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Critical Workplace Skills For New Graduates


by Michael Timmes, senior human resource specialist at Insperity

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This summer, countless college and high school graduates are transitioning from academia to the working world. However, despite long hours in the classroom and the high cost of a university education, applicants may find they lack certain critical skills that a growing number of companies desire in their applicants.

Years ago, industry knowledge and training were enough to ensure that qualified job candidates could land a position. However, now, many companies are looking for even more. They are also interested in soft skills, such as emotional intelligence, which is the ability to recognize one’s own emotions and also the emotions of others. In fact, many companies are developing new job interview questions and strategies, aimed at better assessing the level of soft skills each candidate possesses.

Here are five critical soft skills that many new graduates should develop in order to land a job:

1. Self-awareness and self-management.

The American workplace has become increasingly collaborative over the past few decades. Many employees are expected to work on teams. The move toward increased teamwork is also reflected in the transformation of office design. Currently, about 70 percent of American workplaces have an open-office layout. In order to successfully navigate today’s highly collaborative workplace, employees should have a deeper understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses. They also should have the ability to perceive how their actions impact other team members. Self-management is the ability to proactively respond to self-awareness cues. For example, employees who are self-aware are able to recognize when their stress level is getting too high and they need to step away from a task before they lose their temper. These individuals also understand the possible long-term consequences of lashing out at coworkers.

2. Self-motivation.

Many successful employees do not need others to motivate them. Instead, they motivate themselves through personal goals and expectations. Self-motivated individuals tend to spend time identifying the aspects of their job they enjoy the most, and then find ways to ensure their daily work includes those enjoyable aspects. Motivated employees also tend to be optimistic, even in the face of significant challenges. They are more likely to actively seek solutions to problems instead of simply complaining about them.

3. Empathy.

Today’s increasingly collaborative workplace also requires employees to better empathize with others. In order to be successful, employees should improve their capacity to see issues from multiple viewpoints, not only their own. The ability to discuss differing perspectives face-to-face, no matter how uncomfortable the topic, is a critical competency, regardless of an employee’s role in the organization.

4. Conflict resolution and relationship management.

Workplace conflicts can reduce trust and hurt credibility. They can also make a productive team dysfunctional. More often, those who are successful at work and in life are able to quickly identify when a conflict with others is developing and can work in a level-headed manner to address the problems before they escalate. Employees with well-developed skills in this area understand that even when taking a stand, a demonstrated respect for the worth of those with opposing views should be maintained. They also recognize when expertise from human resource professionals is needed to help calm tensions. Finally, successful workers understand the importance of legitimate positive relationships. Artificial harmony is just as harmful to professional relationships as constantly playing to win at any cost.

5. Goal setting abilities.

Another important skill that companies increasingly desire is the ability to set personal goals that fit with the objectives of the organization. Successful employees often develop their personal mission statements to determine if their own values align with the values of the company. In fact, many find that it is beneficial to write these statements down and revisit them regularly. This exercise allows workers to align themselves with the company culture while actively guiding their personal careers. It can be a valuable exercise both for personal and professional development.


Michael Timmes

Michael Timmes is a senior human resource specialist with Insperitys New Jersey office. In his role, Michael provides strategic HR guidance and coaching to Insperity clients seeking to develop their human capital. His specialty areas include employee relations, coaching, talent acquisition, career development and performance management. Michael holds a master’s degree in Human Resources Management from Rutgers University and a Certified Professional Coaching designation from the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC).