When describing what differentiates top talent amongst students and new graduate candidates, we often find ourselves referencing their ‘soft’ or workplace critical skills. Things like creativity, teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving, and leadership.
As employers, we seemingly all want these skills to be a part of the candidate profile for our new graduate programs, summer internships, or open positions on campus. And, if the expectation is that students come prepared with these skills when they arrive in the workplace, I wonder how can we as career educators and campus recruiters help students to identify, acquire, and nurture them before they land their first job?
For me, the approach is two-fold:
I think it starts with helping students to become fluent in the art of articulation, reflection, and offering up evidence.
Let’s work an example – communication skills. We know that having a student simply state they are a good communicator is not enough. Rather, it’s how they demonstrate they are a good communicator through examples or description that sets them apart.
Fellow campus recruiters, I am offering up a challenge to you here. Let’s commit to trying to better articulate our needs. Continuing with the ‘good communication skills’ example, what if we said something like this in our postings:
‘Persuasive business writing, active listening, comfort delivering critical or difficult messages, and strong presentation skills are essential for successful communication in our organization’.
The more specific or articulate we are, the more a student has got to work with and reflect on. They can start to assess whether they have demonstrated these skills and attributes in their studies or work to date, come up with evidence to support it, and if a gap exists, have a clearer goal to work towards. If Year 1 students knew what you were truly looking for in terms of workplace critical skills when they embarked on their program, think about where they might be by the time they graduate. Perhaps ‘top talent’ would be more plentiful?
While these notions are by no means new, it stands to reason that by providing students with ample opportunity to reflect on and to talk about their skills in meaningful ways (whether it is a part of their experiential learning, course work, co-op, or even workshops) the more comfortable and confident they will become in talking about their workplace critical skills as potential candidates.
The second piece is all about providing additional opportunities to develop and nurture workplace critical skills while in school. Case competitions, challenges, portfolios or workplace critical skills passports, skills badging, and experiential learning are all great ways to achieve this. Think about how you can get more involved in these types of initiatives. While yes, the time investment does need to be there to make it most effective, you will be doing wonders for your credibility, brand, and building up of the pipeline of the skills you’re ultimately wanting students to have in their toolkit.
Challenge yourself. In your next round of engaging students – how will you help them to get really good at articulating, reflecting, and evidencing their workplace critical skills? What opportunities will you provide to develop and nurture them? Happy skill building!
Trevor Buttrum is an award-winning career education and campus recruitment leader with 15+ years of experience in the space. He is currently the manager of a national program focused on building the talent pipeline for the next generation of the property and casualty insurance workforce.