What Employers Are Really Looking For

By Saralyn Mitchell

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My job is to complement the excellent academic education our students receive and ensure they are prepared to be successful in the world of work at the local, state and national levels. We start with useful, practical knowledge that results in excellent resumes, impressive interviewing skills, a good elevator speech, and solid networking skills. There is a growing need for us to spend more time on networking. Our students need to understand the importance of networking in the employment process, what that means and how you do it. Then we need to provide firsthand opportunities where they can practice.

In addition to these basic employability tools and skills, long-term success in the 21st century global economy also requires students with career readiness skills or soft skills. What exactly are soft skills? They generally cover a wide range of competencies including the ability to function interpersonally, to lead effectively, to communicate well verbally and in writing, and the ability to make ethical and moral decisions. With regularity, I ask our internship employers, alumni, and employers how our students are doing on the job and what we can do to help ensure their success in the workplace. Their answers are never about academic mastery, but always about the essential skills needed in the workplace to be professional, collaborative or a good team member. When I speak to our students about the importance of soft skills, I start with the following “common sense” list that has been created from local employer responses. I call this our “Building Success in the Workplace” list.
• Be punctual
• Be sure to follow directions
• Ask questions if you are unsure
• Listen more than you talk; try not to be a “chatterbox”
• Know when to use your cell phone, when not to use your cell phone and when to turn your cellphone off!
• Know how to dress appropriately in an office environment
• Be able to write an effective email
• Understand appropriate behavior for a meeting ( listening, interacting, being prepared, stop referring to your cell phone)
• Demonstrate a positive attitude
• Demonstrate appropriate Business Etiquette – treat others the way you want to be treated.
• Be proficient with Microsoft Office
• Understand and demonstrate the qualities of a good team member

In addition to our local “Building Success” list, I always use the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) as a resource for our students. Please refer to their chart for the 2013 national employer expectations of graduates.

While my article is not exhaustive, I hope it provides a glimpse into the types of career readiness preparation students should have to be successful in our economy and the growing need to incorporate “soft skill” education and practice in the curriculum for all ages. “Soft Skill” learning requires a life-long approach so opportunities for these skills can be practiced, refined and refreshed over time.

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