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6 Soft Skills To Showcase During Software Engineering Interviews

Lindsay Zhou, Computer Science Career Services Assistant

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Soft skills are essential for anyone who wants to work in technology. Yes, even for the software engineers. The real challenge of software engineering isn’t any data structure or algorithm; it’s dealing with changing requirements and managing ambiguity — problems that require soft skills to handle. Lindsay Zhou is here to share with you 6 soft skills to showcase during your software engineering interview.

There’s not a single data structure or algorithm on this list

An oft-dreaded component of the software engineering recruiting process is the technical interview. During many technical interviews, you’ll be asked a coding question, and you’ll then have to write out code live in front of your interviewer. That’s a nerve-wracking process on its own, but another scary thing about the technical interview is that there are hundreds of different topics you might be asked, so you also have to cross your fingers that you don’t happen to get the one problem out of a thousand that stumps you.

Being good at technical interviews often requires dedicated practice because the types of questions you get in many interviews aren’t like the problems you tackle in real projects. As a result, some job seekers spend hundreds of hours on platforms like LeetCode to practice with various data structures, algorithms, and problem types.

However, technical skills aren’t all you need to land top tech roles.

 A 2019 survey showed that soft skills are the most sought-after skills by employers. The most desired soft skills include:

     

    While making sure your technical skills are up to par, it’s equally as important to let your soft skills shine through during the recruiting process.

    Why Do Soft Skills Matter in Technical Roles?

    Soft skills are essential for anyone who wants to work in technology. Yes, even for the software engineers. The real challenge of software engineering isn’t any data structure or algorithm; it’s dealing with changing requirements and managing ambiguity — problems that require soft skills to handle.

    You’ll work with a variety of different technologies over your career, and those are ever-changing. On the other hand, collaboration and communication skills remain necessary no matter where you go.

    Soft skills allow you to build networks

    The truth is many job searches often start way before an application is submitted. In fact, 85% of all jobs are filled via networking. No matter how good your technical skills are, you still need your application to get in front of the right eyes, and having a strong professional network opens a ton of those doors. Having a strong professional network requires you to have great interpersonal skills.

    Soft skills are crucial to working in a team.

    Team meeting

    Technical folks rarely work alone, and even if you are on a team all by yourself, your work doesn’t exist in a black box. Regardless of what your job title is, you’ll find yourself needing to communicate with your coworkers at some point, and being able to do that effectively is vital for productivity.

    Soft skills help you grow faster.

    Being able to listen, pay attention to details, communicate, think critically, work with others, and learn actively are all skills that enable you to learn more effectively from the people and problems around you. Soft skills also boost your chances of getting a raise or promotion.

    No technical interview is purely technical. While you’re working through a coding problem or answering questions about your technical background, there are dozens of soft skills at play.

    Here are ways to highlight those top six skills employers want to see.

    1. Listening Skills

    Throughout the recruiting process, you might get the chance to talk to a variety of people from the company, including recruiters and other employees. Pay attention, and use the information they share to ask deeper questions.

    For example, at the end of most interviews, you’ll have a few minutes to ask your interviewer questions. Your interviewer may have introduced themselves and told you what team they’re on or what role they have. You can ask specific questions about that team or role, which can not only be helpful information for you but can also show the interviewer that you actually listened to what they said.

    2. Attention to Detail

    After you receive your technical question, very rarely is it a good idea to immediately start writing code. Technical interview questions often have edge cases to consider, or they deliberately leave out some specifications that require clarification. Before diving in, ask clarifying questions.

    3. Effective Communication

    In a technical interview, not only do you need to be able to solve the problem, but you also need to be able to communicate your thought process to your interviewer. Talk out loud and explain how you’re making decisions. I always tell myself to “talk like I’m commenting code.” You don’t need to explain every detail but don’t make your interviewer stare at the code to figure out what’s happening. Give them enough information to follow your thinking.

    4. Critical Thinking

    Critical thinking is the ability to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information to form a judgment. This is a really broad skill, and it’s hard to show off in the short span of an interview. One way to give a glimpse of your critical thinking skills is to talk the interviewer through assumptions and decisions you made while solving the problem. For example, when you’re talking about edge cases, rather than simply asking your interviewer what should happen in those cases, propose an idea. Justify your idea, and then your interviewer can tell you if they want to see something different.

    5. Interpersonal Skills

    Even during a technical interview, there are plenty of ways to show off your interpersonal skills, and you don’t need to be an extrovert to do it. Your interpersonal skills come into play the moment you walk into the room (or join the call) for the interview. Greet your interviewer, and be friendly.

    It’s not always possible, but try to find something in common with your interviewer, too. I’m pretty sure one of the big reasons I made it through the first technical interview I ever had was because my interviewer and I hit it off by talking about pens. Being able to connect with your interviewer takes some luck — you need to get an interviewer who’s willing to connect — but if you can do it, it’ll make a big difference.

    6. Actively Learn New Skills

    This is probably the hardest of these six skills to demonstrate in a coding interview, so don’t stress too much if you don’t get the opportunity to do so. However, qualities like persistence can help indicate to an interviewer that you’re an effective learner. If you get hit with a tricky coding question, being able to ask the right questions to get unstuck can make you look even better than just getting the question right from the get-go.

    Final Thoughts

    Even the best engineers run across technical problems that they’re not familiar with, and lots of interviewers can understand if you have a technical slip-up during an interview. In an actual work environment, you’ll have access to tons of resources to help you solve your technical problems. Soft skills, however, can’t lapse. In the workplace, you’ll always be expected to learn, problem-solve, and work with others, and there’s no quick guide to doing so.

    Yes, you need a baseline of technical skills to get through the recruiting process, but what will really set you apart is your mastery of valuable soft skills like these.

    Hope this helps, and thanks for reading!

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