Interview Insights: Tell me about your soft skills.

This question came up for a recent client who was a consultant for McKinsey and was looking to transition into a general management role within an energy start-up in Boston.

There were no questions related to his critical thinking skills nor his ability to crack a case study but the fact that he had spent his career consulting in the technology space raised some red flags that he hadn’t anticipated prior to partnering with me.

Why red flags?

He was an analytical genius.

Employers wanted to make sure he was a well-rounded employee with similarly refined soft skills.

Could he tackle workplace issues delicately?

Was he able to coach his team?

My client felt confident about his technical prowess along with his analytical skills. Yet, he hadn’t reflected on his soft skills and that’s where we began our engagement.

I did an inventory on his core competencies as it related to his desired employer and their needs.

He was able to check the boxes. He could lead a team from a distance. He was able to manage up. He was quite savvy at handling tough conversations. My task was to help him crispy articulate these skills if he was ever asked the question during a behavioral interview.

Here is a simple framework that anyone can use to answer this question:

  • In what instances have your interpersonal skills been complemented?
  • In what situations have your public speaking skills been leveraged?
  • How do you build a rapport with higher ups?

One possible way to answer this question when your technical skills are outshining your softer side:

I’ve worked through many client engagements that have required me to leverage my ability to engender trust. It’s an intangible skill that I bring to the table and it has helped me partner with various executive leaders across a spectrum of personalities. For example, I recall bearing bad news after a nine month assignment in Minneapolis when I uncovered that the firm had a number of inefficiencies and redundancies that would require lay-offs. Aside from sharing this with senior leaders I was also in charge of partnering with HR to fire 100s of employees before Memorial Day weekend. I could have hidden behind the numbers and pointed to the fact that their costs were too high and revenues too low. However, rather than use that data as a shield I emphasized with the fired employees and ensured that they each had outplacement resources as well as a plan in place to gain re-employment. I also recommended for aggressive severance packages and crafted the subsequent internal communications to prevent vital employees from quitting. I reinstated hope in the firm and am happy to report that since then the firm has improve their profitability by a large margin.

The insight is to catch yourself and call out the idea that you know data yet you are human. You understand that people need to be listening to and need support — if you can prove that you would be a strong leader who takes care of his people then you are ahead of the game.

The other point is never to assume that you are the perfect blend of skills — ask a third party about your areas of weakness because they may not be obvious especially if you’ve always excelled in a myriad of roles and settings.

Melissa Llarena’s craft is coaching top executives on how to strategically dissect and deliver the perfect job interview. Get instant access to a 20-page interview preparation kit that will give you an edge. Join the thousands who’ve read her career insights in Forbes and The Huffington Post. Follow her at @CareerOutcomes.