The Top 7 Soft Skills that Employers Want

This blog post has been updated by Jessica McLeod-Waddell, Assistant Director of Operations and Strategy on 5/9/2024 for relevancy, inclusivity, and formatting.

The ability to construct a balance sheet? Check! Engaging lesson plans to teach writing to elementary school students? Check! A firm grasp on the inner workings of skin cells? Check!

We spend hours upon hours in college formulating our content knowledge within our major of choice. Whether it’s finance, education or biology, the specific information we learn in our classes prepares us for success as we launch our careers. And while no one can deny the importance of developing that knowledge base, college also provides the opportunity to enhance those harder-to-define “soft skills” that employers value tremendously. In fact, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) surveyed organizations that hire new college graduates, and identified seven top skills that employers consider to be essential. So, read on for a list of the top seven skills and tips for developing and marketing them.

1. Professionalism and Work Ethic
According to NACE, employers rank professionalism and work ethic as the top soft skill that they assess in candidates. Professionalism encompasses punctuality, managing your time well, being responsible and learning from your mistakes. As a candidate, you’ll have an opportunity to demonstrate professionalism through every interaction with employers. Attending an information session with your dream company? Arrive a few minutes early, ask good questions and take notes throughout the session. When you land an interview, be prepared to share stories that highlight instances when you have demonstrated professionalism and a strong work ethic in the past.

2. Critical Thinking / Problem Solving
Employers want to hire candidates who can make decisions, solve problems and understand data. Demonstrating that you’ve implemented inventive approaches to solving common problems will add even more points to your score as a candidate. As you’re preparing to launch your job search, think about times when you’ve demonstrated your critical thinking skills. Perhaps you found a way to increase your social media followers for your student organization or designed an amazing product prototype for a class. Make room for these types of accomplishments on your resume, and be prepared to discuss them in your interview using the STAR method.

3. Oral / Written Communication
Good communication skills encompass everything from writing clear and concise emails to delivering an engaging presentation to your entire department. Employers look for candidates who can express their ideas clearly with colleagues and clients. Your resume and cover letter provide perfect opportunities to demonstrate how well you communicate in writing, and the interview gives you a chance to showcase how well you communicate in person. Check out our Career Guide to ensure that your resume, cover letter, and interview will convey your communication competencies.

4. Teamwork / Collaboration
Chances are you’ll have the opportunity to work in a variety of teams throughout your college career. Group projects, part-time jobs and student organizations all provide ample chances to see the good, the bad and the ugly of collaboration. Regardless of your career path, you’ll be working in teams to accomplish the objectives of your organization, so employers will be evaluating your approach to teamwork. Whether you tend to rise to a leadership role or be counted on to accomplish the details that everyone else seems to overlook, your role on a team is important. Be prepared to confidently discuss a few examples of times when you’ve worked in a team and used your skills to accomplish a larger goal.

5. Technology
Using computing tools effectively reaches well beyond conducting intricate internet searches and creating dazzling documents for your class assignments. IT savviness means that you can select the proper technology to accomplish any given work-related task and learn new programs efficiently. You can demonstrate your technological prowess during your job search by creating an online portfolio to showcase your academic and professional accomplishments. Remember to list your technological skills on your resume too. To help you determine which skills to list, reference O*Net’s “Hot Technologies” guide to identify technology requirements that frequently appear in job postings.

6. Leadership
According to NACE, effective leaders identify and employ the strengths of others to reach common goals through motivation, delegation and prioritization. Leaders also possess emotional intelligence, meaning that they can use empathy, manage their own emotions and assess the emotions of their teammates. If you have held defined leadership roles in a job, project or organization, be sure to list them on your resume along with the accomplishments you achieved in that position. Remember that you can develop leadership skills outside of these finite roles too. Think about times when you have trained a new employee, served as an example for colleagues or managed a project in a volunteer role. Consider your current leadership style, or what kind of style you hope to have as a leader, and be prepared to articulate it in an interview. If you’re looking for opportunities to develop as a leader, check out UGA’s Engagement, Leadership and Service website.

7. Career & Self-Development
In simple terms, “career management” means that you can effectively manage your own career. You understand your strengths and how to market them, and you can identify and communicate your professional goals. When a professional opportunity presents itself, you can self-advocate to help make that dream a reality. Our Arch Ready Professionalism Certificate program provides the perfect opportunity for you to start polishing this life-long skill and equip you with the tools you need to achieve career success.

Which soft skill do you need to work on the most? Which one is your strongest? Make an appointment with your career consultant to discuss your skills and learn how to effectively market them throughout your job search.

Want to know more about the skills employers are looking for? Check out the NACE Career Readiness Competencies!

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