You’re graduating. You’re feeling good. You’re ready for a full-time “career,” and you’ve got a piece of paper to prove it. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. Eighty-seven percent of college grads believe they’re well-prepared for the workforce.
Unfortunately, the majority of hiring managers don’t agree. In fact, only 50 percent of hiring managers think grads are well-prepared for the workforce. And another study found that a whopping 92 percent of executives believe American workers are underskilled.
This, my friends, is the dilemma known as “the skills gap.”
For those of you unfamiliar with the phrase, “the skills gap” is the divide between the skills employers expect employees to have and the skills employees and job seekers actually possess.
Whether you’re hunting for a job or looking to climb the corporate ladder, there are essential skills you need to possess to be considered for your ideal role. While technical skills will vary by job description and industry, there are some universal hard and soft skills that everyone needs to succeed in their careers.
Hard skills vs. soft skills: What’s the difference?
Employers look for two sets of skills when considering a candidate's job application and interview performance -- hard and soft skills.
Hard skills are specific, teachable abilities that can be defined and measured, such as typing, writing, math, reading and the ability to use software programs.
Soft skills, on the other hand, are less tangible and harder to quantify, such as getting along with others, managing your time, creative thinking and the ability to lead.
While soft skills are less measurable (and less commonly taught), they’re just as vital for career success; some may argue they’re even more important than the hard skills you bring to the table. Talented people with poor soft skills get fired every day.
So which skills should you focus on developing? I’m glad you asked...
Top 3 most lacking hard skills
According to PayScale, these are the top three hard skills most recent grads are lacking.
1. Writing proficiency
Writing proficiency stole first place, with 44 percent of hiring managers saying recent grads are sorely lacking good writing skills.
Regardless of whether or not you studied English or journalism, today, hiring managers want people who write well, as more and more communication takes place online via emails, Slack and Google Docs.
How to demonstrate: Make sure your resume and cover letter are grammatically flawless, and follow email etiquette best practices in every correspondence.
2. Public speaking
An estimated three out of four people suffer from speech anxiety, and many people fear public speaking more than death itself. With those stats, it's hardly surprising that 39 percent of hiring managers found public speaking skills seriously lacking in candidates.
Public speaking is not restricted to the realm of huge auditoriums, instead we use it every day, when giving presentations, interacting with clients and participating in meetings.
How to demonstrate: Your interview is an assessment of your public speaking skills, so prepare beforehand by practicing your answers to some of the most common (and dreaded) interview questions. Body language is also a big part of public speaking, so ensure you establish eye contact, and try to relax. If you appear at ease, it will make your audience feel comfortable as well. On your resume, highlight examples of your experience, such as presentations you’ve given, debates you’ve won, or clubs, like Toastmasters, you’re a member of.
3. Data analysis
From the ubiquitous Excel to Python and Tableau, data analysis is paramount in virtually every industry. Companies need skilled employees, who can organize and analyze data to give them meaningful insight on their sales, clients, finances, and virtually anything else that can be measured. Yet 36 percent of hiring managers felt that candidates lacked this skill.
How to demonstrate: If the job requires Excel skills, give specific use cases relevant to the job, such as how you used pivot tables to analyze trends in monthly sales data. Potential employers can also gauge your skills from any training courses you have completed, so be sure to add your Excel certification to your resume and LinkedIn profile as well.
Top 5 most lacking soft skills
According to PayScale, these are the top five soft skills most recent grads are lacking.
1. Critical thinking/problem solving
A whopping 60 percent of hiring managers believe candidates lack critical thinking and problem solving skills.
Problem solving skills show employers that you are able to work independently and think critically to find solutions to everyday obstacles.
While we don’t formally learn how to develop our critical thinking skills, we all solve problems every day, like taking a shortcut to work or finding the cheapest plane ticket. All you need to do to develop this skill is a curious mind and a desire to get to the bottom of a good mystery like Sherlock Holmes.
How to demonstrate: Prepare for the interview by thinking of an example of a problem you faced, and explain the steps you took to resolve it. This could be any life experience, from handling a difficult customer to fixing a software bug, but choose something with quantifiable results for the most impact. The STAR model comes in handy here to break down the Situation you faced, the Task involved (including challenges), the Action(s) you took and the final Result of your actions.
2. Attention to detail
Attention to detail came in as the second most lacking soft skill at 56 percent.
If you pay attention to detail, your work is always thorough and accurate in concern to all the areas involved. While this skill isn’t black and white, there are behavioral indicators hiring managers can pay attention to in order to see if you have them.
For example, do your spreadsheets consistently provide accurate information? Does your work require little or no checking? Or do you ask the same questions repeatedly, not noting down the important details in messages or communications?
How to demonstrate: In order to land an interview, thoroughly read the entire job description before writing your cover letter and submitting your resume. This way you can include specific phrases that show you read the entire thing and paid attention to the details. In the interview, you could bring up something you discussed with the interviewer in your email correspondence to show you really paid attention to what they were saying.
Third most lacking soft skill? Communication skills at 46 percent. This is a problem because every relationship in your life is impacted by your ability -- or inability -- to communicate well.
Good communication is so vital because it encourages better understanding, helps us resolve conflicts, inspires trust and respect and allows creative ideas to flourish.
We communicate in a variety of ways -- through body language and in conversation, on-and-offline.
How to demonstrate: In an interview, smile often but when appropriate, and put your best foot forward by dressing the part. Also, show that you’re an active listener by offering thoughtful comments that prove you were paying attention. Ask good questions, and give the person a moment to pause before chiming in with your response.
Good leaders are in high demand, with 44 percent of hiring managers seeking candidates with leadership capabilities.
Employers want to know if you have the potential to contribute to the company and the team by taking on the responsibilities of a leader.
How to demonstrate: Detail some formal and informal leadership roles you have had such as mentoring, heading up a group or volunteer project or training or managing staff. The STAR model can be useful here as well to quantify your results from times when you motivated others, improved efficiency or raised funding to ensure a successful outcome. For example, if you organized a fundraising campaign that exceeded the collection goal by 20 percent and doubled membership to your association or club, these stats beautifully illustrate your achievements.
Regardless of the position, being able to work well with others is crucial from entry level to the C-Suite. Yet, 36 percent of hiring managers said teamwork is a key skill missing in many candidates' repertoires. Your experience as a team member is a good indicator of how you communicate, collaborate, and generally, how well you get along with others.
How to demonstrate: Everyone has some experience being part of a team, whether from school, extracurricular activities or in a work capacity. Being a productive team member involves knowing your responsibilities, using your strengths for the advantage of the team and seeing things through to completion. Specify who you worked with, how you contributed to the team, and use the opportunity to highlight other skills you displayed, such as negotiation or conflict resolution. Again, having a measurable, positive outcome will leave the best impression.
It’s time to skill up
While “the skills gap” continues to plague the global workforce, these hard and soft skills can be learned and developed to shrink the gap between which skills employers expect you to have and which skills you actually have. Knowing what hiring managers are looking for gives you an edge over the competition and increases your chances of getting hired or promoted.
So what are you waiting for? Go out, and get the skills you’re lacking today.