Some people can churn out a continuous stream of golden ideas seemingly from nowhere. However, most of us need a good basis of knowledge to inform proposals. We recommend reading around your industry! Given that you’re here and clearly tech startup or scaleup focused, check out our post on staying up to date on startup news or follow our Twitter where we regularly post interesting industry-specific content.
  • Motivation and Ambition – the reason we’ve put these skills last is because they should really come together after nailing everything else. If you’re well-informed on your industry, able to effectively engage with those around you, manage your workload and seize opportunities… you’re set! Building on this, you can tighten up “where you want to go” by following the success stories in your industry and how the best and brightest got there. We regularly feature up-and-coming startups on our channels, most recently the coolest female startup founders if you want some inspiration! Bear these paths in mind and come to your interview with a rough plan for the answer to the dreaded “where do you want to be in 5 years?” There’s a strong chance it will come up!

After both these posts you must be ready and able to start smashing some startup interviews! Get the ball rolling by checking out some of the hottest startup jobs going.

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