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What are soft skills & how can they help me get a job?

Soft skills are those skills intrinsic to a person, such as communication or the ability to work with others. These skills will help you through your career and develop as you do.

Soft skills for graduates are also known as your ‘employability skills’, those skills you have outside of your studies that will help you become more employable.

Recent studies conducted in UK & USA have stated that employers cite developed soft skills are more important than technical knowledge in fresh graduates. This is because as employers we appreciate your degree and know what you have learnt and undertaken to get there. However it is the soft skills such as adaptability, being a team player and solid analytical skills that are more important in the early stages of development. Don’t get us wrong… your degree and technical skills are essential to getting the interview, but it will be the soft skills that will get you the job.

Below is a list of the general soft skills employers deemed important- especially for graduates.

Communication skills– This doesn’t mean you have to be a scholar, but it does mean you have to be able to express yourself well, both oral and written. Whether it’s writing an email or giving someone direction on a task in a logical, coherent and straight forward manner, developed communication skills are essential for every graduate job.

Being a team player/ collaboration– Being part of a team means being helpful, flexible and understanding. Collaboration brings around innovation, success and effective outcomes. These are essential in almost all working environments so working effectively as part of a team is something everyone needs to work on in the early stages on their careers.

Confidence doesn’t come easily to everyone, we understand that. However confidence is also a critical part of career success as it allows you to speak your mind, present your ideas and guide others. Confidence is absolutely something you can work on by undertaking confidence building courses and scenarios. As they say, “Fake it until you make it” – project self-confidence, one day you will wake up and realise it’s actually there, as long as you keep working on it!

Professionalism– Campus and corporate life is very different.  The way you speak, act and interact at university or college is very different to corporate life. Work experience or internship programs are a fabulous way to work on your professionalism and corporate behaviours. Language, behaviours, facial expressions and body language acceptable on campus is very different to what is acceptable in corporate life.

Presentation skills– Whether it’s just to your manager, team or a large group of people, for many presenting is the hardest thing on this planet to do. Nerves take over and your mind goes blank. Presentations are common place in almost every role, so take advantage of the ways below to develop your presentation skills and know it does get easier every single time.

Analytical thinking comes easier to some than others and refers to one’s ability to process, evaluate and solve problems & issues based on information provided. It is another top skill to work on via volunteering or taking up leadership roles where possible.

Active listening is a skill. We listen to others to understand direction, to give feedback, to empathise or negotiate. Learning how not to interrupt and respect others opinions and ideas is critical to a collaborative team and good manners. You will and can learn a lot from simply listening, paraphrasing back and asking questions. Treat this as a top skill to learn.

Managing –up sounds difficult, but it’s not as scary as you think. It involves observing, listening and learning about your managers style and then using this information to deliver results and communicate effectively together.  Once you are comfortable with this, it will be beneficial to you as you can then start using the best way to ask for extra exposure, feedback and tasks by your manager. Watch and learn more experienced team members do it, it’s a great way to build a harmonious relationship.

Work ethic is often something that you develop in childhood. Have you ever noticed that person who is always the last to leave or first to arrive, or the person who is willing to take on more work or put their hands up for new tasks? Strong work ethic is essential to stamp your mark and have people take your attitude and ethos to work seriously. We aren’t suggesting to forget about a work life balance… not at all, however putting your hand up for extra work and staying until the job is done speaks for itself.

Attitude– One’s attitude to work, colleagues, flexibility and change is usually quite obvious to others. When someone is usually in a grumpy mood, people don’t want to interact with them or avoid talking to them, that’s warning signs! Everyone can have bad days now and then, but you must think actively as a graduate that you are always being assessed when you enter an organisation, so positive, driven, enthusiastic attitudes will serve you best!

Emotional Intelligence (E.I) is one’s ability to read, process and act or not act upon signs others give you. It relates to emotions, body language, verbal or even written cues. For example, if your colleague is clearly upset about feedback they have received, it’s probably not the best idea to bring up the topic straight away and make them more upset. E.I is quite intrinsic to that person, something that is typically there or not there, however it can be something changed over time with active effort.

Problem Solving is a part of most roles, irrespective of industry or job type. Learning how to evaluate, map, strategize and solve a problem is essential. Don’t forget once solved or fixed, you need to be able to walk people through the issue, how it was solved and explain how the results were measured.

Personal accountability refers to one’s ability to take charge of a scenario, be accountable for their own actions and appreciate feedback relating to it. For example, if you made an error, don’t blame someone else, lack of training or the scenario. Be accountable and say ‘Yes I did that, I now understand there was an issue, can you help me work out how and what went wrong and how to complete this correctly next time.’ It shows maturity and reliability.

Interpersonal negotiation skills– Negotiation skills can be inward or outward focused.  Often you need to negotiate with yourself to understand the pros/ cons of undertaking an action or speaking your mind. Negotiation also refers outwardly to discussions or debates you may have with others, along with the give and take involved. Generally negotiation is give and take to come to a reasonable outcome for all parties involved, therefore practising, listening to others negotiate and working out a structure are all valuable tools to master the process.

Adaptability and Flexibility– Being adaptable and flexible are important skills to develop in life, both corporate and personal.  To succeed in most organisations, you need to have the ability to grow, change, adapt and flex to the changing needs of the organisation. Flexibility shows valuable traits of a potential leader who can roll with the punches and move with the times.

After reading the above, don’t freak out wondering how your soft skills stack up, because the good news is that most soft skills can be learned and developed. We understand you don’t get a lot of exposure to some of these traits and skills in school or even university, so that’s why it’s essential as early on in your studies as possible to understand where your skills lie and then to do something about it. Before we tell you how you can develop, we want to highlight how to identify what you want to work on.

How can you tell if your soft skills need further development?

  1. Self-evaluation based on experiences and scenarios you are involved in. If you can tell that you struggle with negotiation skills in team environments or presentations are your most dreaded thing you’ve ever had to face… then these are some tell –tale signs that you need to work on developing these skills.
  2. Ask others- your friends, family, boss or colleagues for feedback- both positive and constructive on specific soft skills. Ask them to help identify the reasons why, for example“ you struggle with your communication skills”, remember that time you were dealing with the customer and you struggled to work out what they wanted”. Using real examples and scenarios will help you understand what needs to be worked on. After this, evaluate their comments and don’t take offence to the feedback (this is another soft skill to develop). Trust us, this is really helpful so please give it a go.

Once you have picked 5-6 skills you want to develop, you can use some of the ideas below to help you. Note that you can’t develop everything at once… keep a list of what you want to work on now and what you potentially want to work on down the track.

Remember that this isn’t a once off static undertaking, soft skills develop and change over years depending on experiences and surroundings. Evaluate what is the most important to you at each stage of evaluation. As you develop in your career, soft skills are essential to become a well-rounded leader, great contributor and collaborator.

You can get involved in an array of activities listed below to help train and develop yourself and the particular skills you are looking to further develop.

  1. Seek Mentors- When choosing a mentor, ensure it is someone that displays this skill you are looking to develop. Pick a mentor based on evidence of skills vs pure like-ability. You don’t want to pick someone who isn’t a strong group presenter if that’s what you are trying to develop. Once approached, be direct and let your mentor know what you are seeking guidance and development on by using specific examples of when you have seen them display this skill. It doesn’t matter if it’s a short term relationship that’s beneficial to you in that period or if it’s one that blossoms into ongoing mentoring. Either way, ensure you are open to feedback, development and help.
  2. Take a course- The easiest way to do this will be link in with your university or college careers services. Soft skills are on the agenda of almost every institution…with on campus courses and workshops available for you. If you want to know more about what your careers services has to offer have a look at our Careers services blog.Alternatively, there are also professional courses on topics of public speaking, writing or communication skills.
  3. Sign up to a debating team either through your university or college, local community or topic based. It’s a great way to help you develop your communication skills, logical thinking, negotiation skills and public speaking.
  4. Join a campus society group and put your hand up for a role such as club director, event’s organiser or finance manager. These are all critical growth positions that will see your personal leadership, accountability, professionalism and confidence grow, why not get involved?
  5. Volunteer- working in any volunteering position gives you the opportunity to build valuable skills and exposure to a corporate like team environment. There is a plethora of non- for profit/ NGO’s out there. A quick and easy way would be to go through your university or college connections, alternatively search for a cause that is important to you such as animals, sustainability or helping those less fortunate, reach out to them and offer to volunteer. You will see your collaboration, decision-making, adaptability and flexibility skills grow.
  6. Become a buddy/ mentor yourself to people in your sports group, new / younger students at university or college or international students who may be new to the country who would like to know more about way of life in your country. This is a great way to develop your active listening, leadership and personal accountability skills.
  7. Take on a job or complete work experience/ internship programs is by far the best way to develop your professionalism, learn workplace conduct and understand the values of emotional intelligence. Seek out corporate work experience or internship programs as they will look great on your resume. We suggest all students should be working in a part time capacity through university or college to develop their communication, negotiations and stakeholder engagement skills. This doesn’t have to be corporate and can be anything such as retail, hospitality or customer service.

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Top tips for development: Be open and honest to yourself. Don’t let feedback or critique offend or upset you. Being true to yourself will help you develop. Strive for growth and you will reap the rewards. Most of all, ensure when it comes to job applications and interviews- you utilise the knowledge you have gained and talked about the experiences you have undertaken where appropriate. This will allow the recruiter to see you are proactive, driven and ambitious.

UC Grad Recruiter strongly encourages you to GO FOR IT, you have nothing to lose and literally everything to gain! Stretch yourself.

We would love some feedback whether this has helped you, so please let us know via email, blog comments or social media.

UC Grad Recruiter.