Employers Desire Soft Skills From College Graduates

College Graduate Graduation is at hand and college students are heading out into the world to start their careers. You have a degree, but do you have the soft skills that potential employers are looking for? You learn a lot in college in many subjects, but employers say many college graduates lack specific soft skills that are needed in the workplace.

Research shows that only 15% of ones success is determined by hard skills (technical skills, your degree), while the remaining 85% of your success depends on soft skills.

Soft skills are the everyday skills that allow you to perform well at your job. Below you will find a list of some of the soft skills most desired by employers.

“A person who is able to maintain a 3.0 average and either plays a sport or has a leadership position in a club or organization, maybe volunteers with a community group, that’s a person you know is going to be able to live up to the tasks we face in our business lives,” said Dan Ryan, director of career planning and placement at the University at Buffalo.

The Number One Soft Skill

speaking A recent survey of corporate recruiters ranked communications skills (speaking, listening and writing) as being one of the most desired skills. You may be a charming and likeable person who gets along well with everyone, but how well do you communicate? Can you stand before a group and give a short, clear and organized presentation?

It is important to be able to communicate your message even in one-on-one conversations. Speaking, listening and writing are communications skills that are needed every day in the workplace and is one reason it is the most valued soft skill.

College Students Lack Time Management Skills

Another important skill that college students seem to be lacking in is time management. Unlike high school where your teachers structured your assignments and your time was scheduled to the minute, in college you have less class time and you are responsible for getting the work done. With this freedom comes responsibility and some college students do not manage their time very well.

In the workplace time management is essential. Time management requires that you do planning, delegating, scheduling, goal setting, prioritizing your work, to-do lists, tasks lists and more. Time management is about increasing your efficiency and productivity, while eliminating distractions and procrastinations.

Desired Soft Skills

teamof2 It’s important that you are knowledgeable in your field: an engineer must have engineering knowledge; an accountant needs an accounting background; a nurse needs a medical education. Your GPA is indicative of what you have learned in your field. More than half of employers recognize this by screening applicants by GPA, using a cutoff of 3.0. Add an internship or two in your field and you show an employer that you’ve tested your new knowledge.

However knowledge alone is not enough. Soft skills are required to put the knowledge to use and to get the job done. Surveys have shown these to be the soft skills most desired by employers.

  • Face-to-face communication skills
  • Writing skills
  • Presentation skills
  • Teamwork skills
  • Interpersonal (gets along well with others) skills
  • A good work ethic
  • Time management
  • Multitasking skills
  • Able to meet deadlines
  • Professionalism
  • Knowledge of business etiquette

Other Soft Skills

These are the desired soft skills, but by no means is a complete list. There are many other soft skills that are valuable in the workplace.

  • Negotiating skills
  • Motivation (yes it is a skill)
  • Decision-making skills
  • Problem solving skills (very important)
  • Professional etiquette
  • Able to teach others
  • Professional attitude
  • Analytical skills
  • Networking

Improving Your Soft Skills

College students tend to think a high GPA and a degree will ensure career success. While a good GPA is an indication that a college student can work hard and perhaps manage their time well, you need soft skills to be successful in the workplace.

While in college if soft skill courses or seminars are offered you should attend them. They are as important as your degree or your GPA. Other ways to build your soft skills in college include internships, a good job history and project oriented courses. Clubs and organizations, particularly leadership organizations can help. On-campus jobs such as a college newspaper or other job that puts you in a real world work environment will let you develop your soft skills.

“The best candidate isn’t always the person with the highest GPA,” said Kathy Hatem, vice president of resourcing and employee relations at HSBC. “You look at balance, involvement in all areas: education, work experience, internships, extracurricular activities.”

Try hitting the library and read some books on some of these soft skills. While you can not put them in a resume, they will help you start building your soft skills as soon as you start your job. Don’t think once you graduate you will not need to learn more. Throughout your career you should improve your soft skills, professional skills and technical skills. Doing so will help you move up the career ladder to success.


  1. Our research and experience (both coaching students and working with corporations to identify and support strategic organizational development initiatives shows a different set of skills (but with some overlapping similarities). First, I’d like to point out that most Recruiters (referenced survey in post above) are looking for someone who has the schooling and/or work experience AND can sell themselves. So it is not a surprise that communication skills comes out number one. The Recruiter wants the person to succeed in the interview process so an offer will be extended. The actual top skills needed will depend on the job (see http://www.nielsongroup.com). Some, such as sales positions and any job with strong influencing requirements, will need excellent communication skills to be sure. However, for a high school student to succeed in college (a job in itself), requires decision making, self management, flexibility, initiative, continuous learning, personal accountability, planning and organizing, problem solving and project and goal focus. The chosen career path will determine what skills will be most important to develop after that.

    Career Coaching for Students version 3.0 was just released and includes an entire online e-learning module called Life Skills for Students(tm) with 12 skills (including those listed above) that is available at no additional cost. For more on Career Coaching for Students go to http://www.successdiscoveries.com/products/ccfs. Online career research links are available at http://www.successdiscoveries.com/resources/ccfs.

    • Thanks for the information Carl. Your site looks like a good resource for those looking to develop skills needed in the workplace.

  2. Irissh L. Russell says:

    Having been an ACLS instructor and a staff person,I have utilized soft skills without knowing or rather considering them only communication skills. I have previously interacted with patients and their families to provide information to provide them with important information. You are very right in saying that after graduation you must continue to increase your scope of learning. It is very important to continue to learn and adapt to the sometime uncontrolled moments within a work environment which may not occur during the time in which you are in school.

  3. Would like to know the source / research on 15% and 75% Hard Vs Soft Skills in determining one’s career success. Thanks.