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If you are a student applying to college or graduating soon, especially in the US, or a young professional recently in the workforce, here are a few top soft skills you should focus on developing to be successful either in the college or in the workforce. These soft skills will help you climb the corporate ladder unless you are someone who is a lot more focused on just technical work.
What are Soft Skills?
Put simply, soft skills are what happens once you jump off the resume and into a real-life conversation. It is easy to assume that a high GPA or X number of years’ experience at a prestigious firm is reason enough for a company to hire or promote you over another candidate.
It’s far harder to understand and cultivate the skills that go into every aspect of life–personal and professional–that cannot be measured on paper.
Soft skills could be something as simple as how you come across in a conversation with others or as complex and hard to quantify as your willingness to engage with complex problems that have unorthodox solutions and require curiosity, humility, and teamwork.
Why do Soft Skills Matter?
According to a study in 2014 by the Council of Economic Advisers (White House), 47% of millennials between the ages 25 to 34 have received a post-secondary degree. This indicates that most millennials are not lacking in the hard skills department, but what about soft skills?
Another study by the Stanford Research Institute International and the Carnegie Mellon Foundation found that 75% of long-term job success depends upon soft skills mastery and only 25% on technical or hard skills.
In the modern job market, most employers would argue that soft skills are just as important as hard skills. In most jobs, technical skills alone are not enough to be truly effective. A salesperson with an unrivaled knowledge of their product and market will have little success if they don’t have the interpersonal skills needed to close deals and retain clients.
Hard skills aren’t necessarily hard to acquire. They can be easily taught and can be learned and perfected over time. Soft skills are more challenging to develop, since they have little to do with knowledge or expertise, but are closely linked with a person’s character.
Modern business and customers demand strong soft skills. Strong soft skills ensure a productive, collaborative and healthy work environment, all vital attributes for organizations in an increasingly competitive world. With time, automation and artificial intelligence will result in a greater proportion of jobs relying on soft skills. Read more how automation, machine learning, and AI are creating jobs for liberal arts and humanities graduates (who possess strong soft skills).
Top 5 Soft Skills for Students, Millennials and Young Professionals to Achieve Career Success
1. Communication: Written and verbal communication skills are a must have for everyone. Colleges in the US look for these skills at the time of admission through the mastery of English language in school, second language grasp of students and the ability for students to write essays, statement of purpose etc. in the applications. Many colleges interview students to see their command and confidence to communicate and express themselves.
Strong communication skills also help in the job. As one of my professor at Harvard shared with me during our 1:1 conversation, “It is as important to tell the story as it is to craft the story“. As a professional, you can spend a lot of time drafting the story, doing all the analysis, but if you cannot communicate the story well, it may not achieve its desired results.
2. Driving Results: This skill is important and matters irrespective if you are a student or a professional. Why college admission teams look at a student’s GPA or grades is to see if a student not only has a technical grasp and mastery of each subject material but can they also get results. This is also a reason why companies look at graduating student’s GPA and grades. Most of the companies know the GPA has no relation to what a student will do at work, but they know GPA and grades are an indicator for hard work, commitment and a student’s ability to drive results.
3. Teamwork: Most of the jobs and careers require working in a team. This is a skill least taught in a school or college where you primarily focus on learning, taking tests and scoring grades. Unless you are working on a highly technical project, research or are a salesperson, you will be required to work with others to achieve your goals and deliverables. The more senior you get in your career, the more you will have to work with your peers across the department, teams to get things done.
4. Attitude: This is not something you are ever taught in a school or college. But this is one of the most important soft skills leaders like and look for. Even in college admissions, the admission team tries to read through the lines, through a student’s essay to see an applicant’s attitude. It is one of the reasons why school counselors or teachers guide students to write “positive” themed essays and answers than negative themes. A positive attitude can always win co-workers, overcome obstacles and build strong teams, while a negative attitude will always destroy teams, projects, and results.
5. Technical Aptitude: With technology becoming so pervasive in our everyday life, many companies and teams are looking for professionals who are comfortable with technology. They do not need to be an expert but should be able to comfortably work and converse with technology, social media, and mobile.
If you are a student in high school, college or a young professional, always work on improving your soft skills. They are as important as your technical strength. As you progress up your career, soft skills will become a lot more important than your technical strengths as companies look for leaders and managers, not individual contributors.
How to Improve Your Soft Skills?
Whether you want to be a better leader or better convey your desire to be a team player, there is one thing that all soft skills have in common. You have to let go of the sense that you prove everything with a printed resume. Instead, relax and focus on being yourself in phone screenings and in-person interviews.
Assume that if your resume is good enough to get you an interview, you don’t need to ‘sell’ it anymore. Instead, sell yourself by not selling yourself. At least not in the traditional, touting all your accomplishments. Good leaders rarely talk about how great they are and team players never dwell excessively on their own accomplishments.
Feel out the conversation and find opportunities to level the playing field. Focus on the person you’re talking to, ask questions about opportunities for collaboration, and explore the company’s future plans. This shows that you’re curious, forward-thinking, and flexible to change rather than demanding a rigid certainty.
Of course, simply simulating good soft skills will come across as insincere; that’s why you can’t read a quick how-to guide and suddenly be an expert leader. Instead, cultivate some qualities you admire by making a concerted effort over time. Believe that you can lead a team or share responsibilities with people who are younger and older than you. Harness your natural curiosity in a way that’s compatible with your career.
Online Courses and Soft Skill Training
Here are a few online courses that can help you to develop and improve your soft skills:
Customer Insights: New Product Development (University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign)
Customer Analytics (University of Pennsylvania)
Social Media Proficiency
Psychology at Work
Resume (CV) Writing and Interview Prep
Featured Image Source: efrontlearning.com