Key Skills College Graduates Need to Succeed

Posted by David Schilling on Feb 12, 2019 9:50:47 AM
David Schilling

“Hard Skills” vs. “Soft Skills”

Jobs in science and technology, accounting, finance, medicine and law require potential candidates to have specific university degrees that teach students hard skills. Hiring managers see hard skills as easily defined and measured and include knowledge of such things as software programs, math, engineering, statistics, medicine, writing, etc.

Soft skills on the other hand include people skills, social skills, communication ability, good character and personality traits and social and emotional intelligence. Jobs that emphasize soft skills include customer support, retail and sales positions and most service jobs. Liberal art majors such as philosophy, economics, literature, foreign languages, politics and the like help students polish their soft skills.

If those studying hard skills also have "soft skills" all the better and they are likely to be in highest demand from top companies.


According to the New Zealand government career website there are seven essential employability skills and these skills are important to all types of candidates:

  1. positive attitude - employees must come to work prepared to do their best even when the going gets tough.

  2. communication skills - require the ability to listen, communicate clearly and ask questions without hesitation.

  3. teamwork - not only is there safety in numbers there is also productivity and efficiency in teamwork. Usually each person can bring something unique to a problem or set of problems and help the team find solutions. and if teammates are good at relationship and team-building, team management and conflict resolution synergies will emerge.

  4. self-management/time-management - everyone who lives in the 21st century has more to do each day than they could possibly complete. This means they must manage their time well and have the ability to prioritize and delegate.

  5. willingness to learn - lifelong learning has become part and parcel of the 21st century. Those who have open minds and a willingness to learn are likely to contribute more value than those who don't.

  6. thinking skills - problems are often hard to solve and require the ability to think, be objective, identify and understand facts. One solution must be weighed against the other and someone needs to make the decision on which path is best. These all take thinking skills.

  7. resilience - if workers felt like giving up every time they ran into a serious problem companies wouldn't get anything done. it's a bit like Albert Camus's Myth of Sisyphus in which one must eternally push a rock up a hill only to have it roll down to the bottom again.

According to The Balance Careers, hiring managers and staffing agencies, crucial skills in communication and public speaking include:


  • Advocating for yourself and your causes - this is a cultural thing. In Japan speaking up is often frowned upon while in the US speaking up is necessary to your very survival

  • Asking for help or advice - we can't know it all. And if we recognize others may know something we don't, people can help each other and the company. A great company only becomes great when it is more than the sum of its parts.

  • Brainstorming - sometime employees get into ruts and stop thinking outside the box. Brainstorming can help colleagues come up with ideas that might have relevance to a problem they are trying to solve.

  • Building buy-in to an idea - people often have great ideas but don't have the skills and persuasiveness to "sell" their idea to the people they work with. This is an important skill if employees want to move up the ladder.

  • Business writing - Business writing requires one to follow specific patterns, formalities in language. Great business writing gets the point across and is usually very persuasive.

  • Dealing with difficult people - in any company there are people going through major life events nobody else knows about. For some colleagues, this might include chronic emotional or psychological problems that interfere with their work and relationships. Or it could be a boss who doesn't have the social skills or empathy most people appreciate. 

  • Facilitating - getting things done. Getting an idea or project started and getting people to buy in and contribute to a project. Helping others fill in the gaps in their plans or knowledge to get things moving.

  • Handling office politics - any group of humans working together will develop some kind of office politics. The question is whether or not an office has toxic politics or beneficial politics.

  • Handshaking - sounds elementary but many people get this wrong.

  • Information and Communications Technology (ICT) - being up to speed on the IT technology used in a company helps employees be productive. 

  • Interviewing - this is a skill that requires training, education and practice.

  • Managing a positive relationship with an employer - Keeping working relationships positive is important to personal success and to the success of the company.

  • Listening - You have two ears and one mouth because God wanted you to listen twice as much as you talk. Too many people get this wrong!

  • Networking - the ability to create networks of like minded people or of experts in different fields is a great skill to have. 

  • Persuasion - if you can't be persuasive, you'll never get anything accomplish with other people.

  • Resume writing - resumes are often the first impression a company has of a candidate, so resumes have to be professional.

  • Small talk - those who can put large complicated matters aside and talk about daily life are appreciated in work settings. Nobody likes "always serious" colleagues.

Public Speaking:

  • the ability to articulate - when speaking in public people must have the ability to communicate clearly and simply.

  • self-confidence - if one doesn't have self-confidence, its hard for them to communicate clearly with others.

  • creating compelling presentations slides - sometimes the best way to get a point across is with a graphic, table or picture.

  • poise - being cool under stress and pressure is essential because most business environments get busy and stressful at least some of the time. Being cool when things are tough is a gift.

  • ability to project the voice - no one will know what you say unless they hear you say it. 

  • the ability to receive criticism and learn from feedback - its possible to have lifetime learning and one key ability is to be able to hear criticism and to learn from others when they provide feedback. This may be the most important ability.

Thankfully, most college students, by the time they graduate, have most of these skills or at least know which ones they are good at and which they need to work on.

According to Eshna Verma of Simplilearn skills that will get you noticed by companies in 2019 include the ability to:

  1. Visualize data - in a "big data" world we are all going to have to learn how to visualize data to make it more comprehensible.

  2. Solve Complex problems - the world is becoming more complex and so are the challenges in business, science, engineering and society in general.

  3. Manage and motivate people - in a word "leaders." Most human groups have leaders. They are the ones who see the future, help colleagues understand what needs to be done and picks people up when they are tired or discouraged.

  4. Negotiate - Like any other skill, negotiating takes practice. There are many experts on negotiation skills who have written books or offer course on negotiating.




Topics: skills, college graduates, abilities


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