All sorts of terms are used when discussing these qualities or characteristics:
- soft skills
- core skills
- transferable skills
- employability skills
- generic skills
As you might imagine, along with this confusion of terminology comes a certain amount of variation in what people regard as the most important generic skills. But there is a great deal of overlap too.
I have reproduced below the advice provided to applicants by PwC (the big consultancy firm) to help them prepare for the selection process. This particular employer prefers to use the term ‘core competencies’ and groups them into 8 categories:
- Coach and develop yourself and others
- Communicate with impact and empathy
- Be curious: learn, share and innovate
- Lead and contribute to team success
- Build and sustain relationships
- Show you have courage and integrity
- Manage projects and budgets
- Be open minded, practical and quick to adapt
While PwC is looking to recruit the cream of the crop (and some of the advice below reflects this) there is much in what they say that makes sense for all kinds of recruitment situations involving organisations of a range of types and sizes.
1. Core competency: Coach and develop yourself and others
Have you ever changed the way you did something after getting feedback? You’re the kind of person who always wants to improve. So you’ll be able to show us how much you’ve done to develop yourself – and to help others do better too. Think about the things you’ve done well and not so well. And tell us about the times you’ve given other people constructive feedback that made a difference. Skills like these could come from a whole host of different areas. You might have mentored a student at your local school. Maybe you’ve set yourself standards that go above and beyond the demands of your studies, part-time job or voluntary work. Whatever the case, you’ll be passionate about development – and able to prove it. It’s about not being afraid to push yourself . Have you developed new skills outside of your studies? Have you done any work experience, voluntary work or developed a new skill? Have you pushed yourself to achieve things that go above and beyond? Have you taken the time to feed back to others?
2. Core competency: Communicate with impact and empathy
Can you think of a time when you made a point of taking on board different opinions, or tried to persuade people to your way of thinking? Wherever you join us, you’ll be working closely with all sorts of people. So you’ll need to be able to get your point across and bring others round to your way of thinking. And you should be just as happy to listen to others’ ideas and opinions. You’ll have no problem expressing yourself clearly both face-to-face and in writing, and that includes your application form. But more than that, you’ll have had the confidence to present to an audience. Or you’ll have written a document that made good things happen. You might have persuaded an organisation to sponsor a sports team. Or been a class or course representative. What’s important is that you have plenty of examples to draw on – and that you know how to bring those examples to life for us. It’s about getting your message across Have you written speeches, manifestos or business cases? Have you used your powers of persuasion to get funding or agreement for a proposal? Have you ever spoken in front of an audience? Have you created something simple for others to follow, such as instructions or a project plan? Have you presented to your class, club or society?
3. Core competency: Be curious: learn, share and innovate
Have you been to employer presentations or skills sessions to explore your career options? Do you like coming up with new ways of doing things? We hope so, because when you work with us, you’ll benefit from our commitment to life-long learning. You need to be ready to learn, share and innovate. That could be on a training course, collaborating with colleagues or coming up with new ideas or ways of doing things. So tell us how you’ve made the most of different opportunities to learn – especially those that fall outside your studies. You might have passed on your know-how to people you worked with. Or suggested a way to make something more efficient. Perhaps you came up with an idea for a new kind of fundraising event. Or took up an evening class. And the most important thing of all? That you’ll be committed to building on these qualities when you join us. It’s about looking at things differently When have you applied some new learning to achieve a goal? Have you shared what you know with other people you study with? Have you ever come up with a new and better way of doing something? Do you go to events at school that encourage knowledge sharing? Have you made time to learn something new outside of your studies?
4. Core competency: Lead and contribute to team success
If you like teamwork, you’ll like working here. And the better you can support, lead and get along with others, the further you’ll go. You could have picked up the skills to do this in many different ways – the most obvious being as part of a sports team, club or society. Or you might have tackled a course related project as part of a group or fitted into a new team at work. Just as importantly, you’ll need to think about the skills you brought to the team. Did you negotiate to achieve a common goal? Motivate other team members? Adapt your communication style? Resolve any group disputes? If that sounds like you, then you could be well on your way to joining our team. It’s about giving others a leg up Have you been adaptable in order to work better with others? Can you think of a time when you worked in a team to achieve a common goal? Do you know what qualities you can bring to a team? Have you ever had to overcome a sporting injury, and planned your comeback? Have you taken part in a voluntary project that relied on everyone pulling together? Have you led a group or team? Do you belong to a sports team, club or society?
5. Core competency: Build and sustain relationships
If you can build relationships, you’ll be better placed to measure, protect and enhance what matters most to our clients. Establish good rapport and not only are clients more likely to come back to you again and again; there’s also a bigger chance they’ll recommend you to other contacts. So naturally your ability to inspire loyalty and get on well with others can make a big difference to your career. There are lots of ways to show us you’ve maintained strong relationships with all sorts of different people – from keeping in touch with a contact you made on a work experience placement through to getting to know people on rival teams or clubs. It’s about getting on with everyone Are you a strong contributor at your local club or society? Did you make and maintain useful contacts on a work experience placement? Have you networked with people from other courses, schools or universities? Have you built good relationships with others? If so, how do you know? Did you take the time to get to know a customer, colleague, or even your boss, really well?
6. Core competency: Show you have courage and integrity
Honesty and integrity are absolutely vital in a business like ours. They’ll help you be open with your clients and the people you work with. And to deliver the best standards, adopt the right procedures and maintain the highest levels of confidentiality. What’s more, they mean if something’s not right, you won’t be afraid to say so. How can you show us you have these qualities? Maybe you were just as professional on a routine task as you were on a big project. Perhaps you used tact and diplomacy to calm a difficult situation. Or you’re the kind of person who always meets deadlines and isn’t afraid to speak up if you think something’s not right. It’s about being happy to speak up Can you think of a time when you worked well under pressure? Have you kept your cool when dealing with a difficult customer? Ever taken on a mundane task with real enthusiasm? Do you put 100% into every application form or task you’re asked to perform? Have you handled conflicts or differences of opinion well? Do you always turn up on time?
7. Core competency: Manage projects and budgets
Working with us means you’ll need to make sure that standards never slip. That means you could well find yourself juggling quite a few different priorities or turning to a back-up plan if a project doesn’t go quite as you expected. So you’ll need to tell us about how you’ve managed your workload, made sure you met deadlines or stuck to a budget, and how you’ve used your initiative to deal with the unexpected. How might you have developed those skills? Certainly through your studies. But it could be that you managed your finances to fund a trip. Looked after the funds for a club or society. Or organised a big social event for your halls of residence or year group. It’s about always having a plan B Have you looked after an organisation’s finances, such as being your club’s treasurer? Have you managed your money to achieve a long-term goal, such as a gap year? Have you handled lots of different pieces of coursework and deadlines at the same time? Have you ever adapted a plan as a result of a significant change? Have you juggled different priorities to meet an important deadline?
8. Core competency: Be open minded, practical and quick to adapt
You’ll never stand still at PwC. Because business and client needs change all the time, you’ll have to adapt to different ways of working and, through it all, remain 100% committed to delivering the highest quality work. So you must be able think on your feet and adjust to lots of different situations – without compromising on standards. You’ll always keep an open mind and you’ll be logical enough to work out the best way forward if you meet a last minute hurdle. The proof? Maybe you’ve covered for a work colleague at short notice. Coped well with an unexpected piece of coursework or exam deadline. Or taken part in a scheme like the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award that put you in a completely new environment. It’s about embracing change Have you tried new things that are outside your comfort zone? Have you picked up a shift at work at short notice? Have you put yourself in a situation you’re not used to? Have you taken on increased work or responsibility to help a co-worker or team mate? Have you taken on-board suggestions from others and done something differently? Have you adapted to changes at work or in your studies? Have you been happy to put in extra time to get things done?