5 Skills You Must Show Off to Land Your First Job (and Every One After That)
Your first full-time job search is serious business. And as a new grad, it can be easy to feel like you don’t have much to offer an employer with your limited professional experience. Between classes and extracurriculars (and, OK, your social life), when exactly were you supposed to have the chance to build up the technical expertise and experience that hiring managers want?
Well here’s some good news: Technical expertise only ranks number seven on a list of top skills and qualities hiring managers want from new graduates, according to the 2015 Job Outlook survey conducted by the National Association for Colleges and Employers. So what are the more important attributes they’re looking for? Here are the five traits hiring managers care about finding in new college grads.
1. You Can Work in a Team
Your ability to work within a team structure and make meaningful contributions is the number one skill—and yes, it’s definitely a skill—that hiring managers want to see on your application and during your interview. Unfortunately, there’s not a test you can take that spits out a “teamwork score” for you to show off.
Instead, make sure to edit your resume to share examples of teamwork from your past experiences, including phrases like, “Collaborated in a team of four to…” or “Led a three-person subcommittee on…” These examples can come from anything from sports and extracurriculars to group projects and internships.
During the interview, be ready to answer questions like, “Tell me about a time when you worked on a team and overcame a conflict.” (Here are some tips.) Even if you’re not explicitly asked a question about teamwork, using examples will still help; hiring managers want to know that you’ll be able to successfully work with the people around you.
2. You Can Solve Problems and Make Decisions
Indecision and inaction are not a good mix for getting stuff done. So, it’s no surprise that hiring managers are much more interested in new grads who show initiative and an openness to troubleshooting problems than, say, someone who must be told what to do every step of the way.
In fact, Skyller Jordan, a hiring manager at best practice insight and technology company CEB, says a track record of problem solving is such an essential skill that she wouldn’t consider hiring someone without it. What does that mean, exactly? According to Jordan, “being able to look at the larger goal, understanding the levers to pull to get there (and historical patterns that have led to success), and prioritizing the most effective means to get the job done” makes someone the kind of problem solver she’d hire.
This all makes sense. The tricky part is getting these abilities across in the application and interview. Luckily, Jordan has some pointers for that, too. Write about (and be ready to talk about) “a major accomplishment or goal you set for yourself—and the underlying plan you created to reach it. What were you trying to achieve? Why was it important? How did you weigh your different options? How did your approach ultimately pan out? What did you learn through the process?” You know being able to show off results is impressive, but it’s just as vital to demonstrate your thinking that got you there.
3. You Can Plan, Organize, and Prioritize Your Work
Job searching can be a bit discouraging, but here’s something to cheer you up: All that planning you did as an undergrad for orientations, rush week, dance performances, a cappella concerts, spring fling, cultural festivals, and more was not for nothing. In fact, the skills you built planning, organizing, and running these events are things hiring managers are looking for in new grads.
To highlight these skills, Jordan suggests that you “weave in specific examples of group projects and leadership roles on campus—these scenarios often involve collective outcomes, coming to consensus, and influencing stakeholders. Choosing specific examples and breaking them down to show the actions you took will show how you flexed your communication style and navigated scenarios where people didn’t always see eye-to-eye.”
Given the limited space of your one-page resume and one-page cover letter (and, yes, keep them both to a page), this amount of detail might not make it into your application, but at the very least it’s important to include in your documents who you collaborated with and who your work impacted. Once your interview rolls around, be ready to go into specifics.
Looking to Start Your Career? CEB is Hiring!
4. You Can Speak Confidently to Stakeholders
Your ability to have non-awkward (or at least charmingly awkward) conversation with someone isn’t really something you’d list in the skills section of your resume, but that doesn’t mean you should underestimate how much weight a hiring manager will give to it. Being able to communicate effectively with your team, your manager, and your clients can be what separates stellar candidates from decent ones.
On a resume, this means including bullets such as, “Presented findings to an audience of 50 at…” or “Facilitated weekly meetings on…” In an interview your communication skills are on full display, so rather than having a specific example ready—though that doesn’t hurt—it’s more important to answer the questions thoughtfully and confidently. Work out the kinks in your answers ahead of time by practicing interview questions out loud or with a friend; you can get started by looking over these 31 most common interview questions.
5. You Can Obtain and Process Information
Given that this could be your very first full-time job, hiring managers are generally understanding about needing to train you, before you take on any big projects or responsibilities. That said, they’ll also expect you to pick things up quickly, so you should focus on being a fast learner and effective listener.
To screen for this, a hiring manager might consider how much of an impact you were able to make in a short summer internship or, frankly, they might check out your grades—they are supposed to reflect your learning, after all. This means a couple of things for your application and interview. If you have a strong GPA, consider including it on your resume along with some relevant coursework. For the interview, you’ll want to have a good example ready of a time you picked up a new skill or adapted to a new environment quickly.
When you’re an entry-level employee, your technical skills may still need to be refined. But at the end of the day, it’s your soft skills that’ll help you come out on top in your first full-time job search. You definitely have what it takes, now you just need to show it off. Good luck!
Photo of people at work courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author