(Following up on a piece I wrote for YouTern a couple months ago called Close the Skills Gap: View College as Soft Skills Experience. In that piece, I discussed all the ways soft skills happen in college, but many students don’t realize it. I’ve got the actual words to message those skills…)
“But I have no experience!”
How many times do college students say this when they realize: “Wow, I have to speak to skills beyond my degree to get a job!”?
It’s an awful feeling, too. You’ve spent money. You’ve feel like your butt’s been in a classroom since practically birth. Your college degree is supposed to be the golden ticket to a career. That’s what you’ve been told, right?
A college degree tells an employer that you have credentials and were able to finish something. You’ll have to package yourself more fully than that, particularly with those “soft skills” everyone keeps talking about.
One piece I recently appreciated was in U.S. News and World Report, called 5 Soft Skills to Showcase in an Interview by Miriam Salpeter. The article offers fantastic tips for those who are already in the workforce, but with the right spin, college students can easily transfer this advice.
Let’s look at the soft skills Salpeter discusses and see how much you can say:
1. Work ethic. Pull out those back-pocket stories of how you conducted your work, how you excelled, and even how you worked with others in your classes. Tangible results are awesome and critical to add, too. Some examples:
-”I was always early with my deadlines so I could get feedback from my prof and have time to apply it. This helped me keep my 3.8 average.”
-”I created an extra study guide and my prof had me share it with the class.”
-”I kept a running list of questions so I could keep conversations on track when I met with profs.”
2. Positive attitude. How do you behave when tackling work? When working with others? When faced with a dilemma? Try these statements:
-”I organized a study group and we met all term. Each of us achieved higher scores because we committed to working together.”
-”When I had a difficult situation with a group project, I kept my team motivated (and explain how).”
-”Even when I received critical feedback from profs and I struggled, I knew that I was becoming a stronger student. The feedback was meant to make my work better and hopefully improve my grade, which it often did.”
3. Communication skills. By sharing your stories and using excellent nonverbal strategies (consistent eye contact, appropriate facial expressions, some hand gestures to animate your words, sitting up straight), your communication abilities will shine through. Here are other ways to nab this attribute that many employers say is the most important:
-”I was very engaged in class discussion and enjoyed asking thoughtful questions and hearing what others had to say.”
-”Once, I had a grade that didn’t make sense to me. The professor didn’t write any feedback. I met with him and respectfully asked if he could give me more information. We had a good dialogue and I understood what he wanted in the next assignment.”
-”I was on a service learning project where my team had a couple of non-performers. I suggested that we meet to go over the deliverables and update on progress. I made sure that we re-established clear deadlines, expectations, and even a back-up plan if the timeline wasn’t met. Everyone stepped up after that.”
4. Time management. Here is where you can talk about how you dealt with the numerous demands of your classes. Say:
-”I set all of my deadlines a week in advance so that way I would have a lot of time to proof my work and take care of any issues.”
-”One term, I took two morning classes and a night class, and I had a part-time job. I was successful in maintaining a schedule that allowed me to finish my homework and still get to work on time.”
-”I prided myself on being on time for classes and having an excellent attendance record.”
5. Self-confidence. As the piece notes, much of this will come from your nonverbal communication, but you can verbally message self-confidence this way:
-”I noticed that there wasn’t a cooking club on campus, so I decided to start one. I had to search for a faculty advisor who would sponsor us, and was able to convince two professors to take it on. I reminded them that cooking is an important life skill for college students!”
-”I had a gruff professor who a lot of students feared. When we were all confused about an assignment, I asked questions in class and made an appointment to meet her in her office. The personality issue did not intimidate me. I didn’t whine about being lost, but kept it all business. I believe I actually gained the prof’s respect after that conversation.”
-”I used all of the resources at my college that were available to me: Librarians, the writing center, etc. I figured that is what those services are there for and I would do better if I took advantage.”
The examples I’m providing don’t necessarily encompass benchmarks and metrics, but if you catapulted from a C to an A, by all means, use that data and tell that story. Remember, a professor can help remind you of tasks that built your soft skills. So can your campus career center, so bring some syllabi with you.
My last piece of advice? Start compiling your examples now, whether or not you are graduating. Wait too long and you may not remember everything you accomplished.
Worried that your soft skills aren’t up to par? Well, what a great time to look at the areas for improvement and start fixing them. College gives you lots of ways to renew yourself.
Whenever you see articles like Salpeter’s with soft skills examples, get creative. Consider interactions and classes that fit those requirements.
I bet you’ll find that college trained you more than you realize.
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