A college education is largely seen as the golden ticket to a solid career. But does college really make you a better, more promising, and competitive employee? I’ve been a business owner and employer for almost 20 years in fields spanning from law to construction. Experience has shown me that recent college grads lack a core group of soft skills that are critical in the workplace and other professional environments. Here are four crucial skills to master for most careers that you should work on ASAP, whether you’re just starting college or about to graduate.
1. How to participate in small talk
Small talk is a crucial stepping stone to improving how we interact with other people, creating connections, and forging relationships—all of which are key to making an impact and advancing in the workplace. Employers look for this and other soft skills during the hiring process as it’s the first step in most conversations and makes it easier to adjust to a new work environment. The ability to converse well, in essence, allows you to empathize with people and forge deeper connections. However, the ability to converse and make small talk receives little emphasis in college and can be weakened through lack of exercise. MIT Sociology Professor Sherry Turkle noted in her New York Times opinion piece, “We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.”
2. How to be persuasive
After establishing trust through basic conversation and relationship building, you can guide another person’s thoughts toward an intended outcome by learning the art of persuasion. Managers value persuasive employees because these are the individuals who can promote and sell products and services, make deals, and establish beneficial connections. They’re also the ones trusted to manage others and thus often get promoted. In college, persuasion skills can be acquired through courses in debate, logic, and philosophy. But they are often best acquired and honed beyond the classroom in your everyday life.
3. How to look at things analytically
Analytic skills are key to both work and so many real-life situations. Analytical thinking begins with one simple thing: asking good questions. This skill can be acquired in the classroom and developed through a wide range of extracurricular activities as well as off-campus experiences. Start by researching things you’re interested in. Make a point of finding answers for yourself instead of taking what you are told at face value. Once you’ve found your first answers, ask even more questions, like:
- What does this mean?
- Is there any inconsistency here?
- What can I do with this information?
- How can I apply this information to real life?
4. How to take initiative
From inquiry flows initiative, by far considered one of the most valuable attributes in the workplace. For example, one of my employees in construction once researched Salesforce software to improve our customer relationship management (CRM) and discovered it could be expanded to include construction progress. He then set his mind to programming the available software to link construction progress to our reporting system and track the sales cycle from initial prospect all the way to project completion. His initiative saved our company time, money, and effort, greatly increasing his value as an employee. Being well educated doesn’t just mean attending college and leaving with a degree; it means developing a toolkit of essential skills that are necessary to succeed in one’s chosen field. An emerging trend right now among federal and state hiring authorities is to eliminate the degree requirement for many government jobs and pivot toward skill-based assessments.
Because these and other valuable soft skills are not necessarily taught during the standard college experience, students must be intentional about acquiring them through activities such as internships and summer jobs. Whether you develop these skills in college or outside of it, I hope this overview will help prepare you to thrive in your personal endeavors and the workforce.
It’s never too early or too late to learn important career skills—and CX can help with just about all of them! Check out Our Best Advice on Building Important Skills as a Student to start leveling up.