Why Developing Soft Skills during High School Matters
Did you know that 77% of employers say that “soft” skills like communicating effectively are just as important to getting hired as technical job requirements or “hard skills” like knowing a computer programming language?
What Are Soft Skills?
In a recent college and career counseling LiveLesson® session, we discussed soft skills and why they matter to high school students who are starting to explore career paths. Soft skills are the personal traits and attitudes that allow you to succeed in the workplace, college, and life. They’re the cluster of skills that enable you to work well with groups, solve problems, manage your time, and take personal responsibility for your work. In today’s competitive job market, these are the skills that can set someone apart from other candidates. In college, they’re the skills needed to stay on top of your studies.
With many employers saying they can’t find employees with the soft skills they need, students should know that there are strategies they can use to develop these in-demand skills while still in high school:
Build Your Communication Skills
To become an effective communicator, you have to first become an active listener. When conversing with family, friends, or teachers, listen carefully, paraphrase their comments back to them, and ask questions to clarify their meaning or draw them further into the conversation.
In “Five Ways to Listen Better,” TED Talk speaker Julian Treasure refers to this technique by the acronym RASA: Receive, Appreciate, Summarize, and Ask. Not only does this practice make others feel “heard,” but it also improves your retention of facts and understanding of others’ viewpoints. In college and the workplace, you’ll need those active listening skills to understand your assignments and work effectively as part of a team.
Develop a Strong Personal Work Ethic
In a national survey of more than 2,000 hiring managers and human resource professionals, the top three soft skills they sought in new employees were:
- A strong work ethic
- A positive attitude
As a high school student in an online school, you’re probably already ahead of the game in terms of taking personal responsibility for your work. But you can build on these skills and make them more tangible to potential employers and college admissions offices by:
- volunteering in your community
- working as an intern or at a part-time job
- participating in challenging club activities or contests
Perhaps most important, by completing school assignments thoroughly and on time, you’re building the personal work ethic that will carry you through college and careers.
Develop Lifelong Learning Skills
As one employer puts it, “The jobs we train for today won’t even exist tomorrow.” So, to thrive in a fast-changing workplace, students want to develop the attitudes and habits of a lifelong learner. Here are a few simple soft skills activities for high school students that can help:
- Volunteer as a tutor or mentor. As the saying goes, “To teach is to learn twice.” When you teach others, you’re constantly learning new things and new ways to learn.
- Identify a specific new skill to learn and the steps required to learn it. Whether you want to learn to play a guitar or master a programming language, teaching yourself new skills builds your confidence and the habits of independent learning.
- Attend free public events at local colleges, museums, libraries, or music academies. Be intentional in your television viewing and web surfing, “curating” your content to expand your worldview or dig deeper into subjects that interest you.
- Read, read, read.
Beyond advancing your college and career goals, of course, these skills can make your life richer and more meaningful.
Finally, when it comes to developing soft skills, parents are one of your single greatest resources. Ask them about the role these skills have played in their lives and careers. Then, share any of their tips in the comments below.