A Hard Sell on Soft Skills

By Kristen Hamilton

Soft Skills

You've read the article before. You know, the monthly exposé about Millennials in the workforce and how they make for lazy, entitled hires whose sole contribution is supreme smart phone usage. Baby Boomers and GenXers just don't understand. While we don't want to give more airtime to the millennials vs. their elders debate, there are things to be learned from this workplace culture gap. More so than pop-culture references, there's a gap when it comes to workplace "soft skills,' or your mindset and work habits. While it takes time to learn to code or become an Excel wiz, it's vital that millennials new to the workforce take the time to master their soft skills – quickly.

So, what soft skills matter most? Koru, a Seattle-based company that prepares grads for the workforce, has done extensive research on the most desirable job readiness skills for innovative companies, which include soft skills curiosity, grit and polish. By taking the time to hone them, you might just give your career a bigger boost than any degree or technical skills could ever grant you.

Curiosity
Want to show your manager that you are passionate about your job and have the ability to grow in your role? Real curiosity will take you farther than logging late hours or asking for more responsibility on day one. Curiosity and the ability to ask smart questions shows that you are interested in the task you've been assigned, and have the brainpower to think through any request or challenge. It comes down to creative problem solving. If you don't have curiosity surrounding what you're working on, you're going to have a hell of a time coming up with creative solutions.

In college, classes are finite in length and the requirements are clearly defined. In the workplace, you are given tasks and expected to produce results, but often not given detailed instructions on how to accomplish your goals. This ambiguity can be a shock, and many young workers respond by either freezing or flying into action, attacking the problem with whatever idea comes first. Learning how to stop, think things through and ask smart, well-thought out questions, you will not only be more successful, but show your managers that you can solve problems and can scale to bigger tasks.

Grit
Nobody says college is easy, but there are a lot more safety nets available to you than when you enter the workplace. When you're working on a problem for a company, it's no longer about the grade. It's about getting it done, no matter what. In order to thrive in the workforce, you have to show grit.

Grit can mean many things, but in the workplace it's best defined as the "quality of being able to sustain your passions, and also work really hard at them, over really disappointingly long periods of time" (Angela Duckworth). Grit is showing that you can deal with adversity and adapt your plans. Grit is showing that you can deal with failure and use it as a lesson to succeed in the future.

Again, there are no grades in the work world. Sometimes you can be faced with a task that is confusing or seemingly impossible, but if you want the respect of your coworkers, you need to be able to deal with that. You don't have to accept the status quo, and you should always work to make things better (often this starts with curiosity, as stated above), but you do have to display grit and show that you can deal with any circumstance and not get frazzled or give up.

Polish
Finally, polish is a key skill many people fresh out of college lack, at least in the perception of their Gen X and Baby Boomer colleagues. Polish doesn't mean wearing fancy clothes or having a firm handshake. Polish does mean communicating effectively in business settings. It can be the expression of situational awareness and paying attention to small details in communication and interaction with others, or convincing reasoning in a live presentation.

As a digital native, you grew up with more access to technology and the Internet than ye olde co-workers. As a result, you're much quicker to learn technologies and you're most likely used to communicating in a different way than other generations. Polish means putting as much effort into in-person verbal communication as you do electronic communication and making sure that every interaction is intentional. Personalize your LinkedIn requests, make sure your voicemail is set up (and regularly checked), and use social media wisely.


Author

Kristin Hamilton is CEO of Koru, a Seattle-based company that provides career training and coaching to recent college grads. Before serving as Koru’s CEO, Kristen worked as COO of a global non-profit, launched mobile media devices for a Fortune 100 company, and helped take Onvia, which she co-founded, public.

Grit, Curiosity and Polish are three of "the Koru7™", which also include Analytical Rigor, Impact, Teamwork and Ownership. The Koru7™ were developed by Koru, a Seattle based company that preparing college graduates for jobs in innovative companies by running boot camp style programs within companies like LinkedIn, zulily, REI and Zillow. The Koru7 are the core skills and competencies that high-growth companies are looking for in their new hires.

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