The two most important skills for a successful graduate career, and why most lack them

Jun 20, 2017

Do you know what two skills are most important for a successful graduate career?

More important than being ambitious, intelligent or technically savvy?

And more important than displays of passion, commitment or the ability to convince an employer that you can do the job?

Okay, let me drop the suspense.

The two skills that will help you most in your graduate career are your social and emotional skills. They are your game-changing career cards.

An overwhelming 92 per cent of HR managers believe this, and a shocking 76 per cent of graduates lack them.

Survey results reported by the Hay Group gathered data from 450 HR managers and 400 graduates in China, India and the US. It also found that 63 per cent of graduates underestimate the significance of emotional and social competence. They erroneously think them unimportant.

Much to the chagrin of UK employers. In recent research by the Association of Graduate Recruiters 49 per cent complained that new graduates lack social and emotional skills like teamwork and problem solving skills.

(That’s why 55 per cent of graduates are underemployed, thinks the skills-profiling service PayScale.)

Why are soft skills so important?

Your emotional and social skills will help you perform the myriad of small but important actions that build your overall skillset. This includes things like the ability to get on well with difficult people, to give, take and apply feedback, to resolve conflicts, manage change, make good decisions, and to keep at a worthwhile task that’s tedious, time consuming, frustrating or fraught with multiple setbacks.

People with well-developed soft skills become top performers, and top performers are 127 more productive than average workers. No wonder employers prefer them. They believe that only one third of the difference between having a successful graduate career, and not, is down to your technical and cognitive skills.

However, according to 82 per cent of employers who took part in the Hay Group research, it’s easier to find graduates with the right technical than soft skills. Graduates with good social and emotional skills are so rare employers scramble over each other to employ and retain them.

Why do graduate lack emotional and social competence?

Graduates either cannot be bothered to develop them or they just don’t realise how important they are. Most graduates fail to realise that you don’t walk into a job and develop these skills overnight. Employers say they start off okay. A young person enters the workplace full of ideas and ideals and want to perform well from day one but often underestimate the time it takes to develop the skills employers most need.

Rather than focus on building these skills in the first few years of work, new graduates tend to focus on their technical skills and so find it hard to fit in, build team relationships or to deal with stress. They often feel unappreciated or that their ideas aren’t valued.

The only way to develop your social and emotional competencies is to practice them on the job. You need to train yourself to acquire the right behaviours through reflection on what you’re learning and by receiving and applying ongoing feedback. You stand little chance of becoming a high performer without doing this.

Soft skills make the difference. They’ll help you stay ahead of competition, align your skills along the direction of organisational change, perform on the job and achieve the commercial impact needed to advance in your career.

If you want a successful graduate career this is where your focus needs to be, and as early as is possible. Start with internships, work experience, voluntary work and other real-life work environments. Concentrate on building these two skills and you stand a better chance of landing that top job you want.

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