Soft skills are transferable abilities not specific to a particular vocation that are beneficial to any employer. Soft skills may be professional talents that can’t easily be taught—such as people skills, communication abilities, and critical thinking. As career counselors, we often emphasize the importance of soft skills to our students. But as career services professionals, are we taking this message to heart?
I made a vocational change into career services a few years ago. I began my job search with my more than 20 years of experience in the business world, including 10 years running my own research consulting business. I had spent years cultivating a comprehensive network of professional relationships with large healthcare public relations firms and pharmaceutical companies as my clients, had managed projects to stay within budgets that worked for my customers, and had vast experience with research and data analysis, and drafting executive summaries that were used by teams to procure new business. I’d even worked with college students trying to break into the field by reviewing their resumes and cover letters and putting them in touch with others in my expansive network. In addition to my business experience, I have a Ph.D. in experimental social psychology that I earned studying motivation and pursuit of goals.
Yet, when I applied for entry-level career counseling positions, my resume and cover letters didn’t muster a response. Without having direct and specific experience in a college career center, no one was interested in considering how my soft skills might be beneficial. I didn’t give up, and after much persistence, I met a career center director with enough foresight to give me that first chance.
As career counselors, the leap to consider someone without the typical experience shouldn’t be a long leap. We preach the virtue of soft skills and the ability to succeed by using these skills. We all have students whose interests vary greatly. Shouldn’t your career center staff reflect those differences? When was the last time you considered working with or hiring someone who didn’t fit the typical career counseling mold?
I encourage you to broaden your horizons and consider hiring “out of the box.” Here are some advantages to hiring creatively:
- A well-rounded office. A well-rounded office will have a variety of skills that can increase overall efficiency and success. Look for employees with strong interpersonal skills (networking, negotiation), customer service skills (listening, conflict resolution, empathy), leadership skills (delegation, coaching, motivation), research skills and/or IT skills (analytics, Big Data, emerging technology), and creativity skills (in programming, design, presentation). Consider someone with years of professional business experience, or perhaps someone who has human resources experience and has worked on the other side of the hiring desk.
- Different perspectives bring new ideas. Having a team with all the same background and education may seem to be a safe and predictable bet; however, your students may not be best served by having a same old-same old viewpoint. Just because programs and activities have worked, doesn’t mean they can’t be updated or revamped to increase effectiveness. Inject new energy and skills by bringing others with different experiences.
- Look for the holes in your current staff. Does your office reflect the diversity of the student body your office serves? When considering your office’s long-term plan, what areas are missing? Do you need fresh ideas or someone with more attention to detail? Does your office reflect the current work force—think beyond the gender/ethnicity issues and consider new graduates vs. seasoned specialists, higher education vs. professional experience, liberal arts vs. STEM or business, traditional vs. non-traditional previous employment.
And for those wanting to make the leap into a new field, show (don’t just say) your interest and willingness to learn. Consider:
- Taking a course to refresh your skills or build new skills
- Joining an organization such as a local professional organization or network
- Volunteering to gain valuable and relevant experience
- Finding a mentor and learning from someone who can provide guidance about breaking into the field
- Networking with professionals who can offer insight
Believe in the advice that you share with your students. Soft skills are valuable abilities and career centers may benefit from listening to their own advice.