Every artist was first an amateur. —Ralph Waldo Emerson, author
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
List specific skills that will be necessary for your career path
List transferable skills that will be valuable for any career path
Explain how to acquire necessary skills, both in and out of class, for your career goals
If you lived and worked in colonial times in the United States, what skills would you need to be gainfully employed? What kind of person would your employer want you to be? And how different would your skills and aptitudes be then, compared to today?
Many industries that developed during the 1600s–1700s, such as health care, publishing, manufacturing, construction, finance, and farming, are still with us today. And the professional abilities, aptitudes, and values required in those industries are many of the same ones employers seek today.
For example, in the health care field then, just like today, employers looked for professionals with scientific acumen, active listening skills, a service orientation, oral comprehension abilities, and teamwork skills. And in the financial field then, just like today, employers looked for economics and accounting skills, mathematical reasoning skills, clerical and administrative skills, and deductive reasoning.
Why is it that with the passage of time and all the changes in the work world, some skills remain unchanged (or little changed)?
The answer might lie in the fact there are are two main types of skills that employers look for: hard skills and soft skills.
Hard skills are concrete or objective abilities that you learn and perhaps have mastered. They are skills you can easily quantify, like using a computer, speaking a foreign language, or operating a machine. You might earn a certificate, a college degree, or other credentials that attest to your hard-skill competencies. Obviously, because of changes in technology, the hard skills required by industries today are vastly different from those required centuries ago.
Soft skills, on the other hand, are subjective skills that have changed very little over time. Such skills might pertain to the way you relate to people, or the way you think, or the ways in which you behave—for example, listening attentively, working well in groups, and speaking clearly. Soft skills are sometimes also called “transferable skills” because you can easily transfer them from job to job or profession to profession without much training. Indeed, if you had a time machine, you could probably transfer your soft skills from one time period to another!
What Employers Want in an Employee
Employers want individuals who have the necessary hard and soft skills to do the job well and adapt to changes in the workplace. Soft skills may be especially in demand today because employers are generally equipped to train new employees in a hard skill—by training them to use new computer software, for instance—but it's much more difficult to teach an employee a soft skill such as developing rapport with coworkers or knowing how to manage conflict. An employer might rather hire an inexperienced worker who can pay close attention to details than an experienced worker who might cause problems on a work team.
In this section, we look at ways of identifying and building particular hard and soft skills that will be necessary for your career path. We also explain how to use your time and resources wisely to acquire critical skills for your career goals.
Specific Skills Necessary for Your Career Path
A skill is something you can do, say, or think right now. It's what an employer expects you to bring to the workplace to improve the overall operations of the organization.
The table below lists four resources to help you determine which concrete skills are needed for all kinds of professions. You can even discover where you might gain some of the skills and which courses you might take.
Spend some time reviewing each resource. You will find many interesting and exciting options. When you're finished, you may decide that there are so many interesting professions in the world that it's difficult to choose just one. This is a good problem to have!
This test helps you match your skills to a particular career that’s right for you. Use a sliding scale to indicate your level of skill in the following skill areas: artistic, interpersonal, communication, managerial, mathematics, mechanical, and science. Press the Update Results button and receive a customized list customized of career suggestions tailored to you, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can filter by salary, expected growth, and education.
Use the Skills Profiler to create a list of your skills, and match your skills to job types that use those skills. Plan to spend about 20 minutes completing your profile. You can start with a job type to find skills you need for a current or future job. Or if you are not sure what kind of job is right for you, start by rating your own skills to find a job type match. When your skills profile is complete, you can print it or save it.
This U.S. government website helps job seekers answer two of their toughest questions: "What jobs can I get with my skills and training?" and "What skills and training do I need to get this job?” Browse groups of similar occupations to explore careers. Choose from industry, field of work, science area, and more. Focus on occupations that use a specific tool or software. Explore occupations that need your skills. Connect to a wealth of O*NET data. Enter a code or title from another classification to find the related O*NET-SOC occupation.
Suggested Courses to Develop Skills that Prospective Employers Want (Psych Web)
If you are trying to strengthen particular skills, certain courses may be helpful. The list at this site is based on courses offered on many campuses and some of the skills the courses emphasize.
Transferable Skills for Any Career Path
Transferable (soft) skills may be used in multiple professions. They include, but are by no means limited to, skills listed below:
Dependable and punctual (showing up on time, ready to work, not being a liability)
Willing to learn (lifelong learner)
Able to accept constructive criticism
A good problem solver
Strong in customer service skills
Adaptable (willing to change and take on new challenges)
A team player
Strong communication skills
Good in essential work skills (following instructions, possessing critical thinking skills, knowing limits)
Strong in time management
These skills are transferrable because they are positive attributes that are invaluable in practically any kind of work. They also do not require much training from an employer—you have them already and take them with you wherever you go. Soft skills are a big part of your "total me" package.
So, identify the soft skills that show you off the best, and identify the ones that prospective employers are looking for. By comparing both sets, you can more directly gear your job search to your strongest professional qualities.
10 Top Skills You Need to Get a Job When You Graduate
The following video summarizes the ten top skills that the Target corporation believes will get you a job when you graduate. You can read a transcript of the video here.
How to Find a New Job–Transferable Job Skills
If you are an international student, or perhaps English is your second language, the following video may especially appeal to you. It covers similar information to the 10 Top Skills video above. Discover how to find a new job more easily by learning how to identify and describe your transferable job skills in English.
Review the transferable skills listed in the self-assessment exercises developed by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).
Analyze your strengths and areas in which you need to improve individual essential skills.
Read each statement in Section 1 of any transferable skills pertinent to a profession you are interested in.
Place a checkmark in the column that best describes how well you can complete that task. Think about your work and life experiences as you consider each task.
Review your responses for each task. If you have checked five or more in the “Somewhat” and/or “No” columns, you may want to consider upgrading your oral communication skills.
Complete Section 2 to identify your training needs.
Oral Communication Self-Assessment
Computer Use Self-Assessment
Document Use Self-Assessment
Continuous Learning Self-Assessment
Working with Others Self-Assessment
Acquiring Necessary Skills (both in and out of class) for Your Career Goals
“Lifelong learning” is a buzz phrase in the twentieth-first century because we are awash in new technology and information all the time, and those who know how to learn, continuously, are in the best position to keep up and take advantage of these changes. Think of all the information resources around you: colleges and universities, libraries, the Internet, videos, games, books, films—the list goes on.
With these resources at your disposal, how can you best position yourself for lifelong learning and a strong, viable career? Which hard and soft skills are most important? What are employers really looking for?
The following list was inspired by the remarks of Mark Atwood, director of open-source engagement at Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. It contains excellent practical advice.
Learn how to write clearly. After you’ve written something, have people edit it. Then rewrite it, taking into account the feedback you received. Write all the time.
Learn how to speak. Speak clearly on the phone and at a table. For public speaking, try Toastmasters. "Meet and speak. Speak and write."
Be reachable. Publish your email so that people can contact you. Don’t worry about spam.
Learn about computers and computing, even if you aren’t gearing for a career in information technology. Learn something entirely new every six to twelve months.
Build relationships within your community. Use tools like Meetup.com and search for clubs at local schools, libraries, and centers. Then, seek out remote people around the country and world. Learn about them and their projects first by searching the Internet.
Attend conferences and events. This is a great way to network with people and meet them face-to-face.
Find a project and get involved. Start reading questions and answers, then start answering questions.
Collaborate with people all over the world.
Keep your LinkedIn profile and social media profiles up-to-date. Be findable.
Keep learning. Skills will often beat smarts. Be sure to schedule time for learning and having fun!
Just Get Involved
After you’ve networked with enough people and built up your reputation, your peers can connect you with job openings that may be a good fit for your skills. The video, below, from Monash University in Australia offers the following tips:
Get involved in part-time work
Get involved in extracurricular activities
Get involved with employment and career development
“Just Get involved. There are so many opportunities and open doors for you.”
We close this professional skill-building topic by sharing an essay by Vicki L. Brown, from Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom. Her message is this: "Do not let your college degree define who you are but rather, let the knowledge and skills you’ve acquired define who you are.”
I was supposed to be a teacher. Growing up, I had a classroom in the basement. I had a chalkboard, chalk, desks, textbooks, homework assignments, pens, pencils, paper—you name it, I had it! My brother and sister called me “Miss Brown.” All I ever wanted to be was an elementary school teacher—until I went to college.
As an elementary education major in college, I participated in a variety of classes—classes on literacy, math and science, philosophies of teaching, child development theory, principles of education, foundations of classroom behavior, and a whole list of others. We learned how to write a lesson plan, manage a classroom, how to set up a classroom, and much, much more.
In addition to my studies, I got involved in campus life. I joined the swimming and diving team, participated in campus activities, and joined clubs. I served as a captain of the swimming and diving team, became an Orientation Leader and a Resident Assistant, and completely immersed myself in the college experience. It was through these co-curricular activities that I was introduced to the world of higher education and a potentially new career choice for myself.
Through my academic and co-curricular activities, I gained valuable knowledge from all those I came in contact with—my peers, professors, Residence Hall Directors, and many college administrators. They encouraged me to explore what it was that I really wanted to do with my life. The more I got involved in my college experience, the more I learned about myself: what I’m good at, what I’m not good at, what I wanted to, and what I didn’t want to do.
As I started to sort through my options, I continued my studies, receiving both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in elementary education. While attending graduate school, I also worked as a Graduate Residence Hall Director. It was during that time when I finally made the decision to pursue a career in higher education administration/student affairs administration and leave my plans of being an elementary school teacher behind.
The decision wasn’t as difficult as one might think. When some listen to my story, I often hear, “You’ve wasted all that time and money . . .” But, the truth is I gained valuable, lifelong skills from the people I met, the classes I took, the jobs I’ve had, and the activities I involved myself in. Each and every skill you acquire is transferable. This is perhaps the best lesson I’ve ever learned in college.
The countless lesson plans I had to write for my education classes and student teaching have helped me prepare practice plans as the head coach for the men’s and women’s swimming and diving team. The skills I learned while planning programs and activities for my residents as a Resident Assistant, Hall Director, and Area Coordinator have helped me plan campus events as the Director of Student Activities in the Center for Student Leadership & Involvement. The classroom management techniques I learned in college have helped me to manage my office, staff, team, committees, etc. The communication and development theories I’ve learned have taught me how to have meaningful conversations with others and how best to meet their needs.
Each and every skill you learn throughout your academic, personal, and professional career are valuable and transferable. Do not let your college degree define who you are but rather, let the knowledge and skills you’ve acquired define who you are.
—Vicki L. Brown, Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom
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