‘Soft’ Skills Important to Landing a Job

Pensacola – To get that perfect job after graduation, students need to bone up on their “soft” skills.

Career counselors and employment experts divide job-hunting skills into two categories: hard and soft. Hard skills are learned, technical skills, such as accounting, nursing or mechanical engineering. Soft skills are associated more with personal characteristics. They include techniques such as communication, team building and problem solving.

Dr. Haris Alibasic, an assistant professor of public administration in the University of West Florida’s College of Education and Professional Studies, said such soft skills are vital for students to take from an academic setting into the workplace.

“Students need to be able to think critically and analyze information, write properly and clearly communicate objectives,” Alibasic said.

The UWF Career Services office in Building 19 provides various resources for students that can assist them in developing soft skills. Students can get help writing resumes and cover letters, critiquing social media platforms to ensure professionalism, preparing for interviews, searching for jobs and evaluating job offers. The staff concentrates on helping students with both written and verbal communication skills. They offer tips about strong wording on resumes and cover letters. For example, it is highly recommended that the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) technique is used in cover letters and during interviews to provide clear examples. They also suggest creating SMART career-related goals. SMART stands for “specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.”

“Employers are telling us they are looking for candidates who possess good listening skills, good oral and written communication skills and good critical thinking skills,” said Sarah Fox, a UWF career planning coordinator.

Judy Cholymay visits the UWF career services office for guidance on how to develop soft skills.
Judy Cholymay visits the UWF career services office for guidance on how to develop soft skills.

In keeping with the idea that good communication is clear and concise, UWF career planners encourage students to develop a one-minute commercial that summarizes abilities, skills, goals, accomplishments and interests. The goal of the commercial is to give interviewers enough information that they will want to learn more about what someone can offer a company.

“There are so many people trying to compete in the job market,” said Dr. Allison Schwartz, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research at the University of West Florida. “I want to help students get these soft skills – especially different types of communication skills – so they can be their own advocate.”

One way Schwartz helps students practice soft skills is by requiring those who are in the Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering Summer Undergraduate Research Program to participate in professional development workshops twice a month. This commitment is in addition to time they spend on their designated research projects.

During the first of these workshops, students practiced introducing each other in a professional manner, rehearsed their one-minute commercials, which are also called “elevator speeches,” and wrote appropriate, professional information to appear on a LinkedIn site.

Other activities will include writing and critiquing grant proposals, which Schwartz points out is a form of written, persuasive speech.

“Even careers that don’t involve writing formal proposals requesting funding will at some point require the employee to justify the use of limited time and/or resources,” Schwartz said.

Later, students will put together posters that sum up their summer research projects. The posters are important because they give students practice explaining a project by trimming it down to the most important items. Presenting the poster also provides practice combining written words with oral communication.

In the fall, these professional development workshops sponsored by the Office of Undergraduate Research will be open to any student who wants to attend. Check the OUR website in August for an updated schedule.

Dr. Jack Azzaretto, a UWF professor of professional and community leadership who is chair of the Business Competitiveness Council for CareerSource in Okaloosa and Walton counties, said professors, career planners and others are doing a great service to students by emphasizing the importance of soft skills and providing opportunities to brush up on them.

“We hear over and over from employers that they are looking for people who speak clearly, listen, and maintain eye contact when asked a question,” Azzaretto said. “Employers recognize and appreciate these skills immediately in someone who is trying to gain employment or transition from job to job.”