Academic and career success require soft skills as well as “book-smarts.” I define soft skills as “a collection of abilities, behaviors, and attitudes that increase your effectiveness.” Successful students demonstrate soft skills such as commitment, effective communication, problem solving, accountability, and time management.
Employers also place a high value on soft skills. For example, Washington State Human Resources Council’s recent employer survey showed that 90% of respondents ranked soft skills as important or more important than technical skills (Rider and Klaeysen, 2015). CareerBuilder surveyed 2,000 human resources specialists and found that 77% ranked soft skills as important as hard skills (CareerBuilder, 2014).
Despite the importance of soft skills, employers commonly report them lacking in new hires. For example, Adecco Staffing recently surveyed 500 senior executives and found that 92% of respondents reported skills deficiencies in new hires (Adecco Staffing US, 2013). Further, 44% reported lack of soft skills and 22% reported lack of technical skills (Adecco Staffing, 2013). A St. Louis Workforce Solutions Group identified the top skill deficits of new hires as communication/interpersonal skills (59%), work ethic (56%), and critical thinking/problem solving (55%).
Two important points emerge from the survey data. First, soft skills are valued in the workplace. Secondly, many recent graduates are better prepared for the technical aspects of their jobs than for the “softer” aspects.
Students can enhance academic performance now and equip themselves for future academic and career success by sharpening their leadership and soft skills. Soft Skills for Academic and Career Success Part 1: Make Ready is the first article in a three-part series targeting high school and college students and providing insight into key skills needed for academic and career success.
Soft skills are presented within a framework of Readiness, Relationships, and Results in this Readiness prepares you to handle whatever comes your way. If you are not ready to take advantage of opportunities or handle occasional setbacks, you will not make much progress in your education and career. To be ready, you must know yourself, be positive, commit to life balance and lifelong learning, and keep things in the proper context.
1. Know Yourself
We each have skills, abilities, and perspectives that allow us to make unique contributions. The better you recognize your strengths and your unique ability to make a difference, the readier you will be to leverage your opportunities.
Take some time to determine your strengths. Find a book or online resource to help. Contact your advisor to identify resources at your school. As you develop an understanding of your strengths, leverage them! If you have strengths in communication, write for your school’s blog, start your own blog, or enter a public speaking competition.
2. Be Positive
Attitude is a critically important component of Readiness. Your attitude has a great influence on your relationships, productivity, and happiness. Conversely, the wrong attitude can damage your relationships and undermine your skills. Remember that you can control your attitude even when you can’t control your circumstances.
Furthermore, a positive attitude will help you overcome the setbacks and struggles you will encounter. When you come up short, learn from the experience, and move on. Believe you will succeed and that you can move past setbacks.
3. Commit to Life Balance and Lifelong Learning
Readiness requires a commitment to life balance and lifelong learning. Life balance is achieved when you spend quality time in each of the important areas of your life. Long-term success and happiness will be difficult to achieve if your life is out of balance.
Keep track of your time over the next 20-30 days. Are you investing time in the most important aspects in your life? Are you investing time now in activities that contribute positively to your future? If not, reflect on your current activities and make the needed changes.
Look for opportunities to learn throughout your life. You are preparing to address issues and work in a career that will continuously evolve. Continuously enhance your leadership and soft skills, as well as your technical/hard skills, to stay competitive. Step up to a leadership position in a student organization, lead a volunteer project in your community, and complete an internship or two in college to enhance your skills.
4. Keep Things in the Proper Context
Readiness requires you to keep things in context to prevent you from getting so caught up in what you are doing that you lose sight of your overall goals. If you lose sight, you can burn out and want to give up. Keep focused on your big goals while working on the small, and occasionally tedious, steps needed to reach your goal.
Students who lose sight of their educational goals can become disillusioned and unmotivated. If you find yourself struggling, remember that your classes, tests, and assignments are necessary steps in your education journey. Keep your focus on your educational goals, and don’t get discouraged.
Maintaining the proper context also contributes to your positive attitude and keeps you motivated after a loss or setback. Don’t lose sight of the big picture of your life when you come up short, and don’t let a setback derail your overall progress.
Readiness focuses on you. In the next article, we will discuss Relationships, which focus on your ability to build productive connections and work effectively with family, friends, and team mates. By applying what you learned in Readiness, you will be more effective in your Relationships.
Gain a deeper understanding of these and other components of Readiness by reading Leadership and Soft Skills for Students: Empowered to Succeed in High School, College, and Beyond. This book contains practical advice and hands-on exercises to equip you with skills needed for academic and career success.
Adecco Staffing US. (2013). State of the Economy and Employment Survey. Melville: Adecco Staffing US.
CareerBuilder. (2014, April 10). Overwhelming Majority of Companies Say Soft Skills Are Just as Important as Hard Skills. Retrieved from CareerBuilder.com
Rider, L., & Klaeysen, C. (2015). Employer Perspectives on Soft Skills. Seattle: Washington State Human Resources Council.
St. Louis Community College Workforce Solutions Group. (2013). State of St. Louis Work Force 2013. Bridgeton: St. Louis Community College.
Cary J. Green, PhD recently founded Leadership and Soft Skills Training. Prior to starting his own business, Green spent twenty years teaching, advising, mentoring, and supervising university students. He also spent ten years in leadership positions in higher education. He taught leadership and academic success courses, and mentored student leadership development organizations. Please visit Leadership and Soft Skills for free resources and more information on Green’s books and personalized coaching.