Joanna Hughes :
Education and experience are only part of the "big picture" of landing a job. Also essential? Invaluable soft skills, also known as "employability skills," which convey that not only do you have the knowledge you need, but also the ability to successfully apply that knowledge in the workplace. Acquiring these skills can be difficult, but just because they can't be taught in a traditional sense doesn't mean they can't be learned. Read on for a roundup of four skills employers are looking for, along with tips for adding them to your resume.
Automotive industry icon Lee Iacocca once said, "You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can't get them across, your ideas won't get you anywhere." In the simplest sense, communication means the ability to convey your thoughts orally or in writing. However, good communication can do so much more than that: Clear, consistent and creative communications can inspire everyone from co-workers to clients -- which is why it's not only at the top of many lists of must-have skills for today's employees, but also considered one of the top traits for business leaders.
While some people are natural-born communicators, others need to work at it. In either case, there's always room for improvement. Experts recommend paying attention to eye contact and body language, having one conversation at a time, writing things down, reading and responding to an entire email, and assuming best intentions as techniques for honing your communication skills.
2. Problem Solving
Apple visionary Steve Jobs once said, "What I do all day is meet with teams of people and work on ideas and solve problems to make new products, to make new marketing programs, whatever it is." In other words, while the company may be known for its amazing products, problem-solving was integral to the process. From the ability to evaluate a situation critically to devising creative, outside-the-box ways to handle new and unexpected challenges, problem-solving skills can mean the difference between overcoming obstacles and giving up.
According to Albert Einstein, "The formulation of the problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill." Your takeaway? The first step in developing your problem-solving skills is developing your problem identification skills.
Einstein also said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." Once you've identified the problem, break it down into parts and brainstorm as many solutions as possible. Many experts recommend lateral thinking, a concept originated by physician, inventor, consultant and brain training pioneer Edward de Bono. His advice to keep in mind when conquering new problems? "You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging it deeper."
3. Strategic Thinking
After evaluating the results of an analysis by MONEY and PayScale regarding which skills lead to the best payoffs in today's workplace, thinking emerges as a frontrunner in a Time magazine analysis. But what does this mean, exactly? Boston-area recruiter David Hayes told Time, "Strategy is about understanding the business purpose of a job rather than just the tasks of a job." Adds Harvard Business Review, "Strategic people create connections between ideas, plans, and people that others fail to see."
You'll not only increase your chances of getting a job by developing your strategic project management and strategic planning skills, you'll also increase your earning potential. Says Time, "The higher you go, the more valuable strategic thinking becomes. Both 'strategy development' and 'business strategy' are skills that set executives apart, for instance. Moreover, even within that elite stratum, workers with those skills earn 9.1 percent and 8.2 percent, respectively, more than those without."
Forbes sets forth three steps to improve your strategic thinking skills, including questioning your own opinions; surrounding yourself with people who think differently than you do; and regularly recharging both your body and brain.
4. Emotional Intelligence
According to Psychology Today, "Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. It is generally said to include three skills: emotional awareness; the ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving; and the ability to manage emotions, which includes regulating your own emotions and cheering up or calming down other people."
While it's easy to think of EI (or EQ) as it applies to your personal life, it also has a multitude of advantages in the workplace. In fact, it's so important that some experts suggest it's more than a soft skill. Writes management authority Laura Wilcox, " a command of emotional intelligence is a proven differentiator in the competitive climb up the corporate ladder. By inspiring others, emotionally intelligent leaders can ignite discretionary effort on the part of their teams to boost productivity and spur higher levels of employee engagement that comes from a strong company morale."
Psychology Today recommends fives ways to boost your EI, including reducing negative personalization; letting go of the fear of rejection; stress management; assertiveness, when necessary; a commitment to proactivity; and the ability to bounce back from adversity.
One of the best things about committing to work on your employability skills now? Because they're transferrable -- meaning they are useful in all disciplines and types of jobs -- they won't just help you land a job in the short term, but will also support your ongoing success throughout your career.
(Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family).