By Annie Storey, Agriculture Future of America
Econ 101 – Check! Principles of Management – Check! Introduction to English Literature – Check!
No matter your degree program, chances are there are key classes the majority of us had to take to receive our diploma. They allow us to build an academic foundation for a successful career. While you may not remember which author wrote which book, that course may have been out of your comfort zone and taught you how to think differently than you were used to.
Your degree signifies academic success, goal setting, achievement and knowledge of a certain discipline. What your degree doesn’t necessarily showcase is the other skills you need to be successful post-graduation.
There is consistency among research that the following five skills are needed in the workplace – and that most college graduates aren’t work-ready in these areas.
Before we go on, or I lose you, let me say this disclaimer: You have these skills in some form – it’s more about whether you are showcasing them in the business setting or have mastered them.
Agriculture Future of America’s Alliance program conducted a survey this past year with human resources professionals of agriculture companies. We wanted to learn about young professionals, their development needs, and how we can support college graduates making the transition from school to career. When we asked them what professional development topics they are most interested in for their young professionals, here’s what they shared: management/coaching skills, time management, project management, communication skills, problem solving, emotional intelligence and personal accountability.
AFA’s contacts aren’t the only ones asking for these skills either. Additional research by Pay Scale that specific to college graduates corroborates most of these as well, leading me to conclude that these are the top 5 skills you need.
We’re not talking about holding a conversation or email etiquette. You need to be able to communicate your ideas and research in clear, concise messages without grammatical errors. Your written communication speaks volumes of your character. Correct grammar, logical structure and tone are a few key elements that tell your manager and coworkers you pay attention to detail, are confident in your ideas/research, have respect for others and are giving yourself enough time to properly review items before you click send.
2. Time Management.
This can be very subjective – until you hit the workplace. Projects, deadlines, ongoing tasks, research, professional development, customer service, company meetings, etc. are part of everyone’s day. It’s how you manage your own schedule, set your pace and communicate (see, it’s everywhere!) with your co-workers and manager about the status of items that show this skill. It’s not about completing tasks on time – it’s about the quality of that task done in a timely manner.
3. Project Management.
You can’t excel in this area if you aren’t good with your own time. Most work projects aren’t individually owned, but rather have a process for review, approval and working in cross functional teams. A true project manager is also a team motivator – celebrating small successes, checking in with their team, knowing their team’s strengths and keeping to deadlines so that all parts align for the greater good.
4. Problem Solving.
This skill has two facets in the business world – coming up with solutions and knowing how to make decisions. One of my biggest pet peeves as a manager is to hear of the issues without ideas for solutions. I’m always happy to give my advice, but I want to hear your ideas. It helps me see your developmental process and your knowledge of what we do. As a manager, it also helps me see what training you need and builds my trust in your work. To build trust and decision making, I recommend getting to know your company’s policies and procedures and what limits of decision making you have. It’s important to know what types of decisions need to be elevated to your manager or above. If you don’t know – have a conversation. Asking for forgiveness is not the best business policy.
5. Personal Accountability.
If you have mastered the first four skills, you are on your way to being accountable. To me, this skill relates to your trustworthiness, relationship building and management of time and resources. If you made an error, own up to it as soon as you can. I’d much rather hear it from you than someone else that something happened.
So, how do you receive more education and training on these areas? Here are a few resources and ideas.
1. Get Involved.
Find organizations in college that connect you to your career and provide leader development training. Not only do you get to practice skills and learn from peers, but you’ll be connected to career opportunities and industry professionals. From on campus opportunities to outside organizations like AFA, there are plenty of ways for you to be involved.
I’m not talking about a one-time opportunity, but a commitment to an organization. Serve on an annual fundraising campaign or provide social media support. This will highlight your personal time management, accountability and problem solving. Plus, you’re giving back in a way that is extremely valuable to an organization. Look for opportunities on campus or nationally at Volunteer Match.
3. Lifelong Learning.
Start now. Find the organization associated with your degree path and become a student member. Take advantage of webinars and resources and live events. Student memberships are often highly discounted. If you don’t have an association, check into your local chamber of commerce or civic organizations to get involved and start learning. Continual learning is key to your success.
As a college graduate, you have the academic knowledge. You’ll learn more at your company on certain products, marketplace, customer service tactics. What you need to showcase is your talent and accountability.