It goes without saying that the job market today is incredibly competitive. A college experience and degree will give you a leg up in most industries, but there are some soft skills and practices that employers will want you have in the workplace that aren’t always taught (or embraced) during undergrad.
Many of the soft skills that employers want can’t be taught inside a classroom and don’t come with a degree.
1. Writing Skills
Being proficient in effective writing skills is indispensable, no matter what your chosen career path. Employers aren’t necessarily seeking the next literary genius like Hemingway or Twain among Gen Z candidates. Instead, they value individuals who can craft professional and articulate written communication beyond casual text messages, Instagram captions, or tweets. Casual text speak can project an unprofessional image, and poor grammar may convey indifference. In other words, you’ll need to be an effective and professional communicator — in writing.
While most college students probably complete their undergraduate degree with a handful of papers under their belts, many don’t delve into the foundational principles of writing. By now you’re probably thinking, “Great, sounds like it’s time to switch my major to English.” We’re by no means saying that. Instead, take the time to master your writing abilities beyond the classroom.
Undoubtedly, the most effective way to enhance your writing skills is by immersing yourself in a professional work environment like an internship. Through an internship, you’ll gain firsthand exposure to the correct etiquette for composing emails, the type of language used in various professional documents, and the dynamics of how colleagues communicate effectively.
2. Verbal and Interpersonal Skills
Employers have expressed that recent graduates often struggle with effective verbal communication. Their concerns go beyond formal public speaking or presentations — even the most basic in-person professional interactions prove to be a bit of a struggle.
Most recent grads are accustomed to casual and informal communication styles, but that can come across as unprofessional and be off-putting to employers (or clients!).
There are certain verbal and in-person communication skills that may seem minor or like they won’t affect your job performance — things like a firm handshake, maintaining eye contact during conversations, and mastering a proper introduction — but employers view them as reflections of your character. Showcasing these abilities will give employers the impression that you’re trustworthy and value mutual respect.
Much like the journey of learning to write effectively, adapting to office etiquette will come primarily through experience. When you interact with coworkers from diverse backgrounds and generations, you’ll learn important lessons on how to conduct yourself and communicate in a professional environment.
3. Critical Thinking
Do you ever feel like succeeding academically during undergrad required memorizing facts rather than solving problems? While critical thinking can be a large component of most academic tracks, a lot of the time college students are asked to get the answer right on the first attempt rather than taking time to explore ideas and issues from multiple perspectives. This conventional approach doesn’t always leave room for nuance or explanations.
In reality, successful businesses thrive on employees who can approach problems with a creative and multi-faceted mindset, rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all solution. But don’t think that means you need to be a know-it-all or work strictly independently — this can lead to hasty, uninformed decisions. Being able to collaborate with others, in addition to having these critical thinking skills on your own, will be beneficial to presenting quality solutions.
But how can you cultivate these critical thinking skills if you weren’t able to improve them during undergrad? One way is to immerse yourself in situations where these skills can be applied. Doing an internship program abroad, for example, will require you to think critically on the daily. Navigating a new city and culture means you’ll need to be adaptable and tackle unexpected challenges. You’ll conquer more than simple coffee runs or administrative tasks, too. A significant portion of your internship experience should involve hands-on career exposure, with real responsibilities and projects that encourage you to think critically, analyze complex issues, and come up with innovative solutions to problems.
4. Real-World Experience
We hear it all the time: “This job requires X years of real-world experience, but how am I supposed to get that experience if nobody hires me?” This frustration is so real for recent grads. Here’s the thing though — while hiring managers really do value real-world experience, most understand that they’re likely not going to find prospective candidates with decades of experience, especially for entry-level roles.
But how do you gain that real-world experience when the vast majority of your undergrad is spent as a student, not in the workplace? An internship, of course — and yes, even during a semester. An international internship, in particular, will give you an unforgettable experience that can be prominently featured on your resume, immediately capturing the attention of prospective employers. International work experience sets you apart from your peers because it gives you real-world experience. The best part? You can earn college credits by doing an internship program abroad, so you’ll be able to gain real-world work experience and stay on track for graduation in the process.
Intern abroad and gain the soft skills employers want.
Although many students choose to study abroad, only a small fraction gain international work experience, which truly distinguishes you in the eyes of employers. An international internship signals to employers that you have the practical soft skills they seek in recent graduates, ultimately expediting your journey towards your dream career.