Career development happens everywhere you go! It’s the conversation with your advisor, it’s that conversation with your friend when you learn what their cousin does and you connect with her. Career readiness combines what you learn in class (technical skills) with your soft skills that you learn everywhere.
So, what are soft skills and why are they important? Soft skills or transferrable skills are skills that you take with you wherever you go. They become a part of you and they are what employers are looking for. NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) surveys employers every year. Here are some of the skills/qualities employers look for that you may develop in and outside of class (NACE, Job Outlook 2015).
Top 10 Skills/Qualities Employers look for in Job Candidates (NACE, Job Outlook 2015)
- Ability to work in a team structure - This can be developed on a team project, in a club/group you join, during an internship or a more formal work experience. It may even be developed as part of a volunteer experience you took part in, so be active and get involved on campus!
- Ability to make decisions and solve problems – You do this every day! How do you process information and make decisions, decide what the next step is, and modify your actions based on new information? How do you show this to an employer? So take a moment and reflect on how you go about making a decision or solving a problem so you can easily share this with a potential employer. Employers love to hear examples of how you have already done this!
- Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization – So, you know the terminology of the field but how do you translate this to others outside of the field? You communicate everywhere you go! How do people respond to you? Do they understand you? Are you friendly and approachable? There are so many opportunities on campus to communicate with other students, faculty/staff. You can meet new people anywhere on campus whether that be eating in the dining facility, joining a new group, engaging in activities at Dixon, one of the cultural centers, or sharing in a hobby at the Craft Center. Practice sharing about what you do and see how others respond.
- Ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work – OK, you’re in college now. This is a skill you quickly learn you need. How do you get my homework done, go to class, go to club meetings, have time to socialize and perhaps even work. Maybe you’re working on a group project, how did you get to the end result? What strategies do you use to meet deadlines? Prepare for tests? Employers want to hear how you do this, so think of examples to share with potential employers!
- Ability to obtain and process information – So employers don’t expect you to know everything (that’s not humanly possible) but they do want to know that you can find the information and process that information so you can present it to them in a well thought out manner. How have you done this? Have you ever written a paper? Researched a topic? Gathered information? Now, take a look at what you did so you can easily relate a specific example to an employer.
- Ability to analyze quantitative data – Employers are looking for people that can gather quantitative data and figure out what it means. How does this impact your next steps? You can practice this in classes and outside of class. So you are a member of a group putting on an event…let’s say you are participating in the Ag Day events. How will you know what you did was a success? Did more people attend? Were the people that attended more involved? Did you recruit more people to join your group? If so, what worked? What didn’t work? If you have this information, you can talk to a potential employer not only about the data but also about how you make decisions and how you have applied this knowledge! Employers love to hear about what you learned!
- Technical knowledge related to the job – Of course you need to know how to do the technical parts of a job! So where can you get these skills? You learn some of them in class, but don’t forget the hands on learning that occurs while working in the laboratory, through internships/co-ops, other employment opportunities, clubs/organizations or even volunteer activities. Hands-on learning can be invaluable!
- Proficiency with computer software programs – Yes, computers are everywhere, so you need to know how to use basic computer software like MS Office Suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), as well as any specialized computer software programs in your field.
- Ability to create and/or edit written reports – Yes, you need to know how to write. In some fields, you may even need to know how to write for a scientific journal and for the popular press. This can be two very different writing styles. Writing a grant is very different than writing an email to a colleague. You must also be able to edit or even accept suggested edits to your papers. This can be challenging for some people but usually, the final product is well worth it!
- Ability to sell or influence others – Isn’t this what you need to do to get the interview to get the job? Yes, you need to learn a balance between being too aggressive and too passive. No one likes a know-it-all and if you are too passive you may never learn what a great employee you will be as you may appear to lack confidence in yourself. Sell your future employer on you in a pleasant assertive manner. How do you practice this? Schedule a Mock Interview session at the Career Development Center or during hours set up in the College of Agricultural Sciences (Strand Hall, Room 200), attend the Speed Mock Interview sessions each term with employers and career specialists, or use InterviewStream through the Career Development Center’s website to take a virtual interview. Here you can take one of the many premade interviews or create your own, you can review your interview, and you can share your interview with people from whom you want to receive feedback.