Hard Time Getting Hired? Strengthen Those Soft Skills!

Soft-skillsThe recent graduate with a Science degree asks, “Why does it work?”

The recent graduate with an Engineering degree asks, “How does it work?”

The recent graduate with an Accounting degree Asks, “How much will it cost?”

The recent graduate with a Liberal Arts degree asks, “Do you want fries with that?

That’s an old joke. And admittedly one that Liberal Arts majors (and their tuition-paying parents) may not think is funny. The reality for college students, however, is that this joke could apply to almost any major – especially in the recent job market.

As a Communications degree holder myself, I remember hearing that joke from my friends who were pursuing more specialized degrees like Engineering and Business. Looking back, I’ve gained some “Real World” perspective on all of our degrees… and here’s what I’ve realized:

Most employers don’t care about your major… if you’ve mastered the soft skills they covet.

The truth is, unless you’re in a highly specialized field like medicine or nuclear physics, your college major has no bearing on your career.  And to be honest, for most majors, your GPA doesn’t matter either. (Yes, that’s right. Read that part again.)

What really matters to most employers (especially at start-ups and small businesses) are your “transferable skills” – abilities like multi-tasking, customer service, concise writing, effective speaking and negotiating. Also known as “soft skills”, and usually developed outside the classroom through experience, these in-demand traits can be applied immediately to various jobs in most any industry; your new employer doesn’t have to spend time or money training you.

Internships at start-ups and small companies are a fantastic resource for developing transferable skills early in your career. The short duration of a typical internship, combined with the “wear many hats” nature of a company with a small staff, provides exposure to many professional requirements.

As you work to build your transferable skills, follow these “best practice” suggestions:

Be Flexible

Look for internships that require you to develop several skills sets. For example, say you’re interested in social media. Of course you’ll want to apply for social media internships. But don’t limit yourself – find internships that also require related skills such as copy editing, analytics and marketing strategy.

Complete Internships Early in Your College Career

The more high-quality internships you hold, the more opportunities you’ll have to develop a wide range of soft skills, learned through a diverse range of mentors, colleagues and company cultures.

Practice Developing Relationships

Deliberately network with people in management, in other departments, and with vendors and customers. If you’re on the introverted side… remember these are people that have your development, as an intern and a team member, in mind. They are there to help you, and most will welcome the opportunity.

Develop a Mentor Relationship

To create a mentor environment, ask your assigned supervisor to objectively, and regularly, critique certain aspects of your skills set… your writing skills, for example. Review the feedback constructively, and then focus on your areas of weakness.

Share Your Knowledge

As an intern, perhaps you won’t have as many years of “Real World” experience as your supervisors. But you may be more advanced in certain skills such as social media, technology, and online services and software. Offer to share your knowledge with them. You’ll get practice in “reverse mentoring”, or teaching … a highly sought-after transferable skill.

The important take-away is this: even if you do have a career path in mind, don’t “pigeon hole” yourself into a narrow group of positions early in your career development. Today’s young worker can expect to have four or five different careers throughout their professional lives – often in completely different industries. You might start out as an Accountant, then discover your love for mixing ingredients is more enticing than integers, and become a Chef. Bitten by the entrepreneur bug a bit later, you may then become CEO of your own restaurant group (where those accountant skills may again come in handy!)

By developing a wide set of transferable skills early in your career, you become more desirable to employers – often regardless of industry. When the recruiter sees these skills, and compares them to your competition, you’ll be seen as the candidate who will ramp up quickly in a new job – with little or no training.

Get your next internship or job – through your strong soft skills!


Dave_AuthorAbout the Author: Dave Ellis is an original member of the YouTern team and is instrumental to its success… in fact, he’s so awesome there wouldn’t be a YouTern without him (and he might have written this bio himself). Dave serves as YouTern’s Content and Community Manager, and enjoys his role as the company’s “Man Behind the Curtain”. In his spare time, Dave volunteers, rescuing and rehabilitating sea lions and baby elephant seals. Connect with Dave on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter!




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