No experience? Sell ‘soft skills’

By Emily Ness on February 24, 2014
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Around this time of year, your friends, teachers, parents, and your parents’ friends all start to ask you one question: “What will you be going to school for?”

Some of you will answer, “biology—to work in medicine.” Others might say “entrepreneurship—to own my own business someday” or “political science—to be a lawyer.” Still others will simply and honestly answer, “I have no idea.” Though the things you learn in class will undoubtedly benefit you in the working world, some of the most important skills—the ones every employer is looking for—cannot be taught in a classroom.

These “soft skills,” such as responsibility, dependability and integrity, are required for any job you pursue, whether as CEO of a Fortune 500 company or cashier at the local grocery store. Employers can teach anyone the tasks of a job, but it’s hard to teach people how to be dependable or responsible.

A better bet

“Employers are more likely to take a chance on someone if their soft skills are there, rather than take a chance on someone who maybe has more job experience but they jumped from job to job and didn’t get have a positive working experience,” said Karen Burr, who works at the Minnesota Workforce Center in St. Cloud, Minn. “If [employers] see a hard worker who shows up every day on time and does what is asked of them, they are more likely to take a risk on that person.”

Burr also said these expectations are even more important for younger job-seekers who have less work experience, especially in this economy. In December 2013 the national unemployment rate was 6.7 percent, and 20.2 percent for teens, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s an employer’s market. High school students who might not have specific job skills but can sell their work ethic and accountability will stand out to employers and are more likely to get hired.

Working hard and being dependable go hand in hand when one is working at a job that suits personal strengths well. Savannah Smith, as a freshman at Vermilion Community College in Ely, Minn., used her strengths of compassion and understanding in her job at a nursing home. “You have to put yourself in other people’s shoes and be comfortable with them,” she said.

Use resources around you

Organizations such as local workforce centers and career development groups can help you discover your strengths and use them to find jobs that match those strengths and your personality. Sama Sandy found a job at Lominger International through a career developmentgroup. His outgoing nature helped him in the customer service job. He said having composure is helpful because “you deal with a lot of high-pressure situations and without good composure, things can get pretty stressful.” Jobs like this are not for everyone.
“It’s vital to really understand and comprehend your strengths and how that relates to your interest,” Sandy said.

 “Someone who works in IT really needs to have a knack for thinking outside the box to solve problems,” said Mary Kay DuChene, director of On Purpose Ministries. “They will also do well in physics or engineering. Someone like that may not want to go into liberal arts, writing or creative careers.”

Volunteering is a huge part of getting to know your talents and preferences, she said, as it allows you to explore something you think you’ll like.

Keep an open mind

Through her various jobs caring for people, Smith realized that she’d eventually like to work with children. But DuChene and Smith agree that it’s important to be open to anything when it comes to a career. Every job has skills that can be used in different circumstances, Smith said. “I butchered chickens before and I don’t use that every day, but I do when I’m cooking.”

Don’t go to college with a specific major in mind, DuChene said. “Uncover who you are, learn your abilities, grow socially, intellectually and emotionally.” You will have a better chance of landing a job where your strengths are being put to good use, and where you’re happy to work hard and be depended upon.

By Emily Ness| February 24, 2014

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Emily Ness

Emily Ness

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