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Posted May 25, 2017 by

5 ways STEM/technical grads can develop soft skills employers covet

 

Good news for STEM grads: Those with degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math can expect to earn the highest starting salaries among 2017 grads. That’s according to the Winter 2017 Salary Survey report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). According to the NACE report, the top three starting salaries for recent college grads with bachelor’s degrees are in these STEM fields:

  • Engineering – $66,097
  • Computer science – $65,540
  • Math and Science – $55,087

While STEM grads are currently hitting the job market at full force, another group of job seekers are also starting their career: The graduate from the two-year technical college. Like STEM jobs, hot jobs for those with two-year technical backgrounds include air traffic controller, nuclear technician, computer programmer, and electronic engineering technician.

Translation: Skilled workers with both two and four year degrees are in demand.

But skilled workers with the education, and the right soft skills, are the one’s getting hired. With thousands of STEM or technical school grads now in the workforce, employers hiring recent college grads or entry-level employees are looking for more than just the right educational background.

“A degree isn’t what’s going to set you apart from other candidates,” says Jena Brown, Talent Acquisition Marketing and Brand Leader at Kerry, a leader in the food, beverage, and pharma industries, with 23,000 staff and 100+ innovation and manufacturing centers across six continents. “It’s usually required for technical positions, so you can’t stand on that alone.”

In fact, those who get hired often stand out because of the soft skills they are able to articulate in an interview. This may be why chief information officers (CIOs) surveyed by staffing firm Robert Half Technology named communication skills (28 percent) and problem-solving abilities (21 percent) as the top areas where skilled and technical professionals could improve.

To stand out, according to Robert Half, skilled workers need to show employers:

  • You are an effective communicator
  • You have a strong understanding of business (even better if you have specific knowledge of the potential employer’s company or industry)
  • You have a history of coming up with creative solutions to problems

Brown agrees. Recruiters are looking for the job seeker who has something extra to bring to the team, whether it’s a personality that fits corporate culture, or the ability to make an impact beyond a basic job description: Someone who is a team player, willing to help out even if it isn’t part of the daily routine, or someone who shines bright and empowers those around them.

“We want to hear what you did to hone your business skills during the time you were earning your degree,” says Brown. “We want to see that you are looking ahead, seeing the larger picture and preparing yourself to maximize the career opportunities that await you.”

What are the top soft skills Brown and her team look for when recruiting recent college grads with technical backgrounds? Brown referred to these key skills:

1. Communication Skills: Regardless of the type of organization one works for, effective communication across all levels is a critical soft skill for technical new grads. This is especially important in larger organizations, like Kerry for example, which have a complex matrix organizational structure. What is a matrix organization? According to study.com: A matrix organizational structure is a company structure in which the reporting relationships are set up as a grid, or matrix, rather than in the traditional hierarchy. In other words, employees have dual reporting relationships – generally to both a functional manager and a product manager.

Can you do your work – and communicate technical information in a non-technical manner to others on the team, or across the organization? That’s important.

2. Teamwork: The ability to work in diverse, cross functional teams is important. “This goes hand in hand with flexibility,” says Brown. “Be malleable and teachable while contributing your valuable knowledge within teams.”

Large organizations have teams, reporting structures, and chains of command to follow. Being a part of that team, and working with others outside your team, and understanding how to fit in goes a long way towards success.

3. Professionalism: The ability to navigate a corporate environment, meet deadlines, conduct meetings, and contribute helps give recent college grads credibility in any role. Show up on time, do your job, ask appropriate questions, don’t make excuses. That’s a good start.

4. Leadership: Those who are able to lead and influence without the authority that comes with a title go the furthest, says Brown. Many entry-level employees don’t focus on developing leadership skills early in their career. But finding a mentor can assist with the leadership development process.

5. Consultative and presentation skills: These skills “can take you far regardless of level (or career path),” says Brown. Consultative skills focus on behaviors that deliver consultative value to internal customers and external clients.

Brown looks for recent college grad with those types of unique skills when recruiting and hiring those with technical backgrounds. She was once one of those consultative employees with a technical background, needing to succeed with non-technical co-workers and teams. She recruited employees for a company that provided customized technical services and platforms to huge companies around the globe.

“This was challenging because we were subject matter experts in designing and building customized MS solutions, which took very specific technical skills, but much of what we did was onsite at the customer site which required soft skills like a sales person might have,” says Brown.

How can recent college grads develop consultative or presentation skills? Joining industry associations or networking groups, and becoming an active member is one way. Volunteering at industry events is another way.

“If you can communicate in a consultative manner and present effectively it will get you more opportunities as you advance in your career,” says Brown. “While daunting at first, if given the opportunity to present and get visibility, do it.”

For many college students, there is nothing more daunting than earning a STEM degree, or completing a technical degree. Now that you are graduated, you need to take it to the next level. Start by mastering these soft skills to stand out, get noticed, and get hired.

When you do, a great salary, and great career opportunity awaits.

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