Soft Skills are Key to Defining Career Readiness and Success in Recent College Grads

During my first week of onboarding as an investment banker I thought I had it made. While I graduated with majors in finance and accounting, my new co-workers majored in philosophy and art history.  As the instructor began to review the foundations of discounted cash flows, I was concerned for my non-finance peers. However, by the end of the week I knew I had it wrong.

The soft skills that were demonstrated by my fellow new hires are critical for today’s entry-level professionals. Not surprisingly, the premier employers know this too. While they value “hard skills,” they recognize the benefits of not recruiting for them. A recent Global Talent Trends report confirms this, reporting that 92% of talent professionals ranked the importance of soft skills equal to or higher than hard skills. Moreover, of the top eight career-readiness competencies defined by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), seven were soft skills

Understanding how to assess for these vital core skills can have an invaluable impact on campus recruiting efforts. While the value of these skills won’t surprise you, they are worth highlighting as they go deeper than first impressions.

Problem solving. Most of the problems we face as professionals do not have a single correct answer. As a business major, I learned to use Lotus 1-2-3 to value companies and the pooling of interest accounting method for M&A transactions. However, this is not problem solving – it is rule-following with a single correct answer.

While business classes taught me how to follow rules to find the right answer, liberal arts and humanities classes hone the abilities of students to use information to formulate an opinion and craft a logical argument that supports a perspective. Consider when you evaluate inconsistent information to make a case for a specific candidate – while there may be certain constraints, your ability to identify and process the relevant data allows you to make a compelling case. And, like Lotus and the pooling method, many hard skills have short shelf lives.

Adaptability. Given the speed of innovation, the lifecycle of specific best practices and skills continues to shrink. In the same way that I needed to learn Excel to replace Lotus, professionals across all departments need the ability to adapt to new technologies. And the impact goes well beyond the technology itself, as the second-order implications are often greater. For example, the emergence of gig platforms have forced HR to adapt new internal processes. While many professionals are highly valued for their ability to “see around corners,” the reality is these individuals are demonstrating their adaptability.

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Communication. College students and recent grads often get knocked because they’re more comfortable communicating via texts or tweets, but that’s not the real issue. Real communication goes well beyond grammar or style – it’s about effectively conveying ideas to others. While adaptability and problem solving skills allow one to understand a situation, effective communication is required to convey a perspective and the process used to determine it. Without them, bad decisions are made and opportunities lost.

Grit. Although probably the most important skill, it is also the most difficult skill to assess. The reality is that only through actual experience working with someone can we see grit – the ability (and desire) to overcome obstacles, take on additional responsibility, and create opportunities. To be clear, grit is not about time on task or quantity of actions – anyone can pull an all-nighter or make 100 phone calls. It’s about overcoming tough obstacles to achieve a goal and doing it with a proverbial smile as you knowingly get closer to that goal.

Fortunately, there is increasing recognition of the importance of hiring for soft skills. Not only do they have an impact on success metrics for young talent, greater focus in these areas allow companies to increase their hiring pool, drive sustainable diversity, gain early access to candidates, and enhance their hiring metrics. Strategically, this approach drives overall company performance.

MORE: College Recruiting: The Cost of Bad Hiring, and a Solution in Micro-Internships

Jeffrey Moss

Jeffrey Moss
Jeffrey Moss is the founder and CEO of Parker Dewey LLC, a company focused on addressing the challenges associated with college-to-career transitions through micro-internships.

Jeffrey Moss

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