How to Enter the Workforce With the Best Skills: What ALL Graduates Need to Know

  Below are several important skills which you should intentionally strive to develop during your high school and college years, and definitely prior to college graduation. Plan to include them on your resume with verifiable proof coming from  references  such as your professors and past employers. These are some of the enviable skills you want potential employers to notice and value in you during the interview process, even if you are in the beginning stages of developing these competencies.

Below are several important skills which you should intentionally strive to develop during your high school and college years, and definitely prior to college graduation. Plan to include them on your resume with verifiable proof coming from references such as your professors and past employers. These are some of the enviable skills you want potential employers to notice and value in you during the interview process, even if you are in the beginning stages of developing these competencies.

Time management skills

The definition of time management provided on the mindtools.com website reveals this insight: “Time management” is the process of organizing and planning how to divide your time between specific activities. Good time management enables you to work smarter – not harder – so that you get more done in less time, even when time is tight and pressures are high. Failing to manage your time damages your effectiveness and causes stress.

How can you develop your time management skills?

time - clock - busy but prompt

We suggest learning how to manage your time well while you are still in high school and college. Learn to be accountable and punctual. Use a planner to manage your schedules for work, tests, travel, homework, social activities, appointments, and other responsibilities. The more complicated answer lies in the realization that time management is a lifetime struggle and goal. Why? Because life gets more and more complicated, plus you never know what’s going to be thrown at you, and inevitably, it will cause wrinkles in the best laid plans.

  • First, understand the actual length of a minute or two in real time. Especially if your tendency is to run late, DON'T ESTIMATE TIME! Learn how long it really takes you to make a trip to the bathroom or how much travel time you honestly need to set aside for your morning commute to class or to the office. Don’t be late; be a few minutes early, at least!
  • Next, understand what it takes to meet your deadlines. Plan ahead. Prioritize. Focus on the most challenging tasks first. Learn to ask for help and delegate when possible.
  • Understand when enough is enough. Realize it is okay to occasionally say, “No.”
  • Finally, recognize your need for exercise and relaxation to relieve stress. Remember that a good night’s sleep is very important in maintaining your good health and that it will enable you to perform better at work.

Remember this quote regarding time management:

“The essence of self-discipline is to do the important thing rather than the urgent thing.” – Barry Werner

Social Media Management Skills

For Millennials, social media is a huge aspect of life. Unfortunately, many young people do not think ahead when it comes to understanding that every tweet, Facebook post, Instagram comment, and picture you post are establishing your digital footprint (a.k.a. reputation) among those watching, reading and listening to you.

   Just as high school guidance counselors and college admission reps are interested in getting to know you by means of social media, so are hiring managers.

Just as high school guidance counselors and college admission reps are interested in getting to know you by means of social media, so are hiring managers.

How can you improve your social media management skills?

  • Start by cleaning up all your social media sites . . . before you begin the job hunt. 
  • Think like a professional. Be career-minded, and start in high school. Best way to begin? Create a LinkedIn account. Anytime you work a new job, complete a group project, or learn new skills, add those to your LinkedIn account. At the end of each school year, ask your teachers if they would connect with you on LinkedIn. This is a tremendous way to build your connections with professionals and with potential references. Encourage your friends to get on LinkedIn, then connect with them too. Just remember this is a professional site, not intended to be used anything like Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram. The connections you make are your future contacts for references, jobs, friendly advice, and much more. Then repeat this process through all your job experiences, service/project work, and college years. Don't wait until you are a senior in college to "invest" in LinkedIn. Begin early.
  • Think like a hiring manager when you decide to post anything on social media. Your parents may not care "to investigate" all your social media activity, but let me assure you, college reps and HR managers are very efficient in their research of potential students and employees. 

Remember these quotes about social media management:

“Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t want plastered on a billboard with your face on it.” - Erin Bury, Sprouter Community Manager
“Social Media is about the people! Not about your business. Provide for the people and the people will provide for you.” - Matt Goulart

Money Management Skills

According to quicken.com, “Money management refers to how you handle all aspects of your finances, from making a budget for where each paycheck goes to setting long-term goals to picking investments that will help you to reach those goals. Money management is not just about saying "no" to any purchase but developing a plan that allows you to say "yes" to the things that are most important to you. Any amount of money can prove to be too little if you don't have good money management skills.”

figure responsible for lots of money

How can you improve your money management skills?

Plan well. Set financial goals. Maintain the budget. Research what you buy before you buy. Seek out the best deals. Don't go into debt by way of credit cards. Always spend, save and invest wisely. Start today.

Remember this quote on money management:

"A penny here, and a dollar there, placed at interest, goes on accumulating, and in this way the desired result is attained. It requires some training, perhaps, to accomplish this economy, but when once used to it, you will find there is more satisfaction in rational saving than in irrational spending." - P. T. Barnum

Teamwork

Commonsensemedia.com provides this definition of teamwork: “Teamwork is working respectfully and effectively with a group and doing your share. Many basic character strengths, such as communication, self-control, and humility, support a person's ability to work on a team. Teamwork is more than getting along with people. The key to being a good team player is the ability to put a group's needs above your own.”

3 figures represent teamwork

How can you build your teamwork skills?

In the workplace, life isn’t so much about you as it is about the bigger picture and the greater goal. Engage in any situation whereby people come together and work through differences to make a decision, to build something, to accomplish a goal, or to resolve a problem.

Remember this quote about teamwork:

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” – Michael Jordan

Communication skills

Developing good, solid communication skills can involve one’s ability to listen well, to write well, to speak clearly and concisely, to persuade or explain, to build quick rapport, to stand confidently before an audience, or to be an engaging conversationalist.

How can you improve your communication skills?

2 professionals - face to face communication
  • Practice makes perfect, so talk. Lay your cellphone aside and engage with others face to face. Learn the best approaches to take when communicating with others, especially with those who are not like you.
  • Write. Invest in a journal and practice getting your thoughts, dreams, problems, and best days on paper.
  • Care about what others have to say and learn how to respond in an emotionally intelligent manner.
  • Seek out opportunities to lead, teach, give reports, make announcements, emcee, read aloud, tell a story, sing, or speak before small groups. All these experiences can help increase your comfort level when your are asked to stand and speak to larger groups of people in the future.
  • Strong communicators will work hard to understand and relate to those with whom they are trying to connect.

Remember this quote on communication:

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” - Tony Robbins

Attention-to-detail skills

Anyone who has ever been in class on the day the teacher wants the class to write a descriptive paragraph or on the day the math teacher reminds students to show their work understands the importance of the details. Nevertheless, once outside the classroom, details are not everyone’s priority. Sometimes in our busyness, they get tossed carelessly aside.

How can you pay more attention to the details?

Force yourself. Really. Or hire a handy assistant to do it for you for the rest of your life. And even then, you'll wish you had developed that skill earlier in life. Learn to read the instructions, the map, the entire email, and other's facial expressions. Truth, insight, direction, solutions - these things are often found by focusing on and addressing the details.

frustrated manager at laptop
  • No employer wants an employee who cannot respond promptly and correctly to an emailed question.
  • No manager wants a vague response which summarizes rather than details what s/he really needs to know.
  • No business wants an employee who can’t file correctly because that A-Z thing is such a bother. Filing may seem like busy work, but busy is what you’ll be if you do not file an important tax document in the correct file. Try finding IT among the thousands of other files recently placed in the filing cabinets. Not such a minor detail after all.
  • No business wants an employee who claims on their resume that they are “detail-oriented” when, in fact, that is far from reality. Employers will know the truth immediately when they review your application or ask you to answer a few behavioral interview questions, in detail.
  • No business owner wants a manager who cannot or will not address the details of a problem in order to discern a solution to it.

Remember this quote about the importance of details:

“The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail.” - Charles R. Swindoll

Problem-solving skills

The ability to solve problems differs greatly from person to person, and problems come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Some people may have impressive technical problem-solving capabilities while others may utilize their people skills to resolve complicated employee issues. 

How can you determine your problem-solving skills?

2 figures brainstorming ideas

Determine what your strengths are when it comes to solving problems:

  • Can you easily gather and analyze data?
  • Do you get lost in the details and in the misery of problems?
  • Do unanswered questions energize or exhaust you?
  • Do you tend to treat symptoms, or do you find yourself wanting to learn the root of a problem so you can fix it once and for all?
  • Are you able to brainstorm myriad ways of meeting your goals and objectives?
  • Can you maintain focus amidst setbacks?
  • Do you automatically devise solutions to problems that arise in your own life?
  • Can you improvise when thrown a curve ball?
  • Are you successful at resolving problems by establishing plans and following them through to completion?

Remember this quote about problem-solving:

“You can increase your problem-solving skills by honing your question-asking ability.” – Michael J. Gelb

Leadership skills

In the Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman’s article, “Leadership That Gets Results”, explains six leadership styles in business. Are you a leader at heart? If so, what type of leader are you?

leaders and their styles of leadership

According to Mr. Goleman, there are 6 leadership styles:

  • Commanding, “Do as I say.”
  • Visionary, “Come with me.”
  • Affiliative, “People come first.”
  • Democratic, “What do you think?”
  • Coaching, “Try this.” 
  • Pacesetting, “Do at my pace.”

CLICK HERE to see a chart that summarizes the Goleman article on leadership styles.

How can you develop leadership skills?

On the studypoint.com website, several suggestions are made regarding ways to increase your leadership opportunities and skills with this underlying principle: “Actions are more important than titles.”

  • As a leader, it takes integrity to be willing to take ownership and to accept responsibility for all that happens on your watch – on the good days and the bad days.
  • It is one thing to have your name listed as a member of a club, but another matter altogether if you were an active participant who planned and organized events or led in any way.
  • Do what you love. Work will seem like less of a chore, and you will find yourself more easily engaged in the day to day tasks required of you.
  • Learn to work well with others. Communicate well. Build trust in all your relationships. Listen well. Establish a spirit of collaboration among team members.

Remember this quote on leadership:

“A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.” - Arnold H. Glasow

Decision-making skills

Good decision makers utilize intuition and reason in the decision-making process. Both are acceptable, but we all have different gifts and talents. Some people are intuitive but do not tend to think rationally when confronted with tough decisions. Others may become so overwhelmed with all the options being presented that they are unable to choose any one of them over the others. And some individuals are so clearly confused by all the choices that they impulsively, and usually foolishly, select one without much forethought whatsoever.

decision - figure on see saw - yes or no

How can you prepare to make major decisions for a business?

Practice the art of decision-making in everyday life: in your home, among friends, at the grocery store, in choosing how and when you study, when participating on a team, in planning and scheduling the activities most important to you, when volunteering, as you care for young children, etc. There are numerous ways to practice this skill, but be intentional about it. Otherwise, those decision-making skills may be afforded to someone else.

While some people simply need to grow their decision-making capabilities, others may need to hone and mature their “bossy” decision-making tendencies. Bossy people are often impulsive. They blurt out whatever is foremost on their mind, without much rational thought backing up their decision. This style of making decisions must go! Reason and clear forethought must be applied if one wants to become a skilled decision-maker.

When making decisions in the workplace, consider questions such as these before you act:

decisions - figure with 3 arrow options
  • How will this decision affect each of the people under my authority?
  • How well does this decision align with the company’s goals?
  • What are the expected outcomes connected with this decision?
  • Are the expected outcomes overwhelmingly positive or negative?
  • Do I need to weigh alternatives to the choice I’m leaning towards?
  • Will this decision cause harm to anyone?
  • What will be the cost of an unwise decision?
  • Do I have all the facts needed to make a wise and informed decision?
  • Is the decision high or low risk?
  • In the larger scheme of things, is it a risk worth taking?

Questions like these can easily be applied to various situations in all our lives, so test them out. See what kind of decision-maker you really are. The kind a manager could trust or the one who still has a lot of lessons to learn?

Remember this quote about the decision-making process:

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.” - Amelia Earhart

Strategic planning

According to the Balanced Scorecard Institute’s website, strategic planning is this:

“Strategic planning is an organizational management activity that is used to set priorities, focus energy and resources, strengthen operations, ensure that employees and other stakeholders are working toward common goals, establish agreement around intended outcomes/results, and assess and adjust the organization's direction in response to a changing environment. It is a disciplined effort that produces fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, who it serves, what it does, and why it does it, with a focus on the future. Effective strategic planning articulates not only where an organization is going and the actions needed to make progress, but also how it will know if it is successful.”

strategy

How can you develop strategic planning skills?

  • Learn to understand and set priorities.
  • Suggest something which will improve operations at your current job.
  • In a leadership role, ensure that you and other employees are meeting daily goals and objectives. Plan an event in which you must establish and work within spending parameters.
  • If you have your own business as a high school or college student, establish agreements around intended results and then be sure you deliver them successfully.

Remember this quote regarding strategy:

“Perception is strong and sight weak. In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things” - Miyamoto Musashi, legendary Japanese swordsman

Negotiation skills

On the skillsyouneed.com website, negotiation is defined as “a method by which people settle differences. It is a process by which compromise or agreement is reached while avoiding argument and dispute.”

The steps involved include the following: 1-Preparation, 2-Discussion, 3-Clarification of goals, 4-Negotiate towards a Win-Win outcome, 5-Agreement, and 6-Implementation of a course of action.

4 people in negotiations

How can you develop your negotiation skills?

According to Marquette University Law School professor, Andrea Kupfer Schneider, in an article for the Washington University Journal of Law and Policy, the development of the 5 skills listed below should take precedence over any negotiating style. The definitions of these skills were borrowed from the Merriam-Webster.com website.

  • Assertiveness - disposed to or characterized by bold or confident statements and behavior
  • Empathy - the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner
  • Flexibility - characterized by a ready capability to adapt to new, different, or changing requirements
  • Social skills - the personal skills needed for successful social communication and interaction or intuition - the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference
  • Ethics - the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation

Remember this quote about negotiating skills:

“During a negotiation, it would be wise not to take anything personally. If you leave personalities out of it, you will be able to see opportunities more objectively.” – Brian Koslow

In Conclusion

As you graduate and enter the interviewing phase of your job search, be sure to include some of these competencies on your resume and in your discussions with potential employers.

skill set - competencies

Time & Money Management - Teamwork - Communication - Strategy Negotiating - Attention to Detail - Problem-Solving - Leadership

Hiring managers are looking for top-notch employees. Simply being aware of these skills and having an interest in developing them further can set you apart as a candidate in a world chock full of competition. And if you've been intentional about building these sought-after skills into your work experience for several years, you're ahead of the game.

We wish you all the best as you begin your career, and if you are interested in working in or near the metro Memphis area, be sure to checkout Brannon Professionals' available jobs by visiting our website.