Black woman with curly hair & vitiligo in orange shirt with clipboard by window

9 Tips for Developing Soft Skills Before Graduation

Developing hard skills during college may seem like a winning strategy for postgrad employment, but neglecting soft skills can be a serious miscalculation.

Spending your college years developing hard skills, particularly technical skills, may seem like a winning strategy for securing postgraduate employment. But according to employers, neglecting soft skills—like communication, self-motivation, and flexibility—can be a serious miscalculation. Many studies have found that employers tend to value soft skills more than job seekers do, and there's often a stark discrepancy between posted job descriptions and the skills listed by job seekers on résumés. The good news for college students is that a slight shift in strategy can boost your soft skills acquisition and give you a competitive edge in the job market. Here's how. 

A soft skills strategy

A study from the Society for Human Resource Management found that employers rate soft skills as especially important qualities for the kind of entry-level jobs that recent college graduates take on. Another survey conducted by Business Roundtable reported that 95% of employers find it difficult to attract applicants with soft skills such as leadership, adaptability, integrity, industry knowledge, and customer service. Soft skills can take years to develop, and many, like project management and multitasking, are most easily acquired on the job. So how can students develop the kind of soft skills they’ll need to highlight on a résumé, on a cover letter, or in an interview while they are still in college?

1. Land an internship (or two or more)

The SHRM study cited completing a professional internship as a crucial advantage for entry-level job seekers, primarily because they offer students the opportunity to develop such valued soft skills as dependability, professionalism, information management, and adaptability.

2. Join the conversation

Communication skills such as asking good questions and active listening help drive interpersonal relationships with coworkers and clients. Strengthen these skills by taking part in class discussions and attending your instructors’ office hours.

3. Speak up

Public speaking and communication are highly valued soft skills. Taking on a campus role that includes public speaking, such as a student government leader or tour guide, is one way to develop these skills. Taking a speech communication course—even if it isn’t a required class—can also set you apart from other job applicants.

4. Join a club or intramural team

Extracurricular activities, including service learning experiences and philanthropic projects that require a group endeavor, are great ways to develop teamwork and collaboration skills. Better yet, seek a leadership role in a student activity or volunteer to take charge of a project.

5. Take the initiative

Demonstrate and develop ingenuity and management skills by starting your own student initiative. It might be a club that reflects one of your interests, a project you believe in, or a website or money-making endeavor.

6. Be a role model

Look for roles that include mentorship and high levels of responsibility—for example, a resident assistant (RA), tutor, or teaching assistantship.

7. Achieve outside the classroom

Demonstrate your time management and multitasking skills by maintaining multiple endeavors. Succeeding in the classroom while working part time, freelancing, or completing volunteer work is a sure way to impress future hiring managers.

8. Up your résumé game

Research shows that job seekers tend to underestimate how much hiring managers value soft skills. As a consequence, applicants don't always highlight—or even recognize—all the soft skills they have.

9. Think long term

Many hard skills are job-specific and change quickly as technology advances. In contrast, soft skills become a part of who you are and only increase with time and experience. That means the soft skills you develop today can remain your secret job-seeking weapons for years to come.

Related: How Useful Transferrable Skills Can Land You a Job

How to highlight soft skills on your résumé

Take inventory of all your work, volunteer, and academic experiences. Your part-time job may not be in the field you’ll be entering after graduation, but it might teach the value of costumer focus, one of the most valued soft skills across industry segments. You may not plan to go into politics anytime soon, but your student leadership role proves you have communication and interpersonal skills, two of the most sought-after skill sets cited by employers. In some cases, word choice may be the biggest stumbling block. In addition, some professions that often are not perceived as requiring soft skills in fact do. For example, job descriptions in the field of software development list an average of eight soft skills, as compared to a cross-industry average of five. For job seekers in sectors where they are less expected (for example, in STEM and technical fields), developing soft skills can set you apart from the rest of the pack.

Related: How to Use Keywords to Craft a Better Résumé

No matter what field you pursue, by taking every opportunity to develop more soft skills—and by recognizing and valuing the ones you already have—you'll give yourself the edge you need to land your first dream job. Best of luck!

Don't think you have enough skills or jobs to put on your résumé? Check out this article on How to Write a Résumé With No Job Experience.  

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Tags:

About LiveCareer

Since 2005, LiveCareer’s team of career coaches, certified résumé writers, and savvy technologists have been developing career tools that have helped over 10 million users build stronger résumés, write persuasive cover letters, and develop better interview skills. Land the job you want faster using our free résumé templates and résumé examples, writing guides, and an easy-to-use résumé builder.

 

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Lydia Huth

Lydia Huth

Student, Campbell University; CollegeXpress Student Writer

I discovered CollegeXpress while embarking on my college search journey as an excited—but scared and way confused—high schooler without a counselor or college-bound sibling to give me advice. Let me tell you, I’m so glad that I stumbled on this community! CollegeXpress helped me find potential colleges and keep application deadlines straight. It gave me a great list of scholarships, and the blogs and emails made me feel like I wasn’t going it alone. Almost three years later and with freshman year of college down, I still love the CollegeXpress vibe so much that I’m writing for them. I’d recommend this site to anyone!

Maurice Whan

Maurice Whan

$2,000 Spring Scholarship Contest Winner, 2021

This year has been tough for my family and myself, so receiving this scholarship has been a blessing in disguise! CollegeXpress has been an excellent resource in helping me prepare financially for college. Thank you again for this amazing opportunity!

Jenna

Jenna

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me greatly during my college search. I used their college search feature often and it helped in comparing schools I was looking at. Now that I’ve found a college the scholarship search feature is helping me find a way to find my college experience. CollegeXpress has many helpful features and resources for anyones college search, it truly is a wonderful tool for anyone entering college level!

Ruth Aguilar

Ruth Aguilar

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress helped me by providing me with many scholarship opportunities and information about universities I want to attend. What I love about CollgeXpress is how it provides a variety of information, and as the first child attending a university next year, it has been very essential and helpful. I’m so grateful for this because the information provided by CollegeXpress has also helped me see that there are so many college opportunities, and it always informs me by email. In other words, CollegeXpress has been like a guide for me as a future college student.

Nazira Abdelkhalek

Nazira Abdelkhalek

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2014

I am very honored to be this year’s recipient of the Multicultural Student Community Service Scholarship! This scholarship is vital to helping me achieve and fulfill my dreams, and gives me confidence and motivation as I begin my college career. The CollegeXpress website has been invaluable over the past year as I planned my educational and professional goals. I highly recommend it to all students as they begin to focus on their college and career interests. The website is a wonderful guide to schools and scholarships.

College Matches
X

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Rhode Island College

Providence, RI

Emerson College

Boston, MA

Pace University—Westchester

Pleasantville, NY