Lumen Learning; Linda Bruce Hill; and Jan Coville

“Every artist was first an amateur.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you lived and worked in colonial times in the United States, what skills would you need to be gainfully employed? What kind of person would your employer want you to be? And how different would your skills and aptitudes be then, compared to today?

Many industries that developed during the 1600s–1700s, such as health care, publishing, manufacturing, construction, finance, and farming, are still with us today. And the professional abilities, aptitudes, and values required in those industries are many of the same ones employers seek today.

For example, in the health care field then, just like today, employers looked for professionals with scientific acumen, active listening skills, a service orientation, oral comprehension abilities, and teamwork skills. And in the financial field then, just like today, employers looked for economics and accounting skills, mathematical reasoning skills, clerical and administrative skills, and deductive reasoning.

Why is it that with the passage of time and all the changes in the work world, some skills remain unchanged (or little changed)?

The answer might lie in the fact there are are two main types of skills that employers look for: hard skills and soft skills.

  • Hard skills are concrete or objective abilities that you learn and perhaps have mastered. They are skills you can easily quantify, like using a computer, speaking a foreign language, or operating a machine. You might earn a certificate, a college degree, or other credentials that attest to your hard-skill competencies. Obviously, because of changes in technology, the hard skills required by industries today are vastly different from those required centuries ago.
  • Soft skills, on the other hand, are subjective skills that have changed very little over time. Such skills might pertain to the way you relate to people, or the way you think, or the ways in which you behave—for example, listening attentively, working well in groups, and speaking clearly. Soft skills are sometimes also called “transferable skills” because you can easily transfer them from job to job or profession to profession without much training. Indeed, if you had a time machine, you could probably transfer your soft skills from one time period to another!

View this quick video on Soft Skills

What Employers Want in an Employee

Employers want individuals who have the necessary hard and soft skills to do the job well and adapt to changes in the workplace. Soft skills may be especially in demand today because employers are generally equipped to train new employees in a hard skill—by training them to use new computer software, for instance—but it’s much more difficult to teach an employee a soft skill such as developing rapport with coworkers or knowing how to manage conflict. An employer might rather hire an inexperienced worker who can pay close attention to details than an experienced worker who might cause problems on a work team.

In this section, we look at ways of identifying and building particular hard and soft skills that will be necessary for your career path. We also explain how to use your time and resources wisely to acquire critical skills for your career goals.

Specific Skills Necessary for Your Career Path

A skill is something you can do, say, or think right now. It’s what an employer expects you to bring to the workplace to improve the overall operations of the organization.  In your Awato assessments, you learned more about your inclinations, interests and work values. Understanding these aspects of yourself is an important part of deciding which careers to explore or transition into.  Knowing your skills is also crucial to be able to sell yourself on a resume – whether you are just launching your career, looking to change to a new field, or advancing in a field you are already established in.

Transferable Skills for Any Career Path

Transferable (soft) skills may be used in multiple professions. They include, but are by no means limited to, skills and personal traits listed below:

  • Dependable and punctual (showing up on time, ready to work, not being a liability)
  • Self-motivated
  • Enthusiastic
  • Committed
  • Willing to learn (lifelong learner)
  • Able to accept constructive criticism
  • A good problem solver
  • Strong in customer service skills
  • Adaptable (willing to change and take on new challenges)
  • A team player
  • Positive attitude
  • Strong communication skills
  • Good in essential work skills (following instructions, possessing critical thinking skills, knowing limits)
  • Ethical
  • Safety conscious
  • Honest
  • Strong in time management

These skills are transferable because they are positive attributes that are invaluable in practically any kind of work. They also do not require much training from an employer—you have them already and take them with you wherever you go. Soft skills are a big part of your “total me” package.

So, identify the soft skills that show you off the best, and identify the ones that prospective employers are looking for. By comparing both sets, you can more directly gear your job search to your strongest professional qualities.  Conduct a gap analysis. What are the skills listed in the job ads for your target positions?   Of those skills, which ones do you have?  Identify those that you are missing, then you can make a plan to acquire them.

10 Top Skills You Need to Get a Job When You Graduate

The following video summarizes the ten top skills that the Target corporation believes will get you a job when you graduate. Read a transcript of the video.

Video: 10 top skills that will get you a job when you graduate

“Lifelong learning” is a buzz phrase in the twentieth-first century because we are awash in new technology and information all the time, and those who know how to learn, continuously, are in the best position to keep up and take advantage of these changes. Think of all the information resources around you: colleges and universities, libraries, the Internet, videos, games, books, films—the list goes on.

With these resources at your disposal, how can you best position yourself for lifelong learning and a strong, viable career? Which hard and soft skills are most important? What are employers really looking for?

The following list was inspired by the remarks of Mark Atwood, director of open-source engagement at Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. It contains excellent practical advice.

  • Learn how to write clearly. After you’ve written something, have people edit it. Then rewrite it, taking into account the feedback you received. Write all the time.
  • Learn how to speak. Speak clearly on the phone and at a table. For public speaking, try Toastmasters. “Meet and speak. Speak and write.”
  • Be reachable. Publish your email so that people can contact you. Don’t worry about spam.
  • Learn about computers and computing, even if you aren’t gearing for a career in information technology. Learn something entirely new every six to twelve months.
  • Build relationships within your community. Use tools like and search for clubs at local schools, libraries, and centers. Then, seek out remote people around the country and world. Learn about them and their projects first by searching the Internet.
  • Attend conferences and events. This is a great way to network with people and meet them face-to-face.
  • Find a project and get involved. Start reading questions and answers, then start answering questions.
  • Collaborate with people all over the world.
  • Keep your LinkedIn profile and social media profiles up-to-date. Be findable.
  • Keep learning. Skills will often beat smarts. Be sure to schedule time for learning and having fun!

This list is advice specific to University of New Hampshire Students (Jan Coville) :

  • Embrace the writing embedded in your college courses.  Even when the topic of the paper doesn’t seem relevant to your career goals, the act of writing is.  Writing is the best way to get better at writing.  Whenever possible, choose topics and create assignments that ARE relevant to your career goal.  Research and write about things related to your career interests.
  • Celebrate online learning as a form of professional development. Learning how to navigate and communicate in an online learning community is a valuable and relevant competency.  You are building technological agility – it doesn’t get any more relevant than that!
  • Build your network.  Start connecting with your learning colleagues, advisors, instructors and other University of New Hampshire
    staff.  It will be hard to remember all of your connections after you have graduated.
  • Understand and Identify competencies that you are building by being a student that are sought after by employers.   Learn how to articulate your transferable skills!
  • Explore work experience opportunities through the college. You may be able to gain valuable workplace skills while pursuing your degree, which makes for the best career outcomes. Your academic advisor and career services staff can assist you with acquiring work experiences that will help you to get hired.
  • Experience discomfort.  GROWTH ONLY EXISTS OUTSIDE OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE.  Understand that in order to develop professionally you will need to experience discomfort by trying new things – embrace it as a valuable and necessary part of the process!


Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Original:

  • 10 Top Skills That Will Get You a Job When you Graduate. Authored by: TARGETjobs. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.




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Career Decision Making for Adults (v3) Copyright © by Lumen Learning; Linda Bruce Hill; and Jan Coville is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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