According to a recent LinkedIn survey, the soft skills that hiring managers want most include leadership, communication, collaboration, and time management. These are skills that well-rounded candidates have and companies prize. The problem is that soft skills are hard to spot when looking at a résumé.

Unlike technical skills, job seekers can't just list things like creativity and leadership under a "soft skills" section on a résumé. Or if they do list these things, hiring managers aren't likely to blindly believe that candidates possess these skills (where's the proof?). So how can you tell whether or not candidates have soft skills just from looking at a résumé? Here are some good indications.

Extra, Extra

Private high schools and elite colleges seek candidates that are "well-rounded." What this means, essentially, is that they look for students with the potential to lead or to become success stories. The way that these schools screen applicants is to find students who have spent time doing extracurricular activities such as volunteer work, unpaid internships, time spent as part of a sports team, etc.

In the working world, spotting a candidate who is well-rounded is only slightly different. Candidates who can demonstrate being a "whole person," noting that they spend time doing things outside of the office, are often the same people who work well with others.

Some of the things to look for include:

Continuing education focused on soft-skill development: Examples include compassion or mindfulness training, courses focused on team development, and classes that emphasize self-development.

Volunteer work: This can include any free time spent helping others, but some good examples are candidates who spend unpaid time fundraising, organizing charity events, working with people in need, or getting involved in children's school activities.

Team development: Group activities (sports, committees, etc.) do not have to stop at the high school or college level. Job seekers who spend time in communities tend to have better overall teamwork skills.

Internships: Newly graduated students who have spent time as interns learning about companies or trying to understand future employment positions demonstrate a desire to learn more and tend to be better collaborators. Candidates who actively seek internships have also learned the reality of a job or profession, which can make them easier to work with.

Mentors and mentees: Mentors literally spend free time helping someone else develop a strong sense of self. In turn, mentees actively sought out someone skilled to help with personal development.

Another good indication that a candidate might have cultivated soft skills is the way that a cover letter is presented.

Language Patterns and Cover Letters

Googling "cover letter template" results in millions of hits. Templates are the quick and simple way to send multiple cover letters to employers without much thought. But thought is often the missing cover letter element. The way a candidate frames a cover letter is a great indication of language and thinking patterns.

Templates are a shortcut to sending out hundreds of résumés, but there's something to be said about that too--does a candidate really want your job if they're hucking résumés across the internet?

Further, people who don't take the time to personalize a cover letter may not be the most creative thinkers, since most hiring managers (according to the hiring company Seek) only read a cover letter if it stands out. The candidate who knows this and takes the time to craft a personalized letter is one that's worth interviewing.

Cover letters that demonstrate the following framework tend to be written by candidates that possess soft skills:

Focus on the job: A templated cover letter won't mention many details about the company or job a candidate is eyeing. Someone who has taken the time to reflect on a position will indicate this clearly by noting the specific job title, remarking on company culture, or relaying ways they'd implement creative ideas.

Self-awareness: Cover letters should be engaging and start a conversation in a few paragraphs that include a candidate's clear and precise thoughts about the position. Candidates should note their downfalls in a letter and also indicate ways in which they are strongly positioned to do a job well.

Mental flexibility: There are always multiple sides to any situation or job position, and candidates with mental flexibility can discuss and elude to many of those angles (in addition to being open to alternate views not currently considered). One size never fits all when solving problems or creating projects.

Published on: Jul 20, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.