5 Must-Have Skills Graduates Need to Land Their First Job

Careful listening, collaboration, asking good questions--these "soft skills" aren't always taught in school.

Today’s college graduates need every skill-related edge they can get when it comes to applying for and landing a full-time job.

Numerous surveys and reports indicate that recent U.S. college graduates face a wildly competitive job market along with astronomical student loan debt. More than 40% of recent graduates are underemployed and 16% are working part-time jobs, according to Accenture’s 2013 College Graduate Employment Survey.

One employer survey, conducted by staffing company Adecco, indicates that 44% of responding companies cited “soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration” as the area with “the biggest gap.”

Additionally, a Talent Shortage Survey from ManpowerGroup discovered that nearly one in five employers worldwide is unable to fill positions because they can’t find people with soft skills.

So what are these soft skills--and other critical workplace skills--that are necessary to join today’s collaborative, fast-moving, real-time workforce? Here are five:

1. Manage Up

Most new graduates apply for entry-level positions, perhaps following an internship at a specific organization. Even though the desired position may be a starter position, having the advanced ability to manage up is key.

Managing up involves listening, observing, and learning about your manager’s leadership style, how she measures success, what projects she cares most about, her core values, etc. When you learn and process this information, you can more easily manage expectations, deliver results, and communicate effectively.

Let’s say your boss is an expert multi-tasker who makes quick decisions and hates to be interrupted with in-person “drop-ins.” Work with that to match your day-to-day work style to your manager’s preferences. If your boss is disorganized, be proactive and help him track tasks and deadlines.

2. Embrace Transparency

Transparency is a key value in the workplace and it’s a value you should learn to embrace in the beginning of your career.

Transparency is about being open. It involves thinking about others, collaborating and sharing within a democratic workplace. A democratic workplace encourages all employees to have a voice. Part of that voice encompasses participating fully in the workplace.

Understand the impact your work--whether it is producing a report or contacting a sales lead--has on your coworkers as well as the company overall.

3. Be Collaborative vs. Comparative

Collaboration can be defined as working with other people to achieve or create something. Meanwhile, to compare is to examine something--for both similarities and differences--in relation to something else. When you view your job through a “collaborative” lens, you are more likely to focus on the greater good of the project and the company rather than your individual contribution.

Consider a sports team. When a basketball player makes a shot from across the court, it’s exciting. But when one player passes the ball to another player who then makes a crafty pass to a third player who makes a slam dunk--that is a whole new level of exciting! This is teamwork in action. The precision of collaboration motivates team members to share, engage, and excel.

4. Listen (Respectfully) With The Intent To Learn

The ability to listen can make or break you in the workplace (and in life). Listening is crucial to understanding our environment, our society, and those around us. When we don’t listen, we fail to understand, and a lack of understanding leads to problems.

An integral part of listening is not only hearing what is said but what is not said. A person may have innovative ideas, but he may not be able to clearly articulate them. Another person may have reservations about a project but be unable to clearly express his thoughts. Often, you need to listen for what someone is trying to say versus what they are actually saying.

Another component of listening is asking the right questions. A great leader asks the right questions, as she recognizes that no single person knows the correct answers. She knows that a team is much better at figuring out the answers. If you put a team of people in a room and each asks the right questions, the right answers will often materialize. Remember that it’s much more important to ask the right questions than to have all the answers.

5. Understand the Make-Up of the Modern Workplace: Generation Collaboration

There are currently four generations of workers in today’s workforce: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X-ers, and Millennials. As you master the intricacies of your new work environment--and while you collaborate with and listen to coworkers--be mindful of each person’s background and how that influences his work style. There is no right or wrong, good or bad--just different. Learn to embrace it.

Think of the modern workplace as an ecosystem centered on connection. While the Boomer may prefer to work from a quiet office, the Millennial might be more comfortable working from the café with four coworkers. Be adept at working with both.

When you prepare to manage up, embrace transparency and collaboration, listen carefully, and welcome workplace and work style diversity, you place yourself ahead of the rest of the graduate pack.

Mastering these soft skills will help you avoid the hard reality of an unsuccessful job search.

--Avinoam Nowogrodski is founder & CEO of Clarizen.

[Image: Shutterstock]

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5 Comments

  • Cameron Bradford

    I have the problem where I just can't stay interested therefore focused when someone is speaking to me. I want to change that... Any tips on how to listen more actively?

  • I'm becoming convinced that "managing up" actually exacerbates a manager's weaknesses. Basically you're handling the small details that once secretaries would orchestrate for a manager. Instead of you accomplishing a task for your manager, you're actually doing the manager's organizational and advocacy work for him. It does not help a manager deal with the unexpected, it helps her pretend everything is just as predicted.

  • Number 5 about working with multi-generations is significant. I know new grads who have been rejected from the hiring process simply because they came with a "too casual" approach that was reminiscent of their college days. The older generation appreciates formalities, and if they don't see it, they may think the candidate may not be suitable.

  • R William Holland

    Good skills to have. Thanks for sharing. Of equal importance is how one should go about developing those skills while in college or on the job. That's where I spend most of my consulting time and encourage others to do so as well.