Why you shouldn’t forget about soft skills

Recently, I have been interviewing graduates employed in a range of job sectors, to learn about their experiences of entering the working world.

Many of them said that when they began their careers, they felt they lacked the soft skills that their jobs required.

A graduate engineer at RPS said, ‘My degree prepared me well for the technical side of my job, but I had to work hard to improve my soft skills such as communication’.

Soft skills are a person’s behavioural abilities or interpersonal skills, and include:

  • Communication
  • Motivation
  • Analytical skills
  • Managing your own learning
  • Problem solving
  • Confidence
  • Independent working
  • Flexibility
  • Diligence
  • Team work.

Soft skills cannot be underestimated in the workplace.  What use is a graduate who can’t communicate with colleagues, who can’t work to deadlines, and who can’t work independently?

Employers in the gradireland Graduate Salary & Graduate Recruitment Trends Survey 2012 similarly recognised the lack of soft skills in their recent graduate recruits. They agreed that the skills their graduates typically lack are communication, motivation and analytical skills.

How, then, can students in Ireland best prepare themselves for job interviews and their future careers?

In our 2012 survey, employers rated doing an internship or placement as the most effective method for developing interpersonal skills.

Yet, they also agreed that soft skills can be developed through an endless range of activities. Travelling, being involved in a university society, volunteering and doing a sport are only a few of many activities that students can enjoy, while improving their interpersonal skills. They don’t have to be developed through serious, academic means.

The message to students is this: don’t forget about your soft skills. Get involved in as many different activities at university as possible, knowing that you are enhancing your employability. A primary degree is merely the first step towards gaining a graduate job position, but interpersonal skills are what will set you apart. They are also the skills that will help you to be successful in your career and to help you progress faster up the career ladder.

It doesn’t actually matter how you’ve developed soft skills, but most importantly that you have developed them.

In interviews and applications, people tend to focus on their qualifications or specialist knowledge. By explaining how you developed a range of soft skills, you will stand out to employers, showing that you have thought about your abilities, and it will make it clear to them why they should employ you.

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