10 Soft Skills You Should Have by Graduation and How to Master Them

Most employers are looking for more than just an undergraduate degree and retail experience when they set out to hire new grads. In fact, 77% of employers are looking for these soft skills with new job postings.

Naturally Curious and Adaptable

Employers want to see that you don’t plan to stop learning. Yes, you learned a lot and just got a degree. But, are you still naturally curious? Hiring managers list adaptability as a top soft skill, emphasizing the importance of continuing to grow throughout your career. Being willing to learn new programs, or be thrown into an unfamiliar situation will show a potential employer you’re willing to grow as they do. Taking that elective course that seemed gratuitous to your degree might serve as a good example in an interview that you are willing to try things out of your comfort zone.

Effective Communicator

Communication skills are probably the most sought after soft skill, listed on the top of skills that employers look for in a candidate. A study posted by Workopolis revealed that 29% of employers see it as the most important soft skill. But what does this mean, exactly? First off, communication skills can be broken down into verbal, listening and written. A good way to demonstrate this from the get-go is proofreading your emails and cover letter (about sixty times!) No one is going to buy that you have strong communication skills if your emails are riddled with typos and poor grammar. Secondly, equip yourself with experiences that you communicated well in a group project at school, listened to instructions effectively during an internship, and conveyed information when you led a group of volunteers.

Having these scenarios in your back pocket will save you from an awkward silence during an interview when a potential employer asks you to “speak of a time where you effectively communicated to a colleague…”

Team Work

Finally, all those dreaded group projects pay off! Forbes lists the ability to work in a team as the most important skill employers want in 20-something employees. Even if you’ve never had a job before, you’ve probably been part of a team that accomplished something together. Played hockey growing up? Volunteered at summer camp? Played in the U of A’s record-breaking giant dodgeball game? The key is taking these experiences and expressing them in a way that shows an employer that you know how to collaborate for a common goal. Few jobs involve working in total solitude, so it’s a no-brainer that employers want to see that you can play nice with others.

Savvy Social Media Skills

As an intern in the office, social media is an area where you have a real edge. As millennials, we are the only generation that had social media embedded into our lives growing up. The key to using your social media skills to land you a job is demonstrating how you can use them in a work setting. Your employer hasn’t listed social media as a desired skill because they don’t want you on Facebook chat during your workday; they want you effectively marketing their business through social media. Sure, you can log in and post a status—so can my Oma.

Make sure you put your social media skills in context. Take it one step further—seize opportunities to take the reigns on some business accounts and post material that captures a large audience (it is harder than you think!). Ask your social media coordinator if you can do a few posts. Showcase your garage band’s Facebook page and how you’ve learned to build an audience.

Time Management

Time management is one of those skills that we often feel we are failing at as students. That constant feeling of being behind in at least one of our classes. Or forgetting your readings for the third week in a row. The good news? School can serve as an amazing testing ground for learning time management. Every semester you pretty much have a fresh start to try out a new organization routine. If your iPhone calendar failed you last semester, use a notebook this semester. The workforce will pose the same challenges as school when it comes to juggling a busy schedule, which is why it is no surprise that the Alberta Learning Information Service says employers are looking for well-honed time management skills.

Interpersonal Skills

18% of employers consider interpersonal skills the most important soft skill among applicants, according to a report by the Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counseling. While it might have felt like asking people if they “want fries with that” for years would never pay off, you’ve developed some highly sought-after customer relations skills. If employers wanted a robot, they would have one—relating to people is irreplaceable. Fundraising, joining school clubs, volunteering at community events, and part-time jobs are all great places to sharpen your people-skills.

Sterling Work Ethic

Simon Fraser University Career Services lists a strong work ethic as one of the six soft skills that make you more competitive to employers. Think of the times where you went above and beyond for a job (or school or volunteer position) and consider mentioning these in a cover letter or keeping them in mind for a job interview. If you want to set yourself apart from other applicants, show how you’re not the sort of person that’s out the door at 5 p.m. sharp.

Dependability

Ultimately, an employer needs to be able to count on you to get the job done. Good thing post-secondary gives us lots of experience meeting deadlines (or trying to, anyway). Entrepreneur emphasizes how important it is to show an employer that they will be able to rely on you. Even if you’re not getting paid for it, following through and doing what you commit to will help build your resume.

Critical Thinking

Alberta Education describes critical thinking as deciding what would be sensible in a given situation. The ability to make judgments about situations is a skill that is learned through experience and is invaluable in the workplace. Writing essays and completing assignments can often make us feel like we are following a formula and producing what our profs are looking for, but it is important to remember that employers want us to be able to think for ourselves and make critical decisions.

Working Under Pressure

Remember that time you pulled an all-nighter, forcing your over-caffeinated, sleep-deprived self to produce a paper that was due in the morning? While learning good time management skills can help you minimize the frequency of these taxing situations, they are likely to occur from time to time in a demanding job. National Careers Services lists ability to work under pressure as a desirable soft skill employers want. While it feels like we are constantly working under pressure as students, it might come as a surprise that the ability to focus all your energy on something is a skill you often utilize in the workforce.

Photo courtesy of Ryan McGuire

Hilary Hoogsteen

Hilary Hoogsteen

Hilary Hoogsteen is a third year environmental studies student at Simon Fraser University. She takes full advantage of BC's natural playground, spending those dreaded winter months on her snowboard and the summer on the beach.