You get out of college, and you did decently well. All your professors (for the most part) were big fans of yours, and now you are a bright-eyed, and bushy-tailed, aspiring employee ready to join the workforce. Plus, you feel confident that you can tackle the needs of any workspace that comes your way, and that you’re equipped with the necessary skills when it comes to workforce preparedness.
Meanwhile, it seems like employers and hiring managers don’t agree with a lot of us young, optimistic, recent college grads. Some employers just aren’t seeing excellent work output. The good news is that we can learn, or improve upon, these work-ready skills that employers feel are largely lacking in their pool of employees. Let’s change their minds!
There are a ton of skills that are valuable in the workplace. Like a large bladder to cut down on bathroom breaks. Or drinking tea instead of coffee so that your boss doesn’t find your passed out at your desk when you have that 2 p.m. crash. Having said that, some qualities and skills are more essential to have in the workplace than others.
OK, that’s not a word. I made it up. I admit it. But combining your academic knowledge with your practical and technical knowledge is essential. Abstract knowledge is awesome to show off at a cocktail party, but if you can’t apply it to your job, then it is worthless in the eyes of your employer. Make sure, if you are in school, that you understand how your studies can be applied in real-life circumstances. If you have already graduated, you will have to learn this retroactively.
Two major research studies involving surveys and feedback from large numbers of employers have established that “employability skills” outrank technical skills — or those skills needed for specific occupations based on industry standards — as the most important requirement for success in the workplace. In other words, the employers don’t care if you can read Chaucerian Middle English fluently and are an expert on The Canterbury Tales. They care, for example, more about how good of a copy editor, or a writer, you are.
How’s your small talk?
I’m kidding. But I’m also not kidding. While small talk is not unimportant in a workplace (after all, you spend one-third of your lives with your co-workers and your bosses) the real skill being discussed here is interpersonal effectiveness. If you can engage in a non-awkward conversation at the water cooler, where your boss or co-worker (or a potential client!), walks away thinking you’re a swell guy or gal, then that’s a win for you. That’s office politics. Another example of interpersonal effectiveness: How well do you diffuse conflict? Or avoid it before it happens? By knowing how to mesh with people, and understanding a bit about human psychology, you just might get ahead. So study up!
You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to research the basic things people like. Just as a “for example,” people love to talk about themselves. Maybe you can leverage that universal fact in the workplace (read: you definitely can). There are other universal, or quasi-universal, truths about people that can be leveraged in the workplace. And you’d be wise to take advantage of them. And your boss will notice as well.
Where did I leave my keys again?
Apparently, many employees are very unorganized. At least, according to the bosses and hiring managers. Theoretical scenario: Boss comes into your office: “Johnson, where’s that file I asked for?” You should have it lightning fast. It definitely shouldn’t be buried beneath a pile of documents. Your office, or workspace, should not look like the camera crew of Hoarders filthiest, most-cluttered-ever profile. But even more than that, you should have folders, filing cabinets, sticky notes, etc. Be organized! Employees need to successfully perform work tasks. That means they not only need to be organized with their own work, but they also need to be excellent at effectively coordinating with anybody they work closely with so that the chain of duties goes smoothly and without too many hiccups. It’s important!
Not only communication with others, but working with others is a must
The ability to work well with other people, even when they are very different from ourselves, is extremely important. Especially if you aren’t a doorman or an actor in a one-man play. If you are on edge with other people, then the presentation, or the collaborative assignment (or whatever else), will inevitably suffer. Plus, you will earn a reputation as a curmudgeon, a loose cannon, or something like that. The office is sort of like high school. Not to say that’s a bad thing, necessarily. But you are there a lot. People’s feelings toward other people, as well as overall collective office impressions of an employee, get around. You might consider working harder on that image for yourself, as it could bring a job promotion, or at the very least, impact how you are treated in the workplace.
Employers also are finding that many of their younger employees are having a hard time managing information when it is given to them. Not only managing it, in fact, but also sorting it into appropriate areas and interpreting data. In general, evaluation abilities seem to be lacking. Due to employees’ inability to manage and interpret data, this same employee inevitably will have a difficulty translating and communicating that data to other workers, thus hindering an effective and seamless workflow throughout the work day.
Some essential foundational skills
These are not necessarily lacking in all young workers. They have, however, been cited as three main areas that, not only are extremely important in and of themselves, but also assist in the improvement of the areas listed above. In other words, they are foundational. If you don’t have a grasp on these areas, most likely the other skills will suffer greatly.
Basic Skills: These are reading, writing, arithmetic and computational skills. They are essential to any worker who desires to increase their productivity and impress their boss. In addition, speaking skills are important. How well do you represent yourself verbally? Are you articulate? If you aren’t a master of these areas, you may be limiting your potential in your career. As always, there are things you can do about it. There are tons of resources out there for those willing to look!
Problem-Solving: Somewhat of a catch-all term for critical thinking, creative thinking, reasoning and knowing how to learn new tasks. This problem-solving capability is consistently cited by employers and hiring managers as a near-must (or at least profound desire) to see in any applicant. Without problem-solving skills, you won’t be able to analyze information and arrive at logical conclusions. You won’t be able to relay those logical conclusions to your boss … who probably “needs them ASAP!” Just a few more: A strong work ethic, professionalism, self-management, integrity, individual responsibility, networking skills, adaptability and sociability are all highly desirable skills in an applicant applying for any job.
Just a few resources to share
The Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education.
Yep. That’s a crazy long title. But, pretty sure that the longer the title, the more important they are, so, that’s a good sign! Anyway, these fellas provide employability skills for employers, educators and policymakers and information on how to achieve said skills!
Soft Skills To Pay The Bills — Mastering soft skills for workplace success
This one comes straight out of The Office of Disability Employment Policy. They developed a curriculum to teach workers — especially young workers new to the workforce — all about the skills they need, and how to develop them. Especially the soft skills, and what they term “workforce-ready” skills — an introduction to workplace interpersonal and professional skills. The curriculum targets youths ages 14 to 21 in both in-school and out-of-school environments (I know what you’re thinking, 14-21? But let’s be honest, if you are older than 21, you still can learn from these lessons on workplace skills! Still gonna list it for that reason). The basic structure of the program consists of modular, hands-on, engaging activities that focus on six key skill areas: communication, enthusiasm and attitude, teamwork, networking, problem-solving and critical thinking, and professionalism.
Now that you know what skills your employers or potential employers look for in an ideal employee or candidate, you can get to acquiring, or improving, those skills! Aside from the couple of resources listed below, you might consider linking up with Monster.com to help with some of this learning process. Monster’s whole thing is getting people “work-ready,” so taking a glance at their page might not be the worst decision. Even if you don’t take a look at Monster, there are a million other resources out there to help with developing these skills. In conclusion: If you don’t have the skills, or they aren’t great, don’t worry. There’s still time, and plenty of outreach opportunities!
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