When applying for apprenticeships, training programs, courses or jobs, candidates are quick to identify the practical skills they have and can demonstrate what makes them ideal for the position.

Yet those unqualifiable traits – or soft skills - of interpersonal communication, presentation and general management of oneself, are often harder to demonstrate and improving them needs a different approach. These soft skills are just as essential as having the right qualifications or work experience.

Identifying that there may be a disconnect between what school leavers think they need on their next step versus what employers look for and appreciate in their school leaving candidates, Milkround surveyed school leavers to find out what they considered the most important of the soft skills and compared these findings with the skills employers value most.

 

 

Top 5 soft skills identified by school leavers:

 

Top 5 soft skills identified by employers*:

1.

Teamwork

1.

Business communication

2.

Problem-solving

2.

Time management

3.

Interpersonal skills

3.

Professionalism/etiquette

4.

Business communication

4.

Confidence

5.

Negotiating and influencing

5.

Presentation skills

 

Milkround has identified the fact that there are four clear soft skills that are not considered by the majority of school leavers, but that are very important to employers. So here are some tips on how to hone these all-important skills:

 

Time management

 

This can be quite a difficult skill to maintain, but not difficult to pick up. Observe your actions for a few days – how long do your tasks usually take to finish? Are you prioritising your tasks correctly, with the ones that need doing sooner, or the ones that will take the longest, getting completed first? Once you have the answers to these questions you can set up a schedule for yourself and as long as you stick to it, never be late for work or a deadline again.

 

Confidence

 

You can’t be taught confidence; it’s very much a frame of mind to consciously put yourself into until it becomes second nature. If you’re at work, remind yourself that you earned your place in the position you applied for because of your own achievements. At school, remember that pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone is unnerving, but will ultimately build your confidence when you succeed.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. Asking at the time of being given a task saves time and gives you the confidence that you are clear on execution and expectations.

 

Professionalism

 

There are multiple factors when it comes to maintaining professionalism in a working environment. Dressing for the job means wearing clothing that’s appropriate to the environment and helps to put you in a productive mindset. Being polite and respectful allows you to build good relationships. Keeping calm in difficult situations will stand you in good stead for the future and show you are mature. Being mindful of how these elements combine to make your own “personal brand” is important to remember.

 

Presentations

 

When presenting to a room of people, speak slowly; slower than normal, with little breaks between sentences. This ensures that your audience is capturing every word you’re saying, and makes you seem confident.

Keep eye contact, but also let your eyes move across the room as you speak, and don’t focus on just one part of the room. This makes everyone feel spoken to.

Know your material. If you have a PowerPoint presentation with you, that’s really all you should need. Those keywords should trigger the material for you. Nothing is worse than a speaker who is fumbling with papers instead of speaking. Be prepared. Practice what you’re presenting and make sure you know the subject well in case there are questions after you have finished.

 

*Employers surveyed by the Institute of Student Employers