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Mar 15 2017
by Nicole Sun

How To Start Building Skills Now That Stand Out to Employers

By Nicole Sun - Mar 15 2017

People often divide skills into “hard” (more quantifiable) and “soft” (less quantifiable) categories, typically considering the former more valuable than the latter. In reality, employers desire a balance between the two. While employer-attracting skills will obviously vary depending on which field you plan to enter, hopefully the below areas of proficiency will be bonuses wherever you may go.

1. Writing

Even if you concluded high school English with waived college credits and have so far avoided the liberal arts like the plague, you’re not “done” with writing. Chances are, at some point in your career, you’ll need to at least write emails or reports, and the quality of your written communication demonstrates more about you than you might think. Being able to clearly express your ideas not only proves that you have the capacity to avoid grammatical eyesores, but also that you can think clearly and critically.

To get started: read. Write for online publications. Ask people for feedback. Submit to writing competitions. Accumulate writing samples.

2. Software Applications

Attaining proficiency in the Office Suite (whichever programs that apply to your specific career, of course), for example, is always a plus. However, I’d caution against claiming proficiency where it doesn’t exist (e.g., including “Microsoft PowerPoint” as a skill if you’ve only opened the program once and can’t explain what a Master Slide is if an employer decides to quiz you).

To get started: check if your school offers free programs. For Office Suite, I’d also recommend Excel (know how to use the VLOOKUP and Pivot Table functions), tutorials for which are all over the Internet. You might also try picking up certain Adobe programs.

3. Foreign Languages

Having a foreign language (especially a unique one) in your arsenal never hurts. At worst, it’s a memorable aspect of your application, and at best, you can sell the skill as evidence of your adaptability and enhanced communication skills. Be truthful about your proficiency level, though. If your French is rusty, add “Limited” on the off chance that the interviewer turns out to be a native speaker.

To get started: there are, again, many online resources for language learning. If you’re trying to maintain a language you learned in high school, immerse yourself in it. Watch YouTube videos, listen to songs or tune into the news in that language. The most effective way to commit, of course, is to sign up for an actual class.

4. Coding

Perhaps this will sound familiar, but if you’re a liberal arts major and have so far avoided math and science classes like the plague, you’re not “done” with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). You’ll never truly escape from technology in an increasingly data-driven world, so why not just embrace it? Coding is a major asset to those not already majoring in computer science; set yourself apart from other candidates who shy away from computers.

To get started: sign up for an online course offered by universities or through platforms like coursera or edx! For your first languages, learn Python and SQL (Standard Query Language).

5. Leadership

We all know employers seek leadership potential, but the requirements for this skill may not be as rigid as you’d think. Remember that you don’t have to have an official title to be a leader; it’s all in how you spin your experiences. Show recruiters you can think outside the box: regularly showing up to and testifying at local government hearings on bills, for example, is a form of leadership that trumps run-of-the-mill club sinecures.

To get started: try out all the opportunities that come your way — don’t turn them down just because you can’t immediately see an officer position on the horizon. Take initiative. Talk to professors about what they want to see on campus. Attend meetings.

6. Interesting Hobby

Who said building skills couldn’t be fun? After slogging through heaps of applications, resumes can start blurring together in recruiters’ eyes, so it may very well be an interesting “Interests” section that catches their eye. Of course, by “interesting” I mean something twenty other candidates wouldn’t share, like crocheting or skydiving.

To get started: hopefully, you already have a unique interest in mind — as we’re all different, you’re bound to find one. Just don’t force an activity, or all you’ll have to do is allocate more time to it. And even if you don’t think your hobby is the most impressive in the world, it’ll work as long as you can carry an entertaining conversation about it.

7. Interpersonal Skills

The only piece of advice invariably repeated by all employers I’ve met is the importance of demonstrating that people would want to work with you. Unlike the others, this asset isn’t one you can outright list on your resume; you can, however, imply your teamwork skills in descriptions of your achievements as well as, more importantly, display them through conversation with recruiters and interviewers. Make sure to treat them like human beings — ask them about their days. Don’t be afraid to veer off into conversational topics like pop culture, if they’re equally interested.

To get started: practice by attending recruiting/networking events like career week, even if you’re an underclassman and think the recruiting process is too far away to worry about. Show up to company information sessions and try to talk to presenters.

It seems early to be preparing to impress employers, but remember that skills take time to build. Three (or more) years down the line when you’re vying for that coveted job offer, you’ll find that the bonus points add up. 

Lead Image Credit: Pexels

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Nicole Sun - The University of Texas at Austin

Nicole has a humor blog,, which her friends repeatedly assure her is funny. She spends her free time writing, avoiding responsibility, and wondering if her cat actually loves her. Her twitter: @nicolesundays

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