A perceived skills gap – between what college graduates bring to the workplace and what employers want to hire – still exists. I’m not completely convinced that this is a lack-of-skills issue, however. It’s a complex situation that includes challenges communicating needs (employer) and communicating competence (student/job seeker).
How can you and bridge the gap and be more competitive in the job market? Do you have the skills hiring managers are looking for, and are you able to share your readiness for the workplace?
The Essential Skills
While each industry, position and individual employer requires a different set of requirements, there are some general guidelines you can follow no matter your career path. New studies from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) and the Committee for Economic Development (CED) highlight the employer’s perspective. The NACE report shares insights from a task force of college and human resources professionals in a list of “career readiness competencies.” The CED survey gathered feedback from senior corporate and nonprofit leaders that revealed a list of “essential competencies,” many of which they report are difficult to find among today’s applicants.
Consider your work and learning experience in all contexts (e.g., part time and full-time, on-the-job and in-the-classroom, paid and volunteer) as you review the following synthesized list of sought-after skills:
- Problem Solving: New hires should be capable of gathering relevant information, analyzing the available data, developing options based on this analysis and making appropriate decisions in new situations. This process is also often referred to as critical thinking and is valued at all levels of work and across industries.
- Communication: Oral and written communication skills are vital in the workplace, but the CED survey found that writing skills are particularly important. No matter what type of position you hold it’s likely you’ll provide some sort of input on written reports, as well as make contact with colleagues and customers via professional email messages. You should also expect to contribute during meetings and team presentations.
- Math Skills: While some fields require advanced math abilities, most jobs involve at least the basics. Be prepared to work with numbers in some way whether it’s managing a small (or large) budget, tracking inventories or creating reports that display quantitative information.
- Teamwork: It is a rare job that doesn’t require coordination with anyone. Today’s workplace is a collaborative one, which requires the ability to build effective relationships with people who may have views and attitudes that are very different from yours. You may find yourself working with a diverse team that encompasses many cultures, but maintains a focus on project progress and goals.
- Technology Application: You may not have to know how to code to perform your next job, but you’ll likely be in a position to choose from among multiple technology tools for meeting virtually, note taking, communicating, prioritizing, reporting and other tasks. Knowing what is available, making smart selections, and being willing to switch to new systems as more effective options emerge, are important skills to employers.
- Technical Skills: Not all students graduate from their programs with the specific technical skills required to begin work in the field. Employers are doing less training these days, and are more interested in hiring people who can hit the ground running on real-world projects. Take advantage of internships and other practical experiences to hone your skills. Don’t shy away from the tough classes or extra opportunities; the best time to try, fail, and try again is while you are a student.
- Creativity: Are you good at finding new solutions to existing problems? Would you describe yourself as innovative? Employers are looking for candidates who are able to contribute original ideas to the team and develop better ways to reach company goals. There is a component of creativity in almost all of the competencies listed above.
- Career Management: This item from the NACE report is a helpful reminder that we are all our own best advocates where career development is concerned. Make it a priority to regularly review your career goals, identify options for professional development and consider new job opportunities. Be prepared to discuss your ideas with your mentors and with supervisors during performance reviews.
Research and Prepare
Researching the industry you are entering, as well as specific companies where are interested in working, is part of the job search process. This is a helpful task even if you aren’t looking for a new position right now. Stay in touch with the needs of your field by reviewing vacancy announcements on job boards and company websites – look for details about education and training qualifications, specific skills needed and current projects.
Many career fields have established formal lists of competencies, which are more specific than the general list I provided earlier in this post. CareerOneStop.org’s Competency Model Clearinghouse is one tool you can use to search for these skills in occupations ranging from aerospace and cybersecurity to allied health and logistics. Many professional associations also provide lists of required or preferred skills. If your online degree program was designed to lead to employment in a particular field your courses may already be aligned with specific competencies – ask your instructors for more information. These are also commonly listed in a course syllabus.
Document and Demonstrate
You have multiple opportunities to convey not only your abilities, but also how they match current hiring needs throughout the job search process. As a college student, and an online learner, you get some practice with many of the critical competencies included in this post, but employers want to see more than just your academic accomplishments. Share your real-word experience and lessons learned in the following ways:
- Resumes: Share how and when you’ve used your skills in the past to accomplish specific work-related goals. The Muse shares tips for translating duties into accomplishments and using numbers to quantify those accomplishments when you can.
- Cover Letters: This is a good place to share how your background and skills align with the needs of a particular job. The “T” format directly compares your experience with the qualifications listed in a vacancy announcement in a way that is visually interesting and easy to read. Look at examples from The Ladders and QuintCareers.
- Interviews: Many job interview questions allow you to share a brief story about how you accomplished important tasks or handled tough decisions in the past. Work with your career center to set up a mock interview that includes behavioral, scenario and competency-based questions that focus on a situation, the action you took and the result you achieved.
- Portfolios: It’s easier than ever to present evidence of your career competencies with a personal website or portfolio that showcases samples of your work. DePaul University’s Career Center provides basic portfolio guidelines and a list of user-friendly tools such as Wix and Weebly. Add your portfolio URL to your resume heading and email signature. You may also be able to introduce it during an interview or networking conversation.
Is there a gap between the knowledge and skills you will take to your next workplace and what your new supervisor will expect? Explore the established competencies and needs in your industry and clearly communicate how you are ready to get to work.
Photo by: Sorba Media
Source: Inside Online Learning Blog – onlinecolleges.net