Understanding the importance of skills for interview success
During interviews, employers are trying to uncover your skills and how they relate to a position. Knowing how to answer skills-based questions demonstrates that you have the experience and knowledge to deliver results in a role and can help you stand out from the competition.
Let’s dive into the importance of practicing for interviews, why employers ask skills interview questions, and the most important skills you should mention during an interview.
Why do interviewers ask skills questions?
Many companies now use automation in their initial screening process, which means software scans resumes or applications for key terms to determine if a candidate meets the minimum criteria for a job. But saying that you have the skills required to get to the interview round, and actually having relevant experience are two very different things.
If you want to hone your interview skills and get more job offers, you first have to master the art of explaining how you have used a skill to achieve a result. That, in turn, helps the interviewer evaluate your suitability for the role, your strengths and weaknesses, and how you might fit within the team.
Determine suitability for the role
The main reason for asking skills questions is to learn whether or not a job seeker is a good fit for the role. If you poured over the job description and researched the company before the interview, it should be easy to answer these questions since most employers include the specific skills relevant to their roles in the job post.
To impress the interviewer, make sure your answers mention the soft and hard skills relevant to the role. Back your responses with real-life examples of situations where your skills helped deliver results for your employer.
For example, many job seekers embellish their foreign language abilities and suggest they are conversational or fluent in a language when they really just took a few classes in high school. Someone who is truly fluent and can use a language in a business setting could offer an example like, “I negotiated three contracts in Mandarin, totaling $3.5 million in value for my last company.
Identify your strengths and weaknesses
Employers can also use skills-related interview questions to assess strengths and weaknesses relative to the position. As a candidate, you should determine the essential skills required for the role, and craft your answers to position yourself as the ideal person for the job.
If you’re applying for a sales position, the skills you should mention in the interview might include applicable software programs you’ve used in managing your client base or negotiation skills. Be prepared with quantifiable data on how you have used those skills to meet or exceed goals.
The best way to answer questions about your weaknesses is to contextualize how you manage them—or like to be managed—to perform effectively. That can also help the interviewer and hiring manager determine if you’ll be a natural addition to the team. If you’re easily distracted by the constant ping of instant messages and email alerts, that might mean explaining that you need blocks of uninterrupted time to produce your best work.
Determine if you’re a culture fit
Employers need to gauge if you would succeed within the organization. A candidate should have the right mix of personal, fundamental, and teamwork skills.
If you’re an extrovert applying to a company that prioritizes individual contributors over teams, you may not be a great culture fit—and that’s okay. Culture needs to be a fit for both the company and the candidate, so this can also be an opportunity for them to learn more about how the company operates.
Top skills to mention during an interview (with examples)
Here are eight of the most desirable skills to mention in an interview, along with examples of how to include them in an answer.
Excellent communication skills are vital in any job. Your answers should demonstrate your ability to deliver information clearly and concisely. Talk about verbal and nonverbal communication skills relevant to the role, including writing, active listening, and presentation skills.
Example answer: I’ve always prioritized communication and becoming a more effective communicator. I continue to take writing and presentation courses, and I am one of the best at creating and delivering presentation decks at my current company.
2. Business acumen
Show off your knowledge of the industry, as well as your understanding of the organization’s mission and vision, the markets it serves, the competition, and the strategies for generating revenue. Business acumen or commercial awareness skills are especially vital in sales and other customer-facing positions. Researching the company will turn up insights that will help you use this skill to your advantage in an interview.
Example answer: This company serves a hyper-specific niche with fierce competition. In my experience, most players in the industry are trying to reach the market through social media. I believe a more conservative approach is more productive. In my previous role, I was able to customize prospecting methods to sign more clients and increase our business by 15%, despite the stiff competition.
3. Collaboration or teamwork
Teamwork and collaboration skills are also vital for success in any position, especially for roles that require working as part of a team. Most roles require regular work with fellow contributors. Emphasize your ability to build and maintain positive working relationships for the benefit of the organization.
Example answer: I value teamwork and enjoy working with others. In my previous role, my supervisor depended on me to organize the team’s work schedule and assign tasks based on each individual’s skills and experience. I can work independently, but I thrive when I’m working with like-minded people toward a bigger goal.
Employers value highly-adaptable employees, and they succeed in a wide range of roles and instinctively pivot to find solutions when situations call for them. In fast-changing business environments, flexible workers help their organizations turn roadblocks into opportunities.
Example answer: I’m a very flexible person. Regardless of the situation, I always strive to get results. For example, last year, one of my contractors backed out of our contract in the middle of a project. As the project lead, I already had a backup plan, and we were able to switch to a new vendor to meet our deadline. We delivered on schedule, and that helped us secure a new, larger deal with the client.
5. Problem solving
Companies value employees who can solve problems because they can identify potential opportunities before others. Great problem-solvers make outstanding leaders because they are adept at helping the company manage difficult situations. These employees take initiative, are innovative, and understand their organization’s vision.
Example answer: My current team thinks of me as the go-to person for solving problems because I’m good at modeling multiple solutions to determine the path to the best result. I’ve also got a deep bench of contacts and colleagues within the industry, so I can quickly build a team to execute a new strategy.
Optimistic employees are assets to their companies because they learn from setbacks and use challenges to grow and support their peers and organization.
Example answer: My positive attitude has always helped me overcome problems. For instance, a client once rejected the work I did because of an internal dispute at their company. I was able to market the same project to another client and only had to change a few parameters to meet their specific requirements. For me, challenges are just a tunnel to new opportunities, so I always focus on getting to the end of the tunnel.
An organized employee can prioritize effectively, work efficiently, and meet deadlines. Interview skills answers about organization should highlight how you manage time and prioritize projects.
Example answer: Early in my career, I had a boss who was a stickler for protocol. Everything had to be done in a certain way at a specific time. My time with her helped me appreciate the importance of organization, and I still get more work done in less time because of my time management and prioritization skills.
Whether you are applying for an entry, middle, or senior role, employers love employees who can lead others. Leadership skills include the ability to delegate, assign tasks, set deadlines, motivate and support, and provide constructive feedback to colleagues and team members.
Example answer:As a mid-level manager, I provide motivation and feedback to my teams, and help eliminate obstacles that hamper their productivity. Happy employees stay at a company longer and produce better work, so I make an effort to acknowledge and reward excellence.
Other good skills to mention in an interview
Here are six more in-demand skills to mention during an interview:
Negotiation and persuasion skills are essential in roles related to sales and customer service. A good negotiator should have solid communication and interpersonal skills, and a deep understanding of the industry.
When talking about confidence, it is important to be assertive without sounding arrogant. Emphasize your ability to make decisions and own them.
Companies want workers who can confront challenges without losing focus. Your answer should demonstrate you can persevere and dedicate your skills and strength to the company during hard times.
People who are self-motivated rarely quit before they get results. Self-motivators require less of their managers’ attention to finish projects.
13. Ability to work under pressure
The ability to work under pressure shows you can deliver in less-than-ideal situations, and you won’t lose your focus or become overwhelmed. If you are applying for a role in a high-stress or fast-moving industry, this skill is essential.
14. IT skills
Most jobs require at least basic IT skills, including the ability to use and trouble-shoot documents, spreadsheet software, and social media tools. Explain how you used IT skills and tools in previous roles, using real-life examples to support your answer.
Even when you’re not actively looking, it’s important to keep practicing good interview skills. You never know when your dream job might come up, so stay prepared.
Ready to find your next job? Sharpen your interview skills by reviewing common interview questions by job title or company