Get the Real World Skills Employers Want

by David Nesbitt

Learn About the Soft Skills Employers Want, How to Build Them, and How to Show Them Off

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The job market is intense and competitive, and you need to find ways to differentiate yourself from the other candidates that are applying for the jobs that you want. How are you going to do this? You need to show that you have the skills that employers want.

Why Soft Skills Matter

Regardless of the type of role you’re applying for, employers want to hire candidates who not only have the technical skills necessary for a role, but also soft skills that will allow the candidate to contribute to the organization successfully. A recent study by Career Builder showed that 77% of employers say that soft skills are just as important as technical skills.

What Are Soft Skills?

Soft skills, or interpersonal skills, are non-technical skills that help you work and communicate effectively in many environments alongside a variety of people; these skills apply across all disciplines, so they’re helpful whether you’re an administrative assistant, an engineer, a doctor or a teacher.

A great way to stand out in your job search is by building the soft skills that employers want but struggle to find in applicants. In a survey of more than 704 employers, the Chronicle of Higher Education found that the skills employers have the hardest time finding are written and oral communication skills, skills in adaptability and managing multiple priorities, and decision-making and problem-solving skills.

So how should you set out to grow in these areas? Many students default to thinking that they need to do an internship to develop these soft skills, but there are many ways to develop these abilities while you’re still on campus! Let’s pick a few of these skills and define them more clearly, then talk about how to build them:

1. Communication
First, let’s talk about what kind of communication skills you should be building. It’s important to remember that, although writing papers for classes is helpful for building certain skills, it’s not the best activity to prepare you for communicating with others in the workplace. Many employers report that college graduates who come to work for their companies are lacking in their ability to communicate in a professional manner. To be prepared for the workplace, you need to develop practical communication skills like the ability to talk with teammates and supervisors personably and effectively, as well as the ability to write concise emails that clearly share information.

2. Adaptability
Employers want to hire employees who are able to adapt to changing tasks and environments, and who can navigate complex situations and accommodate differing perspectives in their workplace. Employees who have not developed adaptability skills may react poorly to being asked to work on something that’s not explicitly in their job description, or when they encounter new situations in their work that they haven’t faced before. Have you shown an ability to adapt in your past experiences? You can grow in this skill, but it’s going to require you to push yourself out of your comfort zone to new and unfamiliar situations.

3. Management
No matter what role or industry you end up working in there are going to be times when you have multiple priorities, responsibilities or people that you’re managing at one time. In these situations you’ll need to make smart decisions that take all of these factors into consideration. You’re also going to have to be able to work in teams and be ready to take a lead role when it’s needed. If you haven’t had experiences that have allowed you to build your skills in managing yourself and others, it’s time to find some opportunities to grow in this important skill area.

How to Build These Soft Skills

Now that you know why communication, adaptability and management skills are so important for employers to find in job candidates, how can you build these experiences while you’re a student, outside of doing an internship? There are many ways, but here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Join or start a student group, and get involved in leadership if possible
  • Find a job at your school where you will interact with colleagues and supervisors in a professional environment, like an academic office
  • Seek out opportunities to talk to professionals from your desired field of work to get used to speaking with them and expressing your thoughts
  • Go on a study abroad, or embark on some personal travel where you are challenged by being in an unfamiliar environment and required to navigate new situations
  • Take classes that will require you to work in groups, especially classes that have large capstone projects where you’ll work with a team over a long period of time, or take a business writing course
  • Find opportunities to work with students from different disciplines and backgrounds than you, whether that be in classes, student groups, or other activities

Don’t Forget to Find Ways to Show Them Off

As you seek out opportunities like the ones in the list above and build your soft skills, make sure to document what you’ve learned in a work on Seelio. Add photos, videos, and files to your work to show evidence of what you did, then reflect on the experience in your Description section to show employers how you developed skills in communication, adaptability or management. You can then come back to these works in the future before interviews to review your experiences and pull out details that you want to highlight in your interview or cover letter!