You learn a lot in college, but employers are interested in more than your degree. We’ve found the top 20 soft skills they want to see on your resume.
Soft skills, also called transferable skills, are defined by The Business Careers as “the personal attributes, personality traits, and communication abilities needed for success on the job.” Hard skills are the technical skills you need to perform well in your specific occupation, such as computer programming or changing the oil on a McLaren.
Hard skills require specific training and education. Soft skills, however, are usually acquired through personal experience and day-to-day interactions.
But don’t discount their value just because you don’t pay tuition to learn them. Employers seek out soft skills on a resume every bit as much, and sometimes more than hard skills.
Many times, hard skills are easier to teach than soft skills. Employers would rather invest their time and effort into candidates who already have the hard-to-teach soft skills in the bag.
What Soft Skills do Employers Value in Graduates?
The soft skills that matter to employers vary between industries, companies, and even individual managers. While it’s impossible to please everyone, we’ve come up with the top 20 soft skills that employers look for, especially in fresh college graduates.
If you spend your time as a student wisely, it’s not difficult to sharpen these skills to a fine point by graduation day. We’ve grouped them into two categories; skills you can practice on your own and skills you practice with others.
By breaking up the list into two sets of skills to practice, it’s simpler to set goals and make a plan for success. So, even if you haven’t mastered every skill on our list yet, you can challenge yourself to get those skills on your resume in short order.
Soft Skills To Practice By Yourself
Having an adaptable mindset is one of the most beneficial traits you can have – at work and in life. When something doesn’t go quite the way you planned, of course, it’s frustrating. But it isn’t the end of the world.
It doesn’t do anyone (especially you) any good to stay mad about what might have been but wasn’t.
So, take some deep breaths and come up with ways to pivot so that when the day throws you a curveball, you can still knock it out of the park.
Creativity is almost undefinable. But, it’s important to define it for yourself in the context of your career. Being a creative software engineer is vastly different from being a creative chef.
The point is practicing your particular brand of creativity. So, practice being creative. Brainstorm. Do research to see what’s already out there and then put your own special twist on it.
Employers value employees whose perspective brings a new flavor to their team and, subsequently, to the business.
Every student understands the importance of being punctual and meeting deadlines. But, time management as a soft skill goes beyond that. It means to be able to prioritize your time effectively and efficiently, day in and day out.
If you need extra help to practice time management, there are loads of helpful websites, apps, and other online resources. Do a search and experiment until you find the right one for you.
Attention to Detail
This is a soft skill that many employers look for but can be harder to nail down for new graduates. It means not just that you pay attention to your work, but that you notice small inaccuracies and are thorough in your task completion. Accounting, engineering, and other technical occupations demand a high level of attention to detail.
Even if you’re not naturally decisive, you can strengthen your decision-making skills by making small decisions on a daily basis. Give yourself time limits – short ones – by which the decision must be made.
For example, you have 2 minutes to decide what you’ll have for lunch. Practice quick decision-making on small, less important decisions and you’ll prime your brain for bigger ones.
Here’s a fun word for you: gumption. It means “shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness” according to Oxford languages.
A little gumption will serve you well in life and in your career. To give you a leg up on the competition, or help your team secure a place in the winner’s circle, practice overcoming challenges with a healthy serving of gumption. All it takes is a spark of inspiration, a dash of determination, and you’re on your way.
Global/Big Picture Thinking
Blinders – you know, those things they used to put on horses to keep their eyes on the road ahead? Yeah, take those off and throw them away. You’ll never need them again. You need to think of and always look out for the big picture. Not just what’s happening in your job. What’s happening in your company? Your industry? The world? Stay apprised of current events. Read news from different sources. Stay informed. You’ll be better for it and your company will be too.
It’s popular for older generations to mock the work ethic of young people. But work ethic isn’t a generational trait. There are lazy people in every generation, just as there are hard-working people of every age. Work ethic is a state of mind. It’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth it to put in the time and effort to work. It’s a simple choice, but it’s not easy.
This is a tough one. It can take a lifetime to master. Stress can overtake your life if you let it, so it is crucial to develop healthy habits that help you manage it. There are a plethora of options, from meditation to massage, so experiment. Find what works for you. But don’t ignore the stress in your life because, rest assured, it won’t ignore you.
Practicing self-motivation can be a challenge. Ways you can set yourself up for success and train yourself to get better at this important skill are:
- Set goals with deadlines – easily attainable ones at first
- Take small steps toward your goals every day
- Celebrate each time you successfully achieve a goal
- Ask a friend or family member to hold you accountable
By practicing in small ways, you set yourself up for bigger wins in the future.
Soft Skills To Practice With Others
Communication – Written and Verbal
The importance of communication as a skill in your life cannot be overstated. It will impact every relationship you have.
Learning and practicing effective verbal and written communication will benefit you throughout your career, from writing your resume to giving a professional presentation. The resources available for improving your communication skills are abundant online. Simply look up what’s relevant to you and get started.
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Not everyone is born to be a leader. And that’s ok. You don’t have to want to be the next President to get better at leadership. Leadership as a soft skill simply means that you can organize and motivate people to reach a shared goal.
There are lots of ways to achieve that. If you’re an introvert, you can do that online without ever having to actually speak to or meet anyone in person. If you DO want to be the next President, you can make videos, give speeches, lead rallies, or whatever you want to drive people to your cause.
The point is, the world is your oyster. Get out there (or online), find your tribe, connect, and lead them where you want to go.
Listening to someone means more than just letting them talk. It means doing your best to understand what they’re trying to say. Be an active listener. Engage with them as they talk. Ask questions. Let them know that you’re interested in what they have to say.
Being an active listener isn’t just a great skill to have, it makes people remember you. It makes people like you. When people like you and remember you, your future is bright.
When working with a team, other skills will come into play, such as Communication, Leadership, and Listening Skills. And each team will be different from the last since each is made up of different individuals.
You’ve practiced your teamwork skills every time you ever worked on a group project in school or with a lab partner. Listening to others’ inputs while offering your own and communicating with the rest of the group to be sure everyone is equally involved, feels heard, and understood is all part of being skilled at teamwork.
Teamwork and Collaboration are closely related but not always synonymous. At times, you will collaborate individually with another department or team. This may require you to be more communicative and use more independent skills than on a team project. Here, the ball is in your court regarding the work you do, its quality, your deadlines, and any questions you have. Make sure you play well with others.
If you have social media accounts, congratulations, you’ve practiced networking. Seriously though, networking is simply connecting with other people in meaningful ways. That’s it. Easy peasy. Well, kind of.
Networking online is pretty simple. You search social media for like-minded folks or people you’d like to work with and start reacting and commenting on their posts. After some genuine conversation, you might message them or they message you with an invitation to connect.
Networking online is how most networking is done in today’s world. When done well, it can result in business opportunities, friendships, new skills, job offers, and so much more. Don’t underestimate the value of networking. Your future self will thank you.
Being professional is multifaceted. It’s a skill that encompasses several attributes, such as emotional intelligence, integrity, and conscientiousness. Your ability to empathize with others, defuse conflict, and communicate effectively are all important indicators of your emotional intelligence.
To be recognized as having integrity and being conscientious, you must be honest, clear in your principles, and diligent in your work. Hit all of these, and you’re well on your way to being seen as professional.
Taking Constructive Criticism
It’s not always easy to hear a critique on your work, but it’s something you need to be able to do with grace if you want to make it in the professional world. Most criticisms are given in the spirit of wanting to help you improve. Try to listen to them with an open mind and hear the core of the message rather than the words used to deliver it.
If your college or university offers a course on critical thinking, consider taking it – it’s worth its weight in gold! Knowing how arguments work, what makes a good argument, and what makes a bad one, is a skill that precious few people have.
If you can learn how to pick apart an argument in a logical way, calmly and concisely, you’ll be head and shoulders above your competition in almost every arena of life. Do yourself a favor. Learn how to think critically.
Join Big Interview
Great interview preparation is about practice. It’s not enough to merely read advice. You have to put it into action. Big Interview’s practice tools simulate live interviews in real time, making you really good, really fast, guaranteed.
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In today’s fast-paced world, empathy is sadly often underrated. But, it’s what allows us to connect deeply with other people. It helps us relate to strangers and start conversations. In order to get ahead professionally, network, collaborate, lead a team, and hone many other crucial skills, you need to be empathetic.
Put yourself in other people’s shoes. Consider their points of view. No one is just one thing – everyone is complicated. But empathy can be as simple as remembering the golden rule – treat others the way you’d want to be treated.
Every soft skill is connected to all the others in some way. They all bolster each other and make you a stronger candidate and a better person.
Chances are, you’ve been practicing many of them during your years as a student without realizing it. By practicing them more intentionally, you can enhance your skills and your prospects even further.
So, set some goals, give yourself some deadlines, and go practice. You’ll be glad you did.