Build Essential Workplace Skills In College
College is more than a place to crack the books! Workplace success requires more than book smarts and technical knowledge. Soft skills such as communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, and the ability to work on a team are essential for landing your first job and for continued career success. Cary J. Green, author of Success Skills for High School, College, and Career, and I discussed how to leverage your courses and extracurricular activities to build essential workplace skills in college. His recommendations:
1. Leverage your courses
You can build soft skills by intentionally incorporating skills development into your course activities. So, rather than merely using your existing communication skills, use a term paper assignment, for example, to enhance your skills. Connect with the staff at the university writing center for help. Not only will the staff improve your communication skills, but they will teach you how to construct valid arguments and hone your critical-thinking skills. If your campus does not have a writing center, check out resources available through the Online Writing Center at Purdue University.
Enroll in service learning courses to improve your problem-solving, communication, and teamwork skills. These courses connect students with community stakeholders to address issues faced by communities. Review the service learning courses available on your campus, and incorporate one into your program of study.
Leverage your coursework further by enrolling in critical thinking, communication, and leadership courses as free electives. Discuss with your advisor the option to get a minor in leadership, communication, or a similar skills-based program to complement the technical skills you develop in your major.
2. Get involved in student organizations
Soft skills can be “caught” as well as “taught,” and engaging in extracurricular activities is an excellent way to build soft skills. Student organizations provide opportunities to develop teamwork, leadership, and communication skills. Make a point to join a student organization associated with your academic major, and join a leadership development or service organization as well. Maximize the experience by stepping up to an officer position or volunteering to lead a project.
3. Work on an undergraduate research project
Experiential education activities such as undergraduate research and internships provide exceptional opportunities to develop soft skills. Undergraduate research enhances critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, and communication skills. Connect with the faculty in your department, and inquire about opportunities to participate in their research or other scholarly activities.
4. Participate in internships
Internships are remarkably advantageous to college students. In addition to building many soft skills, internships give students an understanding of workplace expectations of professionalism. Sign up with your campus career center to receive notifications of available internships. Also, be sure to ask your professors and advisors to recommend potential internship opportunities.
5. Develop a portfolio
Use a portfolio to demonstrate your skills in job applications and ensure you stand out as exceptional to hiring managers. Showcase your soft skills in your portfolio. Include specific examples of how you developed and utilized your skills. Include final projects from internships and service learning courses. Additionally, describe the research skills and experience you developed from your undergraduate research project. Include publications, posters, and presentations you created.