Peter McGuire of the Irish Times spoke to Ken Lee, Managing Director of Eden Recruitment, on the qualities graduates need to develop in order to be successful in the jobs market:
Graduates might be blue in the face from hearing about soft skills. Employers want interpersonal, communication, problem-solving, analytical, verbal and leadership skills – and the best job applicants will have spent time in college nurturing these abilities.
But, when you drill down into it, what are the traits that people need to be successful in their career? There’s an old saying that “the door to success is marked push”, implying that ambition can win out over real ability. Is this true? What are employers looking for in the workplace?
1. Introspection: This may seem counter-intuitive, particularly in an age where we are increasingly riddled with all forms of anxiety. But, says Ken Lee, managing director of Eden Recruitment, what it really means is that we should be reflecting on our strengths and weaknesses and thinking about how we can better about what we can do. And it may be the most important trait of successful people.
“When you’re thinking of your career, try to avoid putting a square peg in a round role,” he says. “Think how you can ensure that you get a job that works for you and suits you. What are your core strengths? What are you good at? If you are good at a particular thing, or have a particular ability, consider how you can tailor it to bring the skill to the workplace.”
Too often, says Lee, people think that they need to go into the area of their degree. This means that a computer science graduate with particular strengths in strategic planning, for instance, should see how that core strength of strategic planning could be applied to a job. He advises graduates to check out StrengthsFinder, an online psychometric tool costing $20 for a basic test. “It is one of the more accurate tools. It is important, if you are spending a lot of time in the office, that you go in fired up and enthusiastic day to day.”
2. Positivity: Successful people bring a can-do attitude to the job, says Lee. “They look for reasons why things can be done instead of why they can’t. Negativity can be a real killer in a job environment. Try to stay focused on solutions and results, and to look at ways of making things work.”
3. Communication: Perhaps an obvious one – it is, after all, on that all-important list of “soft skills” but poor communication is the number one cause of workplace difficulties. Often, complaints of bullying actually result from very different communication styles. Slowing down and listening to people, and putting yourself in their shoes, is important. One good tip is to reflect back exactly what someone has just said to you, instead of waiting to pick apart their point; it can really diffuse tensions.
“Written and verbal communication skills are very important,” says Lee. “Be able to interact with colleagues, subordinates and superiors, as well as clients and candidates. If you’re more of an introverted personality, you won’t be in business development or sales; make sure that you pick a role that reflects your strengths. And if those strengths include organisational skills or project management, that may reflect a different personality – but make sure that you stay positive and results oriented.”
4. Open-mindedness: There are always lots of opportunities in a workplace, says Lee. “Keep an open mind and talk to a number of employers before you make a decision.”
5. Honesty: “It goes a long way in any marketplace,” says Lee. “Don’t try to b******t anyone by making yourself out to be something you’re not. Don’t oversell yourself. Show honestly what you are bringing to the table and what your aspirations are.”