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Soft skills rather than grades increasingly important in graduate job market

August 5, 2013 | Posted at 10:25 am

Recent graduates expecting to carry their successful college experiences into the workplace may find that companies are looking for more than just decent grades and a degree.

According to The Associated Press, employers are becoming more choosy when it comes to bringing in freshly-minted talent, with soft skills now considered to be as important as a series of A-Grades and a long record of academic achievement. While a college degree does demonstrate a dedication to the task in hand and a determination to succeed, hiring managers and human resources teams want to see evidence of attributes that can not be easily assessed on a resume or even in an initial interview.

“What the employers want is a well-rounded student,” says Jean Manning-Clark, director of the Colorado School of Mines’ career center, in an interview with the AP. “The ones that get 10 to 12 job offers are the ones who have strong soft skills.”

Thinking outside the box
Companies are increasingly going to great lengths to make sure that prospective employees will be able to make the adjustment from the classroom to the work environment, according to the news source, with assessments taking longer and involving a variety of tasks and challenges. These can include critical thinking, teamwork exercises, giving presentations, playing video games and basically anything that requires the candidate to think outside of the box.

For example, Google requires potential employees to participate in what the company calls “Code Jam” – an interactive gaming experience that forces programmers to solve algorithmic problems while killing zombies. The West Coast tech giant has been running the contest since 2003 and drew applications from 21,000 candidates in 2012, with the firm hiring 1,000 participants since 2009.

“The contest allows us to see how creatively people can solve problems, their ability to think creatively and solve tough, algorithmically difficult problems,” said Lysandra Donigian, Google’s student outreach manager. “Googlers get a chance to interact with the coders, so they get a chance to see if they would fit in.”

Sometimes it can be hard to find the right combination of hard and soft skills. A recent global survey by McKinsey & Co. found that only 43 percent of the 2,832 employers interviewed said that they had been able to find the right person at an entry-level basis, while a report by the Association of American¬† Colleges and Universities revealed that 93 percent of firms that were hiring wanted candidates who could “think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems.”

Developing soft skills
There is also evidence that the tried and tested method of internship at a prospective employer may be the way forward, with former interns now hired on a permanent basis around 75 percent of the time. Granted, it may not provide the hoped-for paycheck that most students believe will appear at the end of years of study, but it does give the graduate the chance to learn what is expected of them in what some firms have referred to as a “three-month interview,” and give them a chance to develop these soft skills.

In fact, some universities are already preparing their students for a harder-than-expected move into full-time employment. According to CNN, Stanford University in California, for instance, focuses on potential career alignment, with networking and personal brand creation seen as vital tools in the search for that first job opportunity

“Our focus in on the long-term game,” said Pulin Sanghvi, director of Stanford GSB’s Career Management Center. “We believe that if we can get students asking the right questions here, they’ll keep asking those questions of themselves five, 10, 20 years from now.”

With most graduates expecting a long and fruitful career in the industry of their choice, asking questions may be the best way to get the answers they want and the soft skills they need.