What exactly are ‘soft skills’ and how do you get them?
Australian graduates looking at entering the workforce in the summer of 2022 will need to be ready with some answers that may seem elusive.
Essentially, soft skills are qualities and character traits that contribute to your perceived suitability for a role. It’s extremely valuable to your future career path to know which are the most valued soft skills in the workplace. But that still leaves any job-seeking graduate with a conundrum.
How can you demonstrate sought-after experience when you have had no experience?
When you’re coming straight out of university, you may feel you’re at a disadvantage. First there’s the perennial vicious circle: ‘you can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job.’ Then there’s simply not knowing what experience you should have or what to put in your CV if you have no experience. These can be pretty vicious too.
Here at FDM, we set out to address these concerns and provide the answers that can help you take that next big step. Through long, close relationships with our clients, we have a strong understanding of the most desired soft skills in our consultants.
Our specially designed soft skills training will help you quickly learn how to identify, develop and present some of the most important professional skills. But many that really help you to stand out can come your own previous experiences.
What are employers looking for? And how can my experience prepare me?
Anyone who’s ever run their eye over job postings will see a few ‘requirements’ cropping up again and again. They may even seem a bit cliché, but the recruiters are sincere and you will need to be prepared to showcase them if asked.
Don’t worry, there could be many extra-curricular activities you’ve taken part in that make a valuable contribution to your soft skills development. In fact, in the absence of work experience, a well-presented account of how they have shaped and prepared you can make a powerful and compelling case.
Let’s have a look at some of the top ‘usual suspects’ and how can you demonstrate them without workplace experience.
To help us provide real-world examples, we spoke to two of our FDM Consultants currently ‘in the field’.
India Howard graduated in Psychological Science and is now a Data Migration Consultant with a Sydney-based professional services firm.
And Takara Suttie, a Marketing and Business Information Systems graduate, who is now a Technical Implementation Consultant based in Perth.
Eagerness to learn
At university you did a lot of learning because you had to. This is a great area to show you have a passion for educating yourself outside of academia.
India credits her experience in sailing with many aspects that contribute to her suite of soft skills. For instance, “When I decided to start, it was because I wanted to, which made me want to progress, so it was important to me to put in the time to practice and seek opportunities to develop. I definitely used this discipline when first starting in data migration, even without much past technical experience, I was excited to learn more.”
Creative thinker / problem solver
This one heads up many must-have lists. In what way do you approach, break down and arrive at solutions that will get attention?
As India tells us,problem solvingis very prevalent in sailing; “From choosing which sails to use at the start of the day to cutting away a broken mast – the problems can range from very small to very large. They often needed to be solved under pressure, creatively and with a team.”
Good teamwork is not just working alongside but in collaboration with other members of your team. What have you done that shows you understand the power of collective effort? How can you demonstrate the qualities of a leader?
India’s varied background includes being coordinator of a student cookbook while at university. “Leadershipwas at the centre of my role, guiding a group of 9 volunteers. This was not only fun, but extremely useful.
“Because the project took me out of my comfort zone in areas where I lacked experience, I leant on my volunteers for support. This made me appreciate the diversity of others’ backgrounds and most importantly, what I can learn from them to improve my own skillset.”
Attention to detail
Be sure not overlook this one (lol), it crops up on just about every list of requirements.
In sailing, as India tells us, “Attention to detail plays a large role, for example you may notice that a team member needs help and they may not have realised it themselves. Or spotting mistakes in boat setup that affect race performance or, worse, cause crew injury. Clearly this is very useful in the workplace – thinking ahead to ensure you meet deadlines and avoid submitting rushed, substandard deliverables.”
Cope with demanding, fast-paced environment
Don’t dwell on this saying how high-pressure the job is - just focus on how good you are at keeping your cool and getting stuff done.
In India’s sailing world, she refers to this as resilience. “On days where things don’t go to plan, you may have to work extra hard in a race to come from the bottom of the fleet to finish in the top. Or you may need to learn to bounce back from a championship final loss with your team.
“Resilience also goes a long way in the workplace, where it’s extremely common for things to not go according to plan. But I often say it is how you choose to react to the situation that determines the effectiveness of the outcome.”
It’s hard not comment on that without being sarcastic but it is a good opportunity to relate how you saw a project through from concept to completion.
Takara threw herself into extra-curricular competitions while at uni, e.g. Hackathons, where she learned a lot about working with a team towards an optimum solution.
Organisational skills / effective time manager
Managers need to set deadlines and schedule tasks, how can you show commitment to meeting established timeframes?
When Takara volunteered with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT as a trainer, she found there was a tight list of rules and regulations to follow, right down to feeding times! “This really improved my attention to detail and organisational skills.”
Your interpersonal skills are something you can work on anytime, but if you had that counter job while at uni, this is the time to highlight it.
Takara’s experience working in a hatted restaurant really sharpened her client communication skills.
And effective communication in sailing is also hugely important, says India, “as there can be between 2-15 people on a boat at one time where each person has a different role that must be performed not only correctly, but also at the right time relative to others’ roles.”
The benefits in the workplace are indisputable. “As in sailing, not everyone has the same learning style and personality, so I’m grateful that sailing has taught me how to use my interpersonal skills to leverage best communication practices.”
Regardless of your degree background, if you can show you have an abiding interest in all things tech it will reflect well on your future prospects.
As Takara shares, “When I was in university, I volunteered in a ‘Digital Mentoring’ program run by a local community centre which implemented the government initiative ‘BeConnected’. The aim was to introduce digital literacy to members of the community with little to no computer experience. It included teaching people how to join a Zoom call, check emails, or even turn a computer on. This experience ended up being a great transition into the world of technical consulting.”
So, what can you do to boost your soft skills?
Employers are actively seeking the traits and qualities that support a vision of you successfully integrating into their work environment and growing as a skilled professional and leader.
Try creating an action-point checklist of the workplace soft skills that will contribute most to your intended career path.
Then, just as India did with her sailing, match experiences or activities next to them that can support and demonstrate the desired skill. It doesn’t have to be all one activity, choose any relatable examples that you can build out to support your answer – they can come from anywhere!
Ask for referees from organisations you were involved in, from volunteer groups to that pizza parlour where you worked night shifts. Tell them what you’re hoping to express, and you’ll probably end up with a few great quotes that put you in a very positive light. Don’t think a pizza parlour is anything to look down on if you can come out of it with proven team and leadership skills.
Even without a STEM degree, you can start your dream tech career with FDM
At FDM we always emphasise that one of the most important qualities we look for in any applicant is their mindset. Being ‘degree agnostic’, we encourage applications from non-STEM backgrounds.
Our assessment process is entirely strength-based, focusing on your potential and aptitude rather than previous technical experience or specific academic qualifications.
When you get in touch with us, our experienced Recruitment Team really gets to know you and personalise your career path.
The way we look at it, you’ve already got the spark – we’re here to help you bring it to life.
Find out more about our exciting career opportunities.