Gaining an Advantage in the Job Market

Fall 2014 | Permalink | Category: Career

    Career preparation means preparing for a good job with a good company. It may come after college, technical school, or after some particular skill training. It can even come after high school. You will have learned the skills, attained the certification, or logged the neccessary hours to begin the career you have dreamed about and studied for. Now, you just have to find the perfect employer to fit your perfect preparation. 
    I guess there may be some skills you have overlooked. Not intentionally, of course. You have, after all, tried to cover all the bases. Buth, there are sets of skills in which many "beginners" never think about. These skills are of such value and significance that most employers rank them as the most important thing they look for when hiring. I am talking about "soft skills."
    What are soft skills? They are the type of skills that if your parents read this article, they would think, "big deal! Everybody knows that!" But, wait a minute! Generation Z did not grow up with these skills like thier parents did. Median and older adults (those who hire) take these skills for granted, but young people have not been exposed to them to the same degree. Soft skills are so important that a recent panel of manufacturing leaders ranked them the most significant, stating that they can train new employees in the specific job skills (core competencies) they need, but soft skills must be brought to the workplace with the new employee. 

     Soft skills refer to a cluster of personal qualities, attitudes, and habits that make someone a good employee. AOL Jobs, a career-building website in partnership with, states that these qualities are used to the same extent as hard skills when indicating job performance. While companies must still find employees who have neccessary core competencies, it is not enough to be a functional and technical expert. Most companies now look for a set of soft skills to accompany hard skills in a potential employee. 

    Some years ago, companies and employers expected new employees to have great work ethic, get along with other employees, be timely, and value each job within the company. Today, however, these skills are no longer taken for granted. Comapnies go great lengths to determine which potential hire possesses them. By developing these traits now, whether you are still in school, alreadygraduated, or even in the interview process, you can help yourself and increase your employment chances.
    The first step is to find out what soft skills your potential employers value. Luckily, there are some obvious ones that most employers look for and will certainly notice when you show up for an interview. The first soft skill includes presenting yourself well during the interview. Dressing appropriately and neatly (do not be afraid to overdress), arriving on time, looking interviewers in the eye, listening attentively, portraying confidence and enthusiasm, answering questions articulately (and gramatically correct), and expressing yourself well are key aspects of presenting yourself well. It sounds like a lot, but if you practice with your parents, friends, or teachers, you will gain great confidence.
    Other soft skills can be developed as you continue to research potential employers. These skills include believing in yourself, believing in the company you are interviewing for, and establishing a strong work ethic that logically follows that belief. Optimism, calmness, energy, flexibility, and caring are other tangible and visible traits that employers seek. Are you a team player? Do you work well under pressure? Can you accept criticism? These are questions employers are asking about you. Your ability to visibly demonstrate them by your actions will make potential employers give you a much longer look. 
    In the end, you will not only have to exhibit these soft skills in the interview and hiring process, but also deploy them once you get hired. Try to research them, use Google and other free tools to gain what soft skills employers look for. Try your best to match your core competencies with the competencies you apply for. 
    The great news for most of you is that you are not through with your career preparation process and you still have time to incorporate soft skills in your training. Be on time for your classes, and make sure you have basic reading, writing, and communication skills. If you see you are deficient in basic math or communication skill, take corrective measures. You still have time to improve before you have to demonstrate the skill to potential employers. Many college and high school courses provide opportunities to be a team player, to accept and learn from criticism, and solve problems with a good workforce attitude. 
    In short, the ball is in your court. Those who make the jump from good student to good employee take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. One such opportunity is in the form of learning soft skills. Hey, maybe that, itself, is a good example of a soft skill. Will you take advantage? 
Denny Bailey is a retired educator who spent many years in Career and Technical Education at the high school level in Alabama and Georgia. He and his wife Kae, a middle school counselor, live in Oxford.