Intellectual ability isn’t the only measuring stick for a successful career after college. According to many employers, soft skills—or the combination of social, communication, and personal skills—aren’t being taught in universities. In particular, students are lacking in teamwork, critical thinking, speaking, and writing, which is problematic to a cohesive team or even gaining employment. And although universities have a set curriculum that’s a necessity for any given major, these institutions should consider soft skills as an essential part of the classroom. But the onus of such an education can’t lie on universities alone. If you’re a student who lacks soft skills, use these tips to develop a soft-skill core to further your attractiveness as a job candidate.
1. Critical Thinking
Similar to problem-solving, critical thinking is a widespread approach to contemplate problems objectively and come up with a solution. Yet many college students can’t think critically about a problem. Whether it’s deciding on something singularly or refusing to see that there are several ways to come to a solution, the youngest workers often lack the ability. Therefore, critical-thinking skills are one of the best ways to attract potential employers.
Fortunately, critical thinking is a soft skill that’s developed with some tact and self-confidence. To develop critical-thinking skills, students should follow these tips:
- Think for yourself: Instead of following relative norms and ideas posited by others, come up with fresh ideas on your own based on your individuality and thought processes.
- Reverse the thought process: Think of the end result and how to achieve it.
- Be aware of cognitive biases: Humans are creatures of habit and susceptible to outside influence. As such, people have cognitive biases, or a predisposition to think in a certain way. While cognitive bias presented a solution to humans during certain eras, it can limit the ability of a person to think rationally.
- Ask the right questions: As basic as they might be, asking the right questions can provide the answers to questions that are obvious. Always question the seemingly self-evident.
Perhaps the great Greek philosopher Socrates said best:
“The only true wisdom is in admitting you know nothing.”
While this idea is a tough pill to swallow—especially for youth and the strong-headed—it’s a surefire way to jump-start the critical thinker that lies in everyone.
Problem-solving is a highly coveted soft skill for students. Yet the ability to solve problems isn’t inherent for most people. It takes cultivation. But there’s a bit of science that goes into problem-solving that most people can’t comprehend—at least at a basic level. For college students to make themselves more attractive to employers, problem-solving must delve into a variety of skills, including:
- Defining the problem
- Risk management
- Manage emotions
By putting these thought processes together, a person is more apt to dive into the source of the problem. And more importantly, they can find a solution. That’s the crux of problem-solving. Employers don’t want excuses. They want solutions. The more that you learn how to solve problems, the more you become attractive to employers once you graduate.
3. Interpersonal Skills
Not everyone is an extrovert. Furthermore, not everyone can hone in on body language. In a remote world, this problem becomes exacerbated tenfold. The inability to take tone into account can lead workers astray, especially with social media playing a large role in the lives of college students. But even as remote workers, students—or potential hirees—must know how to toe the line between friendly banter and offensive comments.
As profound as it seems, even some of the most elite athletes and CEOs aren’t necessarily adept at interpersonal skills. While the most motivated can still find success, new college graduates shouldn’t follow in those footsteps. Instead, they should make a vested effort to work together while keeping relationships as professional as possible—something that many college students may find problematic.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin
Not everyone is a preparer. In fact, many people lean on procrastination, and more certainly when a project or topic doesn’t meet their interests. Yet nearly every company has a task that doesn’t necessarily light the creative fire in workers. Regardless of this idea, preparation is a key factor in any new graduate or young remote worker.
Whether the end goal is a proposal or simply a task, preparation goes a long way to the completion of a goal. Unlike college, students can’t rely on cramming at the last second to solve real-world work problems. Be prepared or lose out. Your professors and potential employers will notice.
5. Listening Skills
Even in a remote world, listening skills are still pertinent to success. Sure, typing doesn’t necessarily prep a person for listening. But when you hop on Zoom meetings and conference calls, you need listening skills as a way to understand the project at hand. As Austrian pianist Alfred Brendel once mused:
“The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent.'”
Listening skills aren’t always something that people possess. And they aren’t often recognized as part of the totality of soft skills for students. But they’re achievable. The best way to think about listening is to concentrate on others instead of waiting for your turn to speak. Just this simple measure will profoundly change the way you think about listening—and you just might find that other students or colleagues will appreciate it.
6. Time Management
“Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.” – Miles Davis, famous jazz musician
Okay, so maybe Davis was talking about the groove or an odd time signature. But he still has a point. Time-management skills in the professional world are essential and often go hand-in-hand with preparation, depending on the project. Even more integral to the professional career of the employee, time-management skills show that a person can juggle multiple activities at once without a detriment to quality.
To gain time-management skills, college students can employ a number of techniques. Using a set schedule and planning ahead are at the top of the list. But don’t forget about setting timers and reminders that let you know when to switch to another task or wrap another one up. In addition, prioritizing can often make a huge difference in time management. Whenever you’re in doubt, list all of the particular tasks you need to get done and work your way down the list. By doing so, you ensure that you get the most integral ones done first, followed by ones of less importance.
Being a tech-savvy worker or leader is a necessity in an ever-changing digital world. And thankfully, it’s something that universities can teach individuals without having to indoctrinate a certain idea or method. While tech-savviness is the ability to use software and computer hardware with ease, the idea doesn’t end there. Furthermore, students and recent college graduates should know how to troubleshoot hardware and software when something goes awry. Plus, if recent college graduates aspire to become remote workers, they won’t have an IT department to guide them through each little task. As a result, college students can improve their soft skill set by familiarizing themselves with heavily used forms of modern technology. Examples include:
- Adobe software
- Wireless hardware
- Collaborative platforms such as Slack or Asana
- Microsoft Office
- Basic graphic design software
By learning these skills, college students and recent graduates not only gain relevant experience, but they can also boost abilities to help them in all types of college courses—and beyond.
8. Collaboration and Teamwork
If you ask the average college student what they like least about university classes, chances are that you’ll hear the same answer: a group project. The reasoning behind it is almost exactly the same from person to person. Some people—or even a sole individual—end up doing a vast majority of the work while the others coast to an A.
Sadly, this can breed bad habits among college students and recent graduates. They don’t trust other individuals to carry their weight, and they don’t want anyone to steal their thunder. But in most work scenarios, management will recognize slackers, much like professors in college. Therefore, college students shouldn’t let a few group projects ruin their zest for collaboration and teamwork.
In the business world, everyone is a teammate. And each person has their own set of hard skills and specialties. Together, they work as a cohesive unit. Furthermore, college students should recognize this and learn to keep an open mind, especially when the company’s reputation hangs in the balance.
To some degree, soft skills are innate abilities that some might say people are born with. But that doesn’t mean you can’t develop your soft skills as a university student or a fresh graduate. The first step is to admit your weaknesses in certain fields. Once you’ve accepted these, you can turn your attention to the growth and expansion of these soft skills. Every stride you take brings you closer to employment and a scope of skills that are highly coveted by employers. With any luck, you’ll find success in the professional world shortly after tossing your mortarboard into the air.
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