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Three Skills You’ll Need to Land a Job
We’re almost done with spring semester, another year almost down. By now you’ve had a chance to get used to college life. Or perhaps this year you’re a returning student who’s just settling into a new year of classes and activities. Either way, you feel good about investing in your future (and having some fun in the process). And while you might be learning a lot - and gaining academic knowledge is surely valuable, right? - you probably aren’t mastering the skills employers are seeking.
Generally speaking, college does a decent job of imparting knowledge, but a terrible job at preparing students to meet the needs of future employers. So if you’re a college student right now, then you must get intentional about mastering the skills needed to thrive in the workforce that may not already be available to learn in college.
Consider that New York University (NYU) researchers Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa found that 45% of students showed “exceedingly small or empirically non-existent” gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication during their first two years of college, and 36% showed no improvement over the entire four years of their education.
Arum and Roksa discuss this further in their 2011 book Academically Adrift. And their conclusion: “They might graduate, but they’re failing to develop the higher-order cognitive skills that are widely assumed college students should master.”
Clearly, alternatives to traditional education are desperately needed (and, indeed, are being developed right now). That doesn't mean if you’re attending college you’re making a huge mistake.
What it does mean is that you should be supplementing your classes with skill-building activities that prepare you for the workforce. Here are three major skills students should purposely work toward mastering:
Skill 1: Critical Thinking. We don’t make the best decisions we can with the information we have. We make the best decisions we can with the inferences that we draw from the information we have.
This is the stuff of critical thinking, defined by the Foundation for Critical Thinking as “that mode of thinking - about any subject, content or problem - in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing and reconstructing it.”
It’s no surprise that a 2013 study shows that 93% of employers value thinking critically over an undergraduate degree.
How to Master It: Be extremely selective when choosing both the college courses you take, as well as the instructors. Opt for smaller class sizes, discussion-based curriculum and courses where you get to engage with the instructor (not teacher assistants) as much as possible.
Choose courses that require engagement (far beyond attendance and turning in assignments) and tests based on extended response versus single answers. Finally, make a habit of utilizing office hours with the instructor, by asking thoughtful questions and discussing topics that foster conversation.
Skill 2: Creativity. Businesses want creative thinkers because it opens doors and fuels innovation. Keith Sawyer’s book Zig Zag describes creativity as a process that starts with a small idea that cannot change the world on its own.
Sawyer goes on to explain that in the creative life, you have small ideas every week, day and even every hour. The essence of the creative process involves bringing those ideas together over time. If you can harness that creativity, then you’ll be valuable to the businesses of the future. However, doing this requires incubation.
Remember that even the most creative people can’t generate great ideas on command. The “aha!” moment requires that the right stage be set, and that enough time be dedicated to the incubation of the eventual insight. Incubation is the time that creates the shell and context in which creativity can be cultivated.
How to Master It: Not only should you consistently be planning, preparing and working creatively on your various school projects, you should also schedule intentional time for the incubation of ideas.
The key here is to prepare well up front via research, and understand what the problem is. Then it’s crucial for you not to dive into final solutions too quickly. Sit with the problem for a while until you reach the eventual insight you need. Incubation can occur in a wide variety of ways, like scheduled fun or downtime, sports and exercise, or relaxing walks.
Skill 3: Fortitude. Merriam-Webster defines fortitude as the strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger, or bear pain or adversity with courage. It may sound dramatic, but pain and adversity come in many forms: both in college and in the workplace.
The point is that when faced with these road blocks, some people quit while others continue striving. This ability to keep going is valuable to employers, who want workers who can think and problem-solve without giving up or asking a supervisor for help at every turn.
What’s different about those who succeed both in college and in the workplace is that they possess certain non-cognitive capacities. These include motivation, perseverance, time-management skills, work habits, and the ability to ask for feedback and support. These qualities make whatever intelligence we have useful and practical.
It’s not enough to be brilliant and work on a problem for five minutes, then give up. It’s much better to be reasonably smart and keep trying new approaches after your first attempt stalls.
How to Master It: There are a couple tools you can use to develop fortitude. The first is motivation. Think carefully to identify what intrinsically motivates you in terms of a major goal you have (such as attending all classes, graduating early or losing some weight). Write down your motivations and revisit them daily or weekly to help you connect back to why you have this goal in the first place.
Another helpful tool is mindfulness. This isn’t mindfulness in the spiritual sense. Instead it’s a mindfulness of your intentions, attention, and attitude around everything you say and do, and mindfulness around how your day goes - a model developed by Shauna Shapiro and Linda Carlson, and discussed in a research article printed in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in 2006, citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.470.3709&rep=rep1&type=pdf.
A mindful learner is able to relate openly and flexibly to the diversity of experiences that come with learning new skills - taking in stride whatever problems, challenges or feelings of “stuckness” arise. When faced with distractions, they think clearly about what really matters and what must be set aside.
What’s the Bottom Line? Simply going through the motions of college won’t cut it; you’ll never come away with the abilities that matter in the “real world.”
Now that you know the skills you really need to succeed after college, put your energy toward mastering them right away.
You should absolutely apply these tactics and tools to your schoolwork and studies, but don’t forget to apply them outside your classes, as well. When you’re able to be creative, think critically and display fortitude in all areas of life, you’re on your way to a far brighter, more employable future.
– Danny Iny
About the Author: Iny is the author of Leveraged Learning: How the Disruption of Education Helps Lifelong Learners and Experts with Something to Teach. He’s a life-long entrepreneur, best-selling author and CEO of the online business education company Mirasee, mirasee.com. Best known for his value-driven approach to business, his nine published books include Engagement from Scratch!, The Audience Revolution and two editions of Teach and Grow Rich.
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