You are attending college to master the information you need to be successful in your future career. True. But you should also be focusing on what many call “soft skills” such as effective communication and critical thinking to develop all of the qualities employers are looking for in recent college graduates.
A recent survey done by The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) describes the 10 most desired skills employers are looking for when they hire new staff. In the 2013 NACE survey, 93% of those surveyed agreed that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.” The possibility to develop these leadership and interpersonal skills are built into college curricula, and students would be wise to take advantage of these opportunities, while simultaneously training for their chosen career field, no matter what their major.
Why are “soft skills” important to employers? Because they are an integral part of any successful business or organization. To be an effective, productive member of the staff, regardless of the degree you earned or the industry you are in, employees need to add value to what they offer their employer by being a savvy, proactive member of the team. Below you will find the top skills that employers are looking for outlined. You may be surprised by some of the items you find there.
1. Teamwork skills Due to the expansion of the global workplace, employees must be willing and able to work effectively as part of a team, especially with others who are different from themselves. Every industry now collaborates with other companies around the world to provide their goods and services, which means that employees must be able to put aside any pre-conceived notions of people of other ethnicities, religions and cultures, as well as personalities. Being able to prove that you are a team player—someone who can effectively work in a team of differing personalities to reach a goal without allowing your ego to get in the way—will go a long way towards getting hired in and moving up the company ladder.
2. Leadership skills Being able to effectively lead or motivate a team is of great consequence to businesses of all types. Employers look for job candidates who take the initiative on projects without alienating others. Many jobs will require employees to work in groups, who together, complete a large project. Focus, empathy, self-confidence, decisiveness and optimism are just a few of the qualities that true leaders have that you should develop while in college. Even though you won’t have a lot of professional experience, you can work on these skills through group and academic opportunities that present themselves.
3. Written Communication skills Written communication skills are required for most any job. Although students write a great deal in college, employers are still having a difficult time finding job candidates who can express themselves well “on paper.” Regardless of the types of writing that are needed in the field, such as reports, proposals, and even emails, solid writing skills set candidates apart! The ability to write well is even more important in our global workplace, since much of our communication is done electronically in written form. Those whose writing includes grammar mistakes, spelling errors and awkward sentences will find the job market a challenge. Take the opportunity while in college to fully develop strong, formal writing skills. They will be even more important in the real world than they are in school.
4. Verbal Communication Skills You may have the gift of gab, but can you ensure your listeners get the true message you wish to send? Many jobs offer the chance to speak with clients and influencers in the field, so it is essential that you prefect this talent early on. Because so much of our communication now is done via technology, verbal communication skills have deteriorated, even in those who are educated. But clear, formal speech is something that, while some find more natural, all can develop with some effort. Being able to change the tone and vocabulary used in different work situations is also a part of being able to provide clear information and persuade listeners to your way of thinking. Consider taking a speech class while in college and then use what you learn when you speak with professors and other authority figures to get practice.
5. Critical Thinking Skills The ability to think through complex problems is a requirement for all employees across all fields. Employees often see just their part of the process, but need to understand the “big picture” as well so they can critically think problems through to come up with viable solutions. College is often the first time students are asked to critically think, unfortunately. Focusing on building this ability at every opportunity, rather than just trying to get through school to start your career, is one of the best things you can do to increase your future job prospects.
6. Problem Solving Skills Analyzing a problem and coming up with a workable solution is a life skill that every individual needs to make smart decisions. This is also true in the workplace. An employee with finely-developed problem-solving skills saves companies and organization time, and therefore, money. Because of this, job recruiters are always on the lookout for individuals who can define problems, generate alternatives and implement solutions for the company. During college there are a multitude of
opportunities to build this trait. Not only will you be asked to do this academically, but you will also be living on your own for the first time, which means you will be in charge of problem-solving everyday issues that you may not have had to worry about before. Take advantage of this time to ramp up these skills before graduation.
7. Big Picture Thinking Skills It is great to be able to break down problems or projects into pieces to easier analyze, yet it is just as important to be able to envision the problem or project in its entirety also. As mentioned earlier, because projects now often get completed by workers in different offices, and even different parts of the world, employers need employees who can work on their own piece of the “puzzle” within the framework of how their innovations will impact other aspects of the project. Being able to show hiring managers that you can think globally will benefit you greatly during the job search.
8. Creative Thinking Skills Businesses and organizations are in stiff competition with their rivals and are therefore always looking for innovative ways to improve their branding, marketing, products and services. The ability to be creative and innovative in solving problems is a highly-regarded trait that is needed in any field, even those that are methodological or technological. Find ways to not only problem-solve in your college life, but seek out ways of solving problems with out-of-the-box thinking that provides creative solutions.
9. Knowledge Applicability Skills While in college you are presented with a great deal of theory. Theory is important; it is the foundation for a true working understanding of your field of study. However, employers need workers who can apply the knowledge they have acquired in real world situations. It may be a challenge to practice applying what you have learned before you complete your degree, but you should grab any opportunity you find to develop this skill. No matter what your major, you will be required to use the theory, techniques, strategies and formulas you have learned to arrive at solutions that are applicable to the problems you confront in your job.
10. Strong work ethic Last, but certainly not least, employers rely on the work ethic of their employees to stay in business. These moral principles are vital for each position in the business or organization, and cannot be too strongly emphasized. Qualities such as honesty, commitment to quality, discipline and sense of responsibility can build or break a career because companies and organizations are defined by their employees’ dedication to providing outstanding and trustworthy products and services. Developing a strong work ethic is definitely something that can be done while still in college. Doing your very best in your academics and extracurricular activities will help you build a work ethic that you can stand on throughout your career.