What are Soft Skills?

Back in 2012, The Chronicle of Higher Education published this study on employer perceptions of college graduates. And one-third of folks from my very popular segment, Media/Communications said that colleges were doing a fair or poor job of producing graduates who were going to be successful employees. Another third of employers across all industries said “recent graduates are unprepared or very unprepared for their job search” while “over half of the employers indicated difficulty in finding qualified candidates for job openings.”

Sure, this survey is three years old and the job market is much improved. Some students are now reneging on offers because better ones come along. The thing is, while the offers are being made, and the jobs and internships filled, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be well-regarded. And failing at your first job without being told why is pretty disastrous. You may not end up fired, just shunted off to the side or conveniently laid off. Some companies just want a “run, don’t walk,” can-do attitude in action while others want to make sure you touch nothing until you’ve been briefed and trained. The key is to nail down your soft skills so you succeed as a go-getter, whether your company wants you to tackle things independently or just step forward for the guidance to successfully tackle the work.

Some definitions tie soft skills to emotional intelligence, but I think that the survey from 2012,  (page 14-16) does a great job outlining the skills. They start with content knowledge and technical skills, things we’ll assume your major has or will provide. Then they go to written and oral skills, which your education should be providing.

Then they leap into the classic set of soft skills:

  • Leading teams
  • Collaborating
  • Working with diverse groups
  • Adaptability
  • Analytical/Research
  • Planning/Organizational
  • Making Decisions/Solving Problems

When you compare the numbers the real disconnect between what new hires need to succeed and don’t possess is in written and oral skills, managing multiple priorities, planning/org skills, and problem solving.

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