According to Fortune.com, 80 percent of hiring managers surveyed stated that they couldn’t find enough job candidates with strong soft skills such as punctuality, speaking, writing, listening, and collaborating. Moreover, the managers predicted that these soft skills will become increasingly important as the business world becomes more globalized. Recruiters can deal with graduates who have a sparse resume if the candidate can show strong soft skills. How can professors ensure that their students develop these skills?

Aligning experience with skills

Students are inclined to bemoan their lack of job experience as they approach graduation. As instructors, we can help them to realize that all of their part-time and volunteer jobs have taught them valuable skills that employers seek in candidates.

In her January 7, 2016, article for Fortune.com, “The Real-World Skills New College Grads Need Most in 2016,” Anne Fisher interviewed career expert Rick Gillis.

Gillis told of a student he coached who worked at McDonald’s all through college. The student was concerned that this would not be helpful in his quest to find full time work. Gillis countered that the experience was indeed worth noting on a resume because it showed dependability and persistence and valued soft skills. As a result, the student secured a job that launched his career.

“I’m pretty certain McDonald’s doesn’t appear on his resume anymore,” Gillis says. “But it served its purpose at the time.” Recent grads can and should adjust their resumes as they evolve their careers. Consistent part-time or volunteer work may be just what they need to get a foot in the door, so it should certainly be featured on their resume. Then, as they get more career-oriented experience under their belt, they can begin to remove or fine-tune the experiences that they list.

Identifying soft skills

What are the soft skills that employers ask for and how can students demonstrate that they have those skills?

Here are a few ideas of what students can do:

  • Dependability and work ethic: explain how keeping a schedule helped then to successfully meet deadlines on work and school assignments
  • Communication skills: demonstrating an in-class presentation and the use of technology such as PowerPoint
  • Problem-solving: telling of a time when they had to overcome a challenge in the workplace
  • Teamwork: explaining how they work in a team environment, their willingness to coach others and how open they are to feedback

Another valuable skill needed by business graduates is managing their online persona. As net savvy as they are, mere social media interaction is not enough preparation for the workplace of the future.

Soft skills portfolio project

Whatever the business course or assignment, there is very likely a way that you can help your students to think about how they can incorporate it into their eventual job search. A handy textbook with insight on this process is New Perspectives: Portfolio Projects for Soft Skills, 1st Edition by Beverly Amer.

By working through realistic case scenarios, students get hands-on practice creating and delivering presentations, managing their online persona, and communicating using technology. Each project focuses on a specific soft skill, such as preparing for an interview, organizing a presentation, or developing a business document, and provides students with seven distinct exercises.

This text could either be used in a portfolio or capstone course or as a reference when teaching technical courses. While teaching other skills in the classroom, instructors can refer to Portfolio Projects for Soft Skills to help students learn to use word processing appropriately as a soft skill in written communications. They can learn how to use PowerPoint presentations as a way to effectively communicate a message to a group. They can also learn how to use collaboration tools to help them experience team dynamics and how to get work done in a group.

What methods of teaching soft skills have worked best for you? Tell us in the comments.

Reference: Amer, Beverly. 2012. New Perspectives: Portfolio Projects for Soft Skills, 1st Edition. Boston: Cengage Learning.