While intellect and academic achievement are obviously important traits in a job candidate, they’re not the only skills employers seek. Such soft skills as verbal communication and teamwork, in addition to the ability to process and analyze information, and plan and organize work, are also high on the list of desirable qualities.
According to a recent report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), verbal communication is the most important candidate skill in new college graduates. The top 10 skills or qualities from NACE’s Job Outlook 2016 are listed below:
||Weighted Average Rating
||Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization
||Ability to work in a team structure
||Ability to make decisions and solve problems
||Ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work
||Ability to obtain and process information
||Ability to analyze quantitative data
||Technical knowledge related to the job
||Proficiency with computer software programs
||Ability to create and/or edit written reports
||Ability to sell or influence others
If you have any doubt regarding the importance of these skills, Bill Driscoll, the New England District President of Accountemps, tells GoodCall, “According to research from Accountemps, CFOs say poor interpersonal skills is the most common reason for employees’ failure to advance at their company.”
So why are these skills so important to employers – and how can college students and recent grads gain them?
Driscoll says employers use verbal communication skills to explain the meaning behind business decisions to a variety of audiences. “This is particularly true when it comes to informing colleagues in other departments or clients that may be unfamiliar with the topics you are presenting.” And he notes that presentation and public speaking skills are required for leadership positions.
The ability to work in a team structure was the 2nd most important trait. Chaim Shapiro, assistant director of the Office of Career Services at Touro College, tells GoodCall that teamwork and verbal communication are closely related. “Teamwork and groups projects are the order of the day for most companies, and verbal communication is an essential component of successful teamwork.” As a result, he says that employees must be able to express their ideas and thoughts – and sometimes disagree – with colleagues who may be from a different generation or culture.
Other soft skills
Shapiro also notes that soft skills dominate the list. “There are plenty of subject matter experts on the job market, but the MOST valuable employees are those who can combine that expertise with the ability to solve real-world problems, plan, organize and prioritize in a manner that really produces the best work.”
Gaining and demonstrating soft skills
While soft skills may be hard to quantify, Shapiro says they’re even harder to teach. “Practical experience remains the best way for a person to hone their soft skills – internships and shadowing are a great way for students to not only practice their communication and soft skills, but to demonstrate their proficiency of them.”
He also recommends taking advantage of student volunteer and campus group leadership opportunities. “Colleges are full of high academic achievers, but it is the academically successful, active students that demonstrate their ability to excel in the areas employers value most,” explains Shapiro.
Jennifer Lasaster, Kaplan University vice president of employers and careers services, agrees and adds that students can also participate in class team projects to strengthen their skills. Regarding interviews, Lasaster tells GoodCall, “Be sure to think ahead of time about previous communication situations that went well and those that didn’t – how did you deal with the positive situation, how did you add to the conversation or help the situation?”
And she advises students and grads to take the same approach to their other skills. “Once again, think of your previous experiences, work, classes, volunteer, etc that helped you build these skills and are great examples to use in an interview situation.”
However, Julie Perez, a communications professor at Brookhaven College – part of the Dallas County Community College District, recommends that applicants also develop excellent non-verbal skills. “Employers look at appearance, confidence, and posture, in addition to your ability to answer their questions completely.”