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Business skills employers look for in candidates

Business Skills for majors

Everyone knows that in order to do a job well you must learn a specific set of skills. If you hope to work in the business world, for example, you will have to learn about economics, marketing and communications. However, people sometimes forget that employers don’t look for only technical knowledge; soft skills are just as, and sometimes more, important.

Ability to communicate well with others, leadership, capacity to work with a team and critical thinking are some of the soft skills most appreciated by employers; traits they look for when hiring someone to be part of their team. And if you are considering a career in business administration, those abilities will probably be a requirement for any job you choose.

Soft skills are even more critical when you are looking for your first job. Usually, when recruiting for entry-level jobs, hiring managers are more interested in what soft skills a candidate has than in the technical knowledge or experience they possess. They understand that an employee can easily be trained to work with a filing system or computer software, but it’s much harder to make someone who hates working with a team start liking it after a week-long training.

Finding the right candidate with the perfect combination of soft skills and training in hard skills is difficult, and makes the hiring process more complicated, which results in the lack of soft skills being one of the biggest complaints hiring managers have. And we are sure you’ve heard this before: “It’s hard to find talented professionals.”

According to the Job Outlook 2016 report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the ability to work in a team structure and solve problems, and communication and organizational skills are some of the most valued skills recruiters prioritize when looking for candidates. The complete list of the 10 skills in order of importance is listed below:

  1. Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization
  2. Ability to work in a team structure
  3. Ability to make decisions and solve problems
  4. Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work
  5. Ability to obtain and process information
  6. Ability to analyze quantitative data
  7. Technical knowledge related to the job
  8. Proficiency with computer software programs
  9. Ability to create and/or edit written reports
  10. Ability to sell and influence others

The list has minor changes from year to year, but the main abilities employers look for are always the same: communication, teamwork and organization skills.

The power of writing

Make sure your writing skills are strong, even if you are looking for a job as a statistician.

Writing is one of the skills employers are more concerned about. They understand that a good writer can communicate well and make complex concepts easier to comprehend, and they grasp things easier. And a writer is often a strong communicator.

Another point they consider is, in a world that relies so much upon written communication such as e-mails, writing with quality is non-negotiable. If you start your career working in the business world, you will probably have to communicate through e-mail with colleagues, clients and other business professionals, and you will also have to prepare presentations and reports. Can you imagine having a grammar mistake on a presentation that will be shown to key executives of your company?

Written communication skills were in the top five attributes recruiters and managers look for in candidates, according to NACE’s report, more important than computer skills and creativity, for example. The lesson here is, don’t spend all your time learning how to use multiple computer software programs and forget to refine your writing. Even though we live in a society that revolves around technology, the power of writing is still strong.

Leadership is important in the business world

It’s almost impossible to read any content about job hunting and not find a piece about leadership, and there is a reason for that: Leadership is always a trait that managers and recruiters are looking for, even for entry-level positions. Showing leadership potential is a great sign that a candidate can grow successfully inside the company.

Candidates who show leadership qualities are able to communicate well, respect the team they are working with and know how to listen. A good leader is not only concerned about expressing a point of view or ideas, he or she is genuinely interested in listening to everyone’s ideas and allowing people to share insights. Keeping people motivated is a priority too. That way, it’s easier for everybody to accomplish his or her goals.

Be friendly

A friendly personality can open multiple doors. A great number of employers think about how a new hire will adapt to an existing team and how this candidate’s ability to build relationships can improve their business as a whole. Those traits can be decisive factors during the hiring process.

Be polite and friendly from the first contact with a company. The picture of a successful businessperson who doesn’t talk to anyone and is very rude is hardly true. Great opportunities usually appear when you have a good network of trustworthy relationships.

Remember, friendly behavior can easily be noticed during the first contact you have with a company. So don’t put on a big smile only when talking with the company’s director or hiring manager. Be kind and polite with everyone you meet.

Other soft skills employers look for

There are some other soft skills that employers are looking for:

  • Punctuality
  • Ability to think critically
  • Ability to think creatively
  • Resiliency

Some of them seem very obvious, but not everyone finds it easy to be punctual or resilient, for example. The expectation that employees have the ability to think critically and creatively also shows that employers are not looking for someone who is only very good with technical skills; they want an employee who can question, present solutions and innovate.

How do I work on my soft skills?

OK, now we know what soft skills recruiters and managers are looking for. But how do we work on them to get prepared for our job hunt?

The first step is to understand your weaknesses and strengths. Which soft skills come easily to you, and which do you already know you need to work on? Do a self-search and ask some friends to help identify what you need to work on. After your discovery process, you can build your action plan, and to help you with that, we listed some tips.

Communication: The first step in becoming a good communicator is to listen. When you understand the needs and expectations of others, you can explain things more accurately, tailoring your message to fit their needs. Read a lot and engage in conversations with colleagues and people you don’t know very well.

Organization: Make lists of your activities and plan ahead. Decide what works for you; for instance, writing a list on a computer spreadsheet or a simple to-do list on a piece of paper. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just make sure it’s well organized and accurate.

Team player: School is the best place to train yourself to work in teams. Classroom projects, extracurricular projects and sports are great ways to massage your skills in that area.

Critical thinker: Always ask questions, and keep asking them. Keep informed of what’s happening in the world, as this will provide you with a broader understanding of every situation and maybe a point of view that no one else has.

Writing skills: The best exercise to improve writing is to read and, of course, to write. Also, study English grammar and apply yourself to write with proper English, even on the internet. Recruiters often visit social media channels and don’t like when they see posts full of grammar mistakes.

Leadership: To become a better leader, you must communicate. Sounds repetitive, we know, but communication is key for a lot in the business world. It can help you build a successful career, connect with your team and build relationships based on trust. A great number of leadership consultants and CEOs say that leadership should be more humanized. Remember that, and don’t treat people like robots. Keep encouraging others and motivating your colleagues, and remember to always ask for feedback.

Punctuality: Make it a challenge for yourself, and be punctual to all of your meetings. It doesn’t matter if it’s a meeting with your friend; arrive there 15 minutes early and make that an exercise.

Resilience: Resilient people are flexible and tend to adapt to different circumstances quickly. Be positive and face challenges as an opportunity to grow.

How do I market my soft skills?

You are probably wondering how you make these soft skills appear on your resume. You can tweak some experiences you have in college, like a group project, bake sales or sports, so they can be more marketable. Make sure to say how many people were involved, what you did exactly and the challenges you faced.

Your soft skills must be present on your resume and cover letter, but don’t forget to act accordingly when doing the interview. It will make no sense to a recruiter if you look very communicative on paper, but have a hard time being so in real life.

The best way to showcase your soft skills on your resume and cover letter is by telling a story and engaging the reader. For example, if you want to say that you have the ability to think creatively, you can explain how you proposed a completely innovative approach to some project (at college or your former job). Your cover letter is a great place to tell your stories and show your strongest skills.

If you are currently thinking about starting to study business administration, it’s important to know that you must get the best training and preparation to launch your new career — instruction that will equip you with a well-rounded knowledge about all the topics you need in the business world.

At Northwestern College, you will not only learn everything you need to be a successful businessperson, but also get your instruction from seasoned teachers who understand the hard and soft skills employers are currently looking for.

You can choose between three business programs at Northwestern College: Business Administration Degree, Business Administration Certificate and Executive Accounting Degree.

And what about you? What soft skills do you think are most important when looking for a job?