You’ve heard about the value of choosing the right major or completing an internship to boost your future career prospects. However, there are many more tools for your job search toolbox that maybe you haven’t thought so much about. There are a number of tips you can put into practice right now to build soft skills and help yourself stand out in the job market.
Employers often look for a mixture of “soft skills” and “hard skills” in an applicant. Hard skills include knowledge of specific software programs or field-specific terminology. Soft skills are interpersonal skills like critical thinking, communication, problem-solving, and creativity. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted which soft skills are most in-demand as well.
Self-management skills, like active learning and flexibility, newly made the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Top 10 in-demand soft skills. This makes sense when we consider the abrupt shift to remote work caused by the pandemic. When employees work remotely, they have to manage their time differently from when they are in the office. Persistence, virtual communication proficiency, and self-motivation are increasingly important when typical routines are no longer part of the workday.
Job search documents are most effective when the applicant can show their skills, rather than simply tell them. Describing a specific example of a time you demonstrated active learning is more compelling than simply saying, “I am an active learner.” Start now to look for opportunities to implement and practice these soft skills. It will go a long way in the job search process.
Here are six things you can do now to build these in-demand soft skills:
1. Take an Online Class or Two – On Purpose
Active learning takes place when students are fully involved in learning through thinking, discussing, practicing skills, and more. Being successful in online classes can demonstrate many similar self-management skills that are required in remote work. This is because online students must manage their own time and work schedule to complete the assignments. There is no accountability of showing up to a classroom at a specific time; it’s up to the student to be proactive.
Online coursework can build skills such as:
- Organization and time-management — post the course calendar where you can see it and plan your time accordingly.
- Proactive communication – spot potential problems (i.e. questions about an assignment) in advance and communicate with the professor in a professional manner to resolve them.
- Virtual teamwork and collaboration – online classes that incorporate group work can become an excellent anecdote for the cover letter or job interview in today’s work environment.
2. Organize a Zoom Meetup or Virtual Event
Participating in student organizations is always a good way to build up your resume. Simply being a member is a good start. However, you can take your soft skills to the next level by taking on a leadership role, for the org or for a one-off project. This demonstrates development of soft skills like initiative, leadership, project management, and self-motivation. As many orgs have had to shift to virtual meetings or events due to pandemic guidelines, shifting to the virtual environment can also demonstrate creativity in coming up with new ways to continue to meet the org’s mission.
Similarly, organizing a Zoom meetup or networking event for your social contacts or others with shared interests on campus can build your network – always essential for the future career — and give you an opportunity for some needed (socially distanced) connection and community. Not sure where to start? The PVECOB has many great student organizations that offer opportunities for all majors to develop both soft skills and hard skills.
3. Complete a Project with a Professor
Getting to know your professors outside of the classroom can increase your sense of connection to the college community and your enjoyment of your college program. Professors can also be a great source of knowledge about the field you’re majoring in and make excellent networking contacts as well. You can start small, by visiting the faculty member’s office hours and introducing yourself, or sending a polite email. Demonstrate initiative by letting them know if a particular class topic really interested you, or if there’s something you’d like to know more about.
Sometimes faculty may even be looking for students to help them with a research or other related project; these can be great opportunities to learn new skills and create a tangible outcome for the resume, such as a publication or presentation.
4. Make Friends with Career Services
I cannot emphasize this enough – Career Services is your friend. The very existence of the office is intended to help you – yes, you, Dear Buff — get a good job upon graduating from WT. At no other time in your life will you have such a dedicated team at your disposal. As with many things worth doing, the amount of value you will get from Career Services is directly correlated to your effort in taking advantage of their resources. From resume and job interviewing workshops to one-on-one career coaching, students who take advantage of these resources are getting ahead in the job search.
With the pandemic, an increasing number of these resources have been moved online or now have an online option, making these services even more accessible to fully online (and on-campus) students. To begin taking advantage of Career Services, fill out your Handshake profile today.
5. Know Your Strengths
Familiarize and internalize your Top 5 Clifton Strengths. The assessment can be a handy tool to help you look for opportunities to further enhance these skills. Building a career is made up of stepping-stone opportunities, where one thing leads to another.
Finding ways to incorporate your strengths demonstrates self-awareness and helps you feel you are gaining traction toward your future career. For example, my Top 5 – individualization, input, learner, intellect, and empathy – all fall within the Strategic Thinking and Relationship Building domains of the Clifton Strengths assessment. This gives me a framework for thinking about unique contributions I can make in my work.
Monthly events highlight a different strength for continued learning. Most WT students have taken the assessment already; start here to refresh your memory.
6. Create a Professional Online Presence
Creating a professional online landing page or social media profile (e.g. LinkedIn) can be a great tool to present yourself as an up-and-coming young professional. Include the link in your resume and/or cover letter and interested future employers can click to learn more.
Keep a record of your academic and work accomplishments, certifications, leadership experience, awards and scholarships, student involvement, and any mentions in college or local media and websites. Writing thoughtful blog entries or posts can also demonstrate your expertise and interest in a particular industry or career. LinkedIn in particular has a number of resources for students to take full advantage of the site.
Thinking and planning ahead will only help students identify ways to build their skills and develop a career trajectory. Whether you’re a first-year student or a senior in your last semester, it’s never too late to start. Set some goals and think deliberately about planning for your future.
I also recommend Getting from College to Career, by Lindsey Pollak, for a great compilation of concrete tips and ideas. It’s currently assigned reading in BUSI 1304.
Which of these six tips will you try working toward today?
Heidi E. Huntington, PhD
Assistant Professor of Business Communication