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7 Real-World Work Skills to Master Before You Graduate From College

It takes more than a degree to land a job and build a career

7 Real-World Work Skills to Master Before You Graduate From College

It takes more than a college degree to make it in the real world. Employers look for a variety of soft skills to back up the technical training and education you receive in pursuit of your degree.

Here are seven real-world business skills to master before you graduate.

How to network

Learn how to shake a hand, make strong eye contact and dress well for a business event, says Clare Tauriello, director of the career center at Mount St. Mary's University. Attending networking events can help you connect with alumni and professionals in your chosen field. When you attend a networking event, set a goal of having two or three meaningful conversations about your experience and goals for the future.

How to leverage relationships

As you network and make connections, you’ll need to know how to draw upon them to build your career, says Ann St. Hilaire, marketing and PR coordinator at Keep track of the people you’ve met, how you can help them and how they can help you.

Advocate for others, especially when they may be in a position to return the favor, says Matthew Randall, executive director of the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania. At the same time, be cautious about putting your credibility on the line. As a young professional, you don't have the stock to vouch for just anybody.

How to write effective emails

Strong written communication skills are essential in the real world. “Being able to write a clear email or cover letter is a must to get the door open,” says career coach Nicole Darling.

No one wants to read long or poorly written emails in the workplace, agrees Tauriello. Use exclamation points sparingly and never write in all caps.

How to make small talk

Small talk, that seemingly awkward banter, is the key to building meaningful relationships, introducing yourself to prospective employers, getting to know team members and finding success at networking events,” says career coach Andrew Tarvin. Instead of asking what someone does at work, make your questions more specific. For example, try asking, “What’s the coolest thing you’ve worked on in the past three months?”

And when someone asks you a question, give an interesting answer — tell the story around your achievements. Tarvin also recommends using the “yes, and” tactic to keep conversation going by building off the last thing the person you’re talking to said.

How to solve problems

Mike Bowman, publisher of The Quarter Roll, says when he interviews college graduates, he assumes they have the skills to interact professionally with customers, write effectively and work within a team. The real-world skill they often lack is the ability to problem-solve: identify an employer’s challenges and offer a workable solution.

New graduates often want to talk about themselves and their accomplishments, including their degrees, Bowman says. “But what they fail to realize is that we all have degrees out here. Not only did we earn our degrees years ago, but we also have years of experience.” What employers want to hear about is how you can solve their business problems.

Bowman encourages new grads to do some homework, discover an employer’s business problems, and come to the interview armed with solutions. “I don't hire college graduates — I hire solutions to problems.”

How to see the big picture

Young employees may struggle to see the reasons why things are they way they are at a new employer, and can get frustrated, says career coach Jenn DeWall. To counter that, focus on the big picture. “Think of yourself as a researcher as you examine businesses or companies. Ask yourself why they do things the way they do, what are industry standards, how does the corporate strategy translate to the person at the lowest ranks.” Doing so can help you understand the soft skills and social norms you need to follow within the company.

How to set realistic expectations

Undergraduates need to learn to set realistic expectations for their professional growth and development, and this is trickier than it seems, says Lesli Corbin, vice president of HR professional services at WorkforceTactix Inc. “Soon-to-be graduates need to understand that they will not instantaneously have the title, compensation or responsibility that tenured employees have.”

Monster Wants to Know: What are some real-world skills you'd add to this list? Share with us in the comment section.

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