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Alumni Feedback: “Professional Skills Required”

What would alumni from your school tell you about the skills needed in today's marketplace? A member of my undergraduate alumni career group on LinkedIn recently posted this discussion question:

"If you were hiring a recent graduate, what top 5 professional skills would make him/her a strong candidate in your profession?"

I thought this was a fantastic question given the pressures of today's job search, and the over 25 comments posted in response revealed a list of helpful ideas and resources. As you read through my summary of the discussion responses, which I have grouped into categories below, consider not only how you might better prepare for the world of work ahead, but also what steps you can take to stand out in a crowd of applicants. Some of these "skills" are more like "characteristics" or "traits" however, all are perceived as valuable and each is an area that can be improved upon.

Top 5 (or 6) Professional Skills

  1. Communication: This topic was mentioned more than any other, with specific references to written, oral, visual, and digital communications. The need to communicate effectively is critical to carrying out a range of work tasks and building relationships on-the-job. Collaborating courteously with co-workers, corresponding via email, meeting with clients, preparing reports, as well as creating and delivering presentations, are all integral components of most professional responsibilities.
  2. Problem solving: A close second in this informal LinkedIn poll was the ability to think critically, reason logically, and develop creative solutions to problems. These skills were listed by multiple alumni as important professional skills. As potential employers, this group encourages you to not only ask questions and gather data, but also draw on your full range of knowledge and skills to approach new challenges. Understand that most real-world issues don't have linear or clear-cut solutions.
  3. Strong work ethic: I took the liberty of compiling several responses into this one category. Having integrity in the work you do, being productive on-the-job, showing up on time, meeting deadlines, and maintaining a focus on high quality services and products (on individual and organizational levels) all reflect on you and your work ethic. Employers are looking for people who are not only skilled, but also ready to engage in the work they are assigned to complete.
  4. Innovation: Are you skilled at developing new approaches to common problems? Are you resourceful? Do you take the initiative to find the information you need to move forward? Closely linked to both the problem solving and work ethic descriptions listed above, employers find value in innovative thinkers who can take into consideration the big picture of the company, its goals and operations, and the overall industry when working to meet a variety of challenges.
  5. Collaboration: This category includes being a team player, developing positive working relationships, and finding a good fit within the organization's culture. No matter the organization, chances are there will be some call for you to work with others to complete assignments. An efficient working team is essential to project success.
  6. Desire to improve: While the initial question asked for just five elements, this one seemed too important to leave off the main list. Employers look for new associates that are continually searching for ways to improve their skills. They want people to have a desire to learn and to keep learning as the nature of work itself and the tasks associated with many professions rapidly change. "Confidence" was also mentioned several times in the LinkedIn discussion, and I think it might fit into this category – desirable employees have the confidence to not only perform well, but also identify the areas in which they need improvement.

Honorable Mention

Enthusiasm: Having a passion for the organization's mission and enthusiasm about your work are important to many employers. While not all jobs are glamorous, and some tasks seem small, the level of your desire to do the work that needs to be done will be evident.

Cultural awareness: This is a growing necessity as careers and specific jobs extend beyond our local areas and outside of our home country. You may find yourself working with team members that live halfway around the world, whose language is not your language, and whose ideas and approaches are very different from your own. You may already have experienced these effects of globalization in your current or previous work experience.

Notice that none of these skills or characteristics are directly linked to a particular academic discipline or occupational field. These apply across the board, from nurses and teachers to engineers and law enforcement officials and everything in between.

What do you need to do?

Now that you are armed with this information, use it to prepare for your next job search. You may already be involved in developing and improving upon these skills in your online courses.

  • Conduct your own self-assessment. Where are your current strengths and weaknesses as they relate to the skills and characteristics described above?
  • Prepare your documentation. Your job search will include a number of tasks requiring you to not only list but also provide examples of your skills. How can you provide employment recruiters with descriptions of your professional skills? Include specific details in your resume, responses to interview questions, and your work samples or portfolio.
  • Research your industry and specific employers. What can you expect to find when you get to your new workplace? Work with your career center professionals to explore all the ways you can find industry-related data and forecasts, as well as information about the companies for which you might be interested in working. Look for information about the skills needed, type of work performed, and evidence of a company culture.
  • Make connections with alumni from your school! Where are past graduates of your program working? What advice do they have for you before you enter the field? Find out more about where your school's alumni are networking and join them there. You already have an "in" with this group of working professionals in your field.

Your thoughts?

How did these "Top 5 Professional Skills" match your expectations? What additional skills and/or characteristics would you add to the list for new graduates as they prepare to enter a challenging job market? Help us continue to provide the perspectives of both online program alumni and current employers.