If you are seeking a key leadership role, of course, you need to have a solid understanding of the industry or sector of which your target company is a part. You’ll need hard skills that you’ve picked up along the way, including anything from marketing to finance or a dozen other areas. But in the end, hiring decisions are often made based on the “fuzzy” soft skills that are frequently difficult for a job candidate to define and showcase.
Whether you intend to lead a department, a business unit, or an entire company you’ll be well served by having an understanding of the current business landscape, roadblocks to growth, how to manage growth, how to inspire and lead your team, and how to represent your team or company in the larger context of senior leadership, and perhaps your Board, investors and the general public.
Underlying your chances to both attain and succeed at significant leadership levels will be the soft skills that distinguish you from your competition.
You are probably like your competition, but need to display your uniqueness.
You can bet that all your serious competition for the job will have backgrounds comparable to yours. You and they will likely proclaim similar skill sets on resumes and LinkedIn profiles. You and they probably have a pedigree from an Ivy League or another top-tier school.
Just as the challenge of every marketer is to differentiate one product from the rest of the pack, so yours is to highlight the facts that are uniquely yours as a product of your particular career path and accomplishments, and by extension the skills that enabled you to achieve the results you’ve attained in your career up to this point.
You and your competition will all claim to be strong communicators. After all, have you ever seen a resume boasting “mediocre” communication skills? The same goes for vague terms like leadership, planning, and collaboration. You’ll want to list skills in a skills section on your resume but don’t be content with just that.
Distinguish yourself by demonstrating how you have utilized your skills in your various resume bullet points. What has been your communication strategy? How have you built strong, effective and loyal teams? Build the case for the skills you need to demonstrate by showing how you’ve used them and the results you’ve obtained.
Figure out which skills should you highlight to show your unique value.
Which specific skills should you highlight? When you think of your resume as a marketing document rather than as a listing of everything you’ve done and every place you’ve done it, the answer begins to become clear.
Learn from the executive recruiters you are working with and the job postings to which you are applying. When discussing particular opportunities with recruiters, don’t hesitate to ask about the key skills associated with each opening. And when you don’t have a recruiter to ask, do a slow, deep read of the job description you see advertised.
For example, one random advertisement placed by a seeks someone who will “… collaborate with the Board of Directors, be responsible for the company’s operational performance and growth strategy, as well as drive efficiencies by providing management guidance, direction, and support to employees at all levels of the organization.”
Here, you find certain skills specified: collaboration, operations, strategic thinking. If you were applying to this position, you would want to feature these in the “Skills” section of your resume. But, that isn’t necessarily enough. Look at what lies behind these employer objectives and show what else you’ve got.
You would want to figure out clusters of skills around those that are mentioned. “Direction and support to employees” might entail other skills like mentoring, supervision, and resource allocation – each of which might be featured in their own bullet point in one or another of your positions.
Examine the overall “top” skills featured in key lists. Do a Google search for “top executive skills in 2019” or something similar and you’ll see that all kinds of news and other organizations have created their own lists of in-demand skills. Do you have them? Think about how to show off what you’ve done using these skills.
Check out what your competition is boning up on.
Udemy, an online learning platform, recently released its report of which leadership and management courses are selling at significantly increased rates this year over last. Skills that made the list include: conflict management, time management, stress management, customer service, emotional intelligence, personal productivity, storytelling and change management.
The Harvard Business Review noted that executive search consultants prize a “global outlook and meaningful international experience”, the importance of being able to work well with others in a team environment, and change management abilities are all key skills today.
What if you don’t have the key skills you need to get to the brass ring?
After you’ve perused the ads and done an honest self-appraisal, you may see that you come up short in one or a few key areas. Employers tend to value people who can admit to a weakness, and turn it into a strength. There are multiple ways to go about this process.
Depending on the strength you are trying to build, it may be something you can work on in your present job. Take on a new task or project that will enable you to gain the experience you need to build that skill.
Consider taking a course at a local college or online that will give you a greater perspective. There are any number of opportunities to learn about leadership, build your emotional IQ, and virtually anything else you can think of.
Check out sites like Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, and Udemy. Coursera overs over 3,000 courses from nearly 200 academic institutions. You can enroll in individual courses, or patch together a number of them to gain a specific certificate to attest to your newfound skills.
Through LinkedIn’s Learning, you can access over 100 courses on leadership skills, with over 30 courses on executive leadership, and a simple search on Udemy reveals 434 courses for executive leadership.
Employers value and seek leaders who possess intellectual curiosity and the commitment to continual self-improvement. When you take courses such as these, you continually add to or brush up your skills, and make yourself an evermore attractive candidate.
In the end, of course, the particular skills you as an individual need to showcase will be those that you have built up over the course of your career, in the context of the skills that your next employer will value the most. There is no one right skillset, but as you keep your eyes open in the employment marketplace and continue on the path of your own self-improvement, you will find the right fit in the place where your leadership will shine the brightest.