Don't forget the intangibles in your job search

Students and young professionals know the importance of mastering core skills to gain a job.

Students and young professionals know the importance of mastering core skills to gain a job. But a number of intangibles, such as your energy level and flexibility, may be determining factors in winning and keeping a job, according to PR leaders.

In the October issue of Positioning, an online newsletter produced by executive search firm Heyman Associates, 10 senior communication executives responded to the question, “What are the most important characteristics when making a hire in today's market?”

Not surprisingly, strong foundation skills like writing, verbal communications, design, and media relations capabilities were frequently mentioned. Social media skills were cited as being increasingly important. And half of the executives said that business literacy and creativity were important to better understand the marketplace and help organizations break through message clutter.

However, most of the executives also cited some intangibles – those elusive, hard-to-define, and difficult-to-measure individual characteristics – which they believe are crucial. They named a strong work ethic, initiative, sense of urgency in work, high-energy, flexibility to adapt and change, willingness to engage, and being a self-starter, among others.

Positive and negative intangibles are observable over time on the job, but to present these to a prospective employer is a bit trickier. You can include brief examples or anecdotes in cover letters. You also can suggest some intangibles in the work experiences, projects, and community involvement activities that you include on your resume or highlight on your professional Web site.

The best opportunity, though, is in an interview. There you can exude energy, engage with the interviewer, and describe specific projects or activities you completed that clearly demonstrate your initiative, work ethic, flexibility, and other intangibles.

As you go about developing your portfolio of requisite skills, reflect on your intangibles, too, and their importance in gaining and keeping a job. And remember, as the PR executives suggested, even in this economic climate, demand remains for strong communicators with great skills and positive intangibles.

Dr. Bruce Berger is Reese Phifer Professor of Advertising & Public Relations at the University of Alabama. Previously he was VP of PR at Whirlpool Corporation. His column focuses on PR students, young professionals and education. He can be reached at

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