Thousands upon thousands of graduates continue to look for work every year and fail to land a job despite their qualifications. With competition in the job market tougher than ever before, it is important that job-seekers ensure they present potential employers with an attractive holistic package, by highlighting how the additional skills they bring set them apart from their peers.

“Employers are increasingly seeking to appoint candidates who aren’t only technically qualified, but also will be able to adapt well to the company culture and integrate themselves in the work place. Staff retention is a major concern and ensuring the right fit at the start goes a long way towards saving time and money,” says Nola Payne, Head of Faculty: Information Technology at The Independent Institute of Education.

“Companies seek people who will work well in teams by communicating well, being flexible, responsible and accountable for their work. These candidates are more likely to develop into valuable employees who are able to organise and manage themselves and their workload. Together with the technical skills and knowledge obtained through completing their qualification, they will set themselves up for a promising career by contributing positively to the company’s success,” says Payne.

But she adds that soft skills are surprisingly often lacking in many graduates and job applicants, largely because they are not sufficiently valued in a materialistic society.

“At school and in many higher education institutions, the emphasis is placed almost entirely on the qualifications offered and on graduating students. Very little coaching, if any, is offered in curricula. While soft skills sometimes get practised through team work, assignment deadlines and class interactions – mistakes made in these areas by the students are not highlighted. Students are not given guidance on how to improve these skills and apply them in different scenarios.

“It is therefore very important that more institutions and educators realise the importance of developing the whole student and that they incorporate soft skills in their assessments and award marks in these areas, to highlight the importance of these attributes.”

For graduates who have left higher education and continue to look for work without success, Payne suggests addressing the following matters which could be landing their applications in File 13:

1)      Clean up your online profile before applying for a position. Digital searches are done as a matter of course and your online profile could be the reason you are not getting a callback.

2)      Learn about people and how to communicate with those who are different from you. In South Africa, there are ample opportunities to practise these skills. Get out there, mingle and practise listening and talking. Be flexible and considerate and try to understand how your words and actions are perceived by others.

3)      Learn to keep your appointments and be on time. If you’ve promised to meet your friends somewhere at a certain time, be there on time. Punctuality and reliability are non-negotiables and must become habits in both your personal and professional life.

4)      Learn to interact in a team and communicate. Learning how to problem solve and be creative is a little more difficult. Some board games, such as Pictionary, encourages interaction, communication, problem solving and creativity.

5)      Highlight your soft skills in interviews – not just by what you say, but also by how you engage.

“If an applicant is aware that soft skills are an important consideration for employers, they will then begin to think about how they can develop these skills and secondly how they can showcase them in their CV and interview,” says Payne.

“You can highlight these attributes when answering the interview questions. For example, you may be asked where you see yourself in 5 years. Take the opportunity to include here that you’re a flexible, committed hard worker so you’d hope to be promoted.

“If you’re asked to list your negative points, turn it around to make it a positive for the position you’re applying for. For example, if you’re applying for a job that requires long hours and overtime, your answer could be that you obsess about finishing tasks and can’t relax until you’ve completed it. You’ve highlighted a positive for the job by saying it is a negative trait.”

If continuously practised, soft skills become a habit and a way of life, says Payne.

“By including soft skills in your daily interactions, they become entrenched in your persona. Soft skills are an indicator of high emotional intelligence and they can be improved. They’re not only there to ensure your own success, but also to bind and motivate those around you for the good of the company and your team.

“Ensure that all your communication and interaction with others in and out of the work place is professional and polite. Contribute to your team, always pull your weight and deliver on time.”

Issued by:                       LANGE 360
On behalf of:                   THE INDEPENDENT INSTITUTE OF EDUCATION

For further information or comment by Payne, please contact Shelly at Lange 360: [email protected] or visit www.iie.ac.za or www.theworldofwork.co.za