In an increasingly competitive (global) information society, it is now more important than ever for students and graduates to tap into the knowledge economy. It is no longer just about what you know, but what you can show. Thus, graduates must possess the (hard) skills required in their major/discipline, such as the ability for a business student to know how to market a product, or for an IT student to know how to perform a series of commands entered correctly into a computer terminal. However, employers are consistent in maintaining that beyond specific technical skills, those training to enter the workforce must be able to distinguish themselves apart from others by properly employing success (aka “soft”) skills. Here are five techniques that students & graduates can practice in order to sharpen their success skill acumen when entering the professional workplace. 

  1. Be Professional 

  1. Be Prepared 

  1. Be Excited 

  1. Be Relational 

  1. Be Grateful 

Be Professional defines professionalism as “a soft skill that will set employees up for success in any field.” Professionalism can mean different things to different people, but often it has to do with the following three areas: 

  • Maintaining an optimistic attitude 

  • Developing confidence and belief in your value 

  • Presenting yourself as competent in your field 

Notice that each of these items are under one’s own direct control. In other words, students can work on improving in these specific areas, which should result in a relatively substantial and immediate increase in professionalism. 

Be Prepared 

You may have heard the saying in athletics that “…the separation is in the preparation.” This also applies to job seekers in the workplace. For those aspiring to the next level in their success journey, it is expected that they will have prepared thoroughly, including at a minimum, development of the following materials: 

  • Resume/CV – Chronological, Functional, or Project-based

  • 30-60 second Elevator Pitch 

  • Professional LinkedIn profile -stay tuned for more on this topic in an upcoming post 

While some of us may have a natural tendency to over-prepare, this is far better than being under prepared. However, do avoid the inclination to list everything on resumes, cover letters, and LinkedIn profiles. Employers typically only want to know what the applicant can do for their organization and its bottom line.  

Students often ask, and for good reason, about how to craft a meaningful resume without possessing direct work experience in the field in which they are applying. It is important to remember that classwork often counts, but it must be articulated as such. For example, if a student has taken a data class or a selling course within their college program, the employer will likely want to know what deliverables were achieved and for how long the student performed the specific tasks of that skill/discipline. This is where the project-based resume format can provide recent graduates with a significant advantage. 

Be Excited 

At first glance, being “excited” might appear to be too simple for this list. Yet, consider this. In her article titled Why Showing Genuine Enthusiasm in a Job Interview Really Matters, Executive Career Coach Renata Junkova claims, “Enthusiasm is just as important as experience, skills, qualifications, and other credentials in a job interview.” According to (her) research, 4 in 10 employers would reject a candidate outright if they showed no enthusiasm during the job interview process.” With that knowledge in mind, here are 2 simple ways that student job seekers can project more excitement about their career prospects: 

  • Be positive about your future/career 

  • Be enthusiastic about the organization/employer and available opportunities 

We can all likely recall hearing about someone who landed their dream job simply by being at the right place at the right time. Almost certainly, there was a sequence of favorable events that unfolded for that person. The scenario may have included a referral from a friend or colleague, or it may have even involved being passed up initially and then contacted when a similar or additional position opened up. The key to remember is that being excited, positive, and enthusiastic can only drastically help increase one’s chances of attaining the desired outcome. 

Be Relational 

The importance of skilled networking during a career quest cannot be overemphasized. Of all the items mentioned in this post, networking is probably the most misunderstood AND underutilized. It’s critical for job seekers to understand that it is not just the people hiring for a particular job that can help you. There will be many people involved in successful hiring. So, do not miss an opportunity to relate to or connect with someone who could lead you to your dream job, and it may come from someone or somewhere that you least expect. 

Practice the Proximity Principle. Ken Coleman, America’s self-proclaimed career coach, developed the Proximity Principle to teach job seekers how to “…find those who are doing what you want to do and immerse yourself in that environment.” This is very similar to networking, but with a specific focus on shadowing and observing those who are currently working in the career/field that a person wants to embark upon. The key to this idea is that a student or graduate will learn to grow their skills and connections through the law of association. Association is a powerful force that can lead to opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be available. In other words, being present and available is a massive key to landing a successful opportunity, beyond just the actual skills required to do the job. 

Be Grateful 

The final success skill, gratefulness, is similar to the others: easy to understand but often difficult to apply. Below are five practical tips to cultivate gratefulness that will ensure students put their best foot forward in a job/interview situation.  

  • Practice Thankfulness – Send a thank-you message after every interview/meeting 

  • Be Sincere – Never “ghost” or no-show employers 

  • Be a Great Listener – Give signals that you acknowledge the interviewer and react appropriately to what they are saying 

  • Treat everyone with Respect – Stick to matters directly appropriate to the interview and never discuss personal or sensitive topics 

  • Ask Genuine Questions – Prepare beforehand by writing down your most pertinent questions (for the interviewer) which can help to reset in case you encounter difficulty or nervousness during the interview 

You typically know you’re applying these correctly when other people exhibit these same behaviors to you, as we tend to get back that which we demonstrate to others.