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I have an unusual problem in finding work. I have been in many interviews (over 10 in the past year), but none of them produced any job offers. However, the employers I've interviewed with are impressed by my resume and ability to solve the problems given to show that I would be productive.

This leads me to find an observation for most jobs that I apply to (mainly a hard-skills technical job). Everyone needs soft skills to survive the interview process. But for those more inclined for technical work, once the job is held, these soft skills are suddenly not as important or used with the same sense of urgency, or at least they're not the same type of communication skills. They feel underused in the job compared to the interview.

As an example, I do not know how to translate my ability to communicate well with co-workers on a long project into the ability to convincing interviewers and play the salesman for saying why I should get the job. Speaking to an interviewer to me feels a lot different and more difficult than speaking to a team member to discuss project goals. I consider then different kinds of communication skills. I probably don't know how make them work at an interview, so here is where I want improvement on.

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    Technical workers need soft skills too. If you think otherwise, you are completely mistaken. If you don't think you get to practice them, you either misunderstand what I just said or are blatantly ignoring the importance of communicating with your coworkers on the "hard skill" project work. – enderland Mar 15 '13 at 19:49
  • I implied that, by saying I communicate well with team workers in a project. However I do not find it the same as interviewing well. They feel like two different leagues of soft skills to me. – Chris C Mar 15 '13 at 19:51
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    Are you sure soft-skills are the reason you're not getting offers? Have you asked? Honestly, I've interviewed a number of technical candidates who are not nearly as good as they thought they were (either absolutely, or compared to other candidates). Beyond that, there are a bunch of reasons beyond soft skills to not think that you're a good fit for the team or environment outside of technical or soft skills. – Telastyn Mar 15 '13 at 22:56
  • Some companies have dedicated communication roles (filled by tech guys) around hard-teching people.Thoe either coordinate different team departments or talk to the clients about specifications etc. You could always say you see yourself in such roles. – Frank Hopkins Nov 11 '17 at 16:28
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The following is based on my answer here for a very similar situation.


You need to practice.

Seriously.

Unless interviewing comes naturally to you, you won't feel comfortable at all, and if your only opportunities to interview come in the actual interviews which happen infrequently, you'll never develop the skills to do so (especially if you don't feel confident in the first place).

So, to answer your question more specifically:

As an example, I do not know how to translate my ability to communicate well with co-workers on a long project into the ability to convincing interviewers and play the salesman for saying why I should get the job.

You need to practice answering questions and handling interviews. Do this in three steps.

  1. Find lots of questions like to answer. The Internet makes this really easy to find standard "soft" questions
  2. Write out short answers to them
  3. Have people (family, friends, Toastmasters, a rubber duck, or the wall) ask you them and get familiar answering htem

Many interviews of this sort (the soft types) are considered STAR interview questions. That article gives a good framework as to "how should I answer?" almost all questions like you describe:

  • Situation: The interviewer wants you to present a recent challenge and situation in which you found yourself.
  • Task: What did you have to achieve? The interviewer will be looking to see what you were trying to achieve from the situation.
  • Action: What did you do? The interviewer will be looking for information on what you did, why you did it and what were the alternatives.
  • Results: What was the outcome of your actions? What did you achieve through your actions and did you meet your objectives. What did you learn from this experience and have you used this learning since?

This turns it into a formula instead of an, "omg I have to figure out how to make the interviewer love me!" when all it really takes is answering many questions with STAR responses.


Now you might say, "but how do I develop these skills AT my job?"

Same thing. Practice.

You have tons of interactions with coworkers, whether small (git commit messages) or huge (large scale reviews) or email or whatever. Get used to thinking of all those interactions as important and focus on improving how you communicate.

  • Are you uncomfortable with email? Look at your habits and try to understand why.
  • Are you uncomfortable in impromptu meetings? Figure out why and fix it
  • Are you uncomfortable with large presentations? etc
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    And with the economy like it is, many people are probably getting loads more practice interviewing than they ever wanted ;) – Amy Blankenship Mar 16 '13 at 1:42
  • Big +1, for some strange reason people assume that social skills are somehow different from non-social skills in that they come naturally. To some extent they do, but like anything else you need practice. – MrFox Mar 18 '13 at 14:38
  • "This turns it into a formula instead of an, 'omg I have to figure out how to make the interviewer love me!' when all it really takes is answering many questions with STAR responses." Perfect. I was getting tired of thinking with questions like that. – Chris C Mar 19 '13 at 17:32
  • @ChrisC and eventually you can put a lot more thought into "how should I present this to really best emphasize my skills?" But most engineering types don't get to this point - ever - because on the whole, most engineering/softare types have a goal to simply survive interviews rather than absolutely dominate them. – enderland Mar 19 '13 at 21:27
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There are always ways to practice youre communication skills.

Be able to rattle off an answer to nearly any question.
As Enderland says, you can practice answering questions like these people do. These people not only practice answering questions, they practice answering the very kinds of questions you're likely to field in an interview. I suspect that they're not doing it to practice their soft skills, but you could take advantage of the opportunity to do that.

Join and take advantage of user groups
Are there any user or meetup groups in your area? Join several, so you're attending at least one meeting a month. This looks good on your resume, and it also gives you the opportunity to make small talk with other "techie" people. Many meetup groups ask everyone to introduce himself at the beginning of the meeting. Seize on this as an opportunity to practice your elevator pitch. If they don't do this, chances are it will come up if you arrive early and/or hang out afterwards to chat with other attendees.

If you can, volunteer to help organize. This raises your visibility--you may get to the point where interviews are just formalities anyway. If not, it's valuable practice in all kinds of useful skills.

Start actively thinking of things that you could present on. Organizers are constantly on the lookout for people to fill the schedule.

Other opportunities
If you live in a place without many such groups, you could potentially start one. If that's too much, look for opportunities you do have. Join the Chamber of Commerce.

Have a dog? Take it to Obedience Class. In many Obedience classes, there's a lot of down time while someone else's dog is being worked individually where you could strike up a conversation. Not only is training a dog a great object lesson in communication, competing in one of the many activities available is a perfect way to get rid of stage fright. And the politics of any sort of animal show are instructive.

Join a church choir, volunteer at a soup kitchen, talk to your neighbors, etc. Moonlight as a bartender.

In other words, when you open your eyes and look, there are tons of opportunities to improve your people skills. Get to it ;)

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While you may have an impressive resume and ability to solve problems, there are more than a few other pieces to the puzzle here to consider. For example, have you considered what kind of working environments you saw and how well your answers to various questions either aligned or misaligned with these environments? If a place is looking for a lot of collaboration yet in the interview it seems like the interviewer is pulling teeth to get more than a few words out of you this could be a sign of a problem. If you prefer to work alone with little interaction this could be much harder to find I'd imagine.

Similarly, have you considered the flip side of what questions are you bringing up in an interview and showing that you want to know more about the job and can have the interviewer imagine you in the job. Perhaps it is worthwhile to consider taping an mock interview to see if you actually look like what you think you do. Could be a good experience to have, especially with a friend to be the interviewer and afterward watch the tape and discuss how it went.

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