Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How to build ‘soft’ employment skills? Randolph professor and career development director weigh in

Launching a career requires more than the skills and knowledge necessary for getting a job done. Employers increasingly are looking for people with “soft skills” that might not, at first thought, relate directly to a person’s on-the-job duties.

Two online articles recently raised this point. One explained that employers are struggling to find workers who can answer the phone professionally or who have good interpersonal skills. Another explained why one CEO refuses to hire people who cannot use correct spelling and grammar.

Krista Leighton, director of career development, meets with students
to help them assess and improve their preparation for careers.
Krista Leighton, director of career development at Randolph College, explained that those skills and attributes are crucial because of the message they send about employees and the employers they represent. “One person who does not adhere to being professional in every way can affect many people in the organization,” she said.

For example, a bad experience with a phone call—an unprofessional greeting or an incorrect call transfer—could sour a customer’s experience with a company, Leighton said.

Bunny Goodjohn, a Randolph English professor and director of tutoring services, added that grammar and spelling help ensure clear and effective communication.

Bunny Goodjohn, an English professor, recommends
reading well-written material to improve writing skills.
“We live in a world of mindless writing—hasty e-mails, two-thumb texts, a scribbled post-it note here and there,” Goodjohn said. However, “I am seeing a groundswell of support for good writing among employers in a host of different professions from sales to marketing, from human resources to engineering.”

Here are some tips Goodjohn and Leighton pointed out for developing the kinds of skills and attributes that will, in combination with an excellent education, help people get jobs after college.

Goodjohn recommends that the best way to develop more professional writing skills requires reading good material. “My advice to students would be that they read something decent with a group of friends and then talk about it. It doesn’t have to be something heavy—they just have to engage with the words,” she said.

Well-written magazines such as Sports Illustrated are a good start, she added.

Randolph’s Writing Across the Curriculum program helps students develop these skills by incorporating expectations for good writing in every course, not just English classes, she said.

Leighton said students should find a mentor who can honestly assess their career development. In addition to professors and former employers, students can find this type of mentoring in Randolph’s Experiential Learning Center. There, Leighton and other staff members can help students assess their career interests, explore internship opportunities, and engage in other career preparation activities.

Leighton pointed out that students can, and should, take advantage of those services as early as their first year in college. “The earlier a college student works on this process, the more satisfied and successful they will be in their career preparation.”