Six Skills to Learn Before Graduation

Everything leading up to college graduation helps prepare you for life in the real world. From tying your shoes to learning to drive, from moving out of your parents’ house to applying for jobs, it all leads up to the rest of your life. No doubt you’ve learned the basics of personal hygiene, manners, how to spell, how to make friends, and general right and wrong. But when it comes to landing a professional career, there are several things that companies look for in an applicant that can be the difference between a job offer and a, “We’ll keep your info on file.” Here are six skills to learn before you graduate college.


The first impression is the most important, especially when you’re trying to build a network of professional connections. This goes deeper than basic social skills. Learn how to dress like a professional, how to give a good handshake, and always remember to make eye contact. Learn how to make small talk to find out what you have in common with people. Ask things like, “What is the most surprising part of your job?” instead of, “So, what do you do?” You will have a far more engaging conversation and learn more about the person in a shorter conversation. When you make a lasting impression, people in your network actually remember you instead of wondering how they know you.


With social media dominating society and people plugged into their devices everywhere they go, business professionals are noticing that more and more young people lack strong communication and social skills. You can’t refer to your colleagues as “wrk ppl” or tell them they need to get a report back to you “b4 da wknd”. Knowing how to effectively communicate in a professional manner, both in verbal and written context, is a major skill companies look for. And their first glimpse of your communication skills is when they see your resume and cover letter, so you really want to make sure yours makes a strong impression from the start.


Similar to communication, you need to know how to be a versatile writer. You will use a different tone sending out a memo about a change in procedure or an upcoming meeting than you would reaching out to a prospective client and building a relationship. You need to know which voice to use to effectively communicate with a broad range of audiences. And with technology being so central to our everyday life, chances are you’ll need some basic computer skills. Spend some time using and becoming familiar with Microsoft Office, as well as some standard photo and video editing tools.


When you are a part of a team, you need to know how to collaborate effectively with others. Part of this is knowing your strengths, and how to leverage your strengths and the strengths of your teammates to get the job done. If you’re a natural leader and there’s an opportunity to lead the team, take it! If you feel you’re better at creating a schedule and organizing the task, offer to do that. Figure out the best way you can help make everyone on your team succeed, which is better for everyone (including the company) in the long run. Don’t take over a project and at the end tell the boss that you had to do everything yourself because no one else would help you. Some people think that’s the best way to show off and get noticed, but it’s actually the quickest way to lose credibility in the workplace–with your boss AND coworkers.


Often times, applicants spend time at interviews talking about the degrees and their awards and experience, but they fail to remember that everyone else seeking the position has a similar background and profile to talk about. What employers really want is someone who is able to identify problems and find ways to fix them. If you can do some research ahead of your interview and find out why your desired position needs to be filled, or identify what other issues you might be able to help solve, you can stand out. Be sure to do this tactfully; you don’t want to go into an interview and give off the impression you think their organization is in terrible shape and you’re going to save the day. Use your problem-solving skills to help you get in the door, and keep honing them as you build your career. Finding and fixing problems gives you an opportunity to show initiative and solidify your standing as someone who is truly invested in the good of the company, both of which go a long way. 


If you’ve reached the point of graduation, you’ve already seen your fair share of stressful moments. Dealing with stress as a college student may have looked like staying out late with friends after finals, or skipping a few days of class to go on a ski trip. Those things don’t go over well in a professional atmosphere, so you have to find new ways to manage your stress levels. Swap the all-night club scene for happy hour with new coworkers or a hot yoga session. Do things that make you happy and help you unwind, but make sure they reflect your current status in life and align with your future goals, both personal and professional. 

A lot of these skills have probably weaved in and out of your life so far, but taking the time to identify where you fall short and taking steps to really refine these social skills is a great way to set yourself apart from the crowd. Plus, they’ll help you throughout your career. Mastering these life skills for students will impress your ever-building business network, and set you up for success in the long-term.

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