Following criticism from talent acquisition professionals that universities are not doing enough to teach students the soft skills they need in the workplace, the latest trend for higher education institutions is to focus on personal growth and development. To help students stand out in the job market after they graduate, EU Business School has put together this post to explain what soft skills are, why they are important, and how you can develop them as a student. Plus, find out what the top five soft skills you’ll learn at university are!
What are “soft skills”?
Unlike “hard skills,” which are things you can be trained to do (e.g., speak a foreign language, fix a leaking faucet, or write computer code), soft skills are natural, non-technical attributes that represent your approach to work. They are personality-based and define how you interact with other people.
The following competencies are all examples of soft skills that employers value:
- Decision making
- Stress management
- Conflict resolution
But while these skills are not necessarily learned—some people are naturally more laid back and better able to handle stress than others, for example—they will develop over time if you work at them. However, this requires a certain degree of self-awareness, as you will need to identify what you’re good at and what you could be better at before you begin.
If you’re not sure where to start, do some research into which soft skills are most sought after by employers in your target sector, then follow the tips in this article to develop your soft skills!
Why are soft skills essential?
In a nutshell, if you can demonstrate you have good soft skills, you’re more likely to be hired in today’s employment market. With more and more people graduating from universities every year, you need more than just a degree to stand out these days. According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report, 92% of talent acquisition specialists said that soft skills are more important than hard skills when hiring. This is because, above all, soft skills demonstrate potential. If you can show employers you’re flexible and willing to learn, especially for entry- or lower-level positions, they’re more likely to take a chance on you. You can be trained on technical skills, but a good work ethic can’t be taught.
Plus, as workplaces become increasingly digitized, additional emphasis is being placed by employers on soft skills. You can teach a machine to do many technical things, but they’re not yet adept at interpersonal interactions!
How to develop soft skills as a student
1. Practice self-reflection
The first question you need to answer is which skills you could do with developing. Think about your strengths and weaknesses and assess how well your current competencies match the skills and attributes listed on job descriptions for roles you’re targeting. Then, what do you need to work on to get that job?
2. Be open to learning
Make the most of the expertise you’re surrounded with on campus. In addition to your teachers, you’ll have the opportunity to learn from visiting speakers and even your fellow students. Also, check to see whether your school runs a mentorship program; you could sign up as a mentee or a mentor if you’re looking to develop your leadership skills!
3. Join the conversation
Effective communication skills will help you at school, at work, and in your personal life. Regular participation in class discussions will not only make you a more confident speaker, but will also improve your listening skills. Listen attentively to the points made by your classmates, ask questions, and contribute your own thoughts. This will help prepare you for internal and external meetings in the workplace.
4. Continue to work on them outside the classroom
At university, you will find there are lots of opportunities for personal and professional growth. For example, there are lots of clubs and societies for you to join, where you will learn teamwork and may even be able to take on a leadership role. You could also apply for internships, get a part-time job, or volunteer. This way, you will develop excellent time management skills and learn how to prioritize tasks effectively.
5. Ask for feedback
Starting with self-reflection is all well and good, but you need to check in regularly with yourself and others to monitor your progress properly. Make the most of your tutor’s office hours and ask them what they think of your work. Where is there room for improvement? That’s the next skill you’ll want to look at developing using these steps.
The top five soft skills you’ll learn at university
Whatever you’re studying, your university course will help you develop your writing, listening, and speaking skills. For example, if you’ve delivered presentations in class as part of your grade, make sure potential managers see that on your resume, or tell them at the interview. Strong presentation and public speaking skills are highly sought after by employers.
2. Money management (budgeting)
As a student living away from home for the first time, you’ll suddenly be responsible for all your own spending. You’ll quickly learn how to manage your money so you can pay for nights out as well as all the necessities (rent, food, etc.). Plus, if you get elected to your club committee, there’s a chance you’ll be handling larger sums of money as well for organizing events or similar activities. Even if you’re not applying for accounting roles or jobs with cash-handling responsibilities, knowing how to budget effectively will mark you out as a reliable and trustworthy individual.
3. Time management
The ability to meet deadlines is critical at university. In fact, many institutions penalize students for submitting late assignments. While the stakes in the workplace are different—a disgruntled manager or client, usually—it is nevertheless an important, transferable skill. If you can give an example of a time when you juggled multiple responsibilities at the same time (e.g., if you had a part-time job or played an active role in a club or society while studying), even better! That will demonstrate to potential employers that you know how to manage your own time and prioritize effectively.
4. Critical thinking and problem solving
While studying, you will encounter essay questions, equations, or other academic problems you cannot solve at first glance. And in trying to find and explain your answer, you will develop your research, critical thinking, and communication skills. If you are invited to interview for any role, make sure you go prepared with some examples of when you were able to overcome tricky problems in this way. That will demonstrate to the hiring manager that you have all the skills you need to keep a project on track if you find yourself in a similar situation in a work setting.
5. Responding positively to feedback
You go to university to learn, and no one gets things right 100% of the time. Your tutors will offer constructive criticism on your work, and if you can see and use their feedback as a way to improve instead of taking their words to heart, that will stand you in excellent stead for the future. Hiring managers will always be looking for employees who are proactive about self-improvement.