10 soft skills to define your early career

It is 9 am Monday morning and for many people it is a day just like every other. However, it is late September and in the southern hemisphere (in my case Australia) it is summer internship application period. During the last two weeks of September I will meet with dozens of students looking to secure one of many highly competitive work experience positions. My inbox is flooded with emails related to CV structure, cover letters, interview advice and if there is sufficient mention of projects/technical content in a job application. What I find in 99% of engineering and technology students is that their key sales point to industry tends be along the lines of “I am a good coder”, “I am a great electronics designer”, “I am an outstanding mechanical engineer”, “I am highly proficient in the use of CAD” and the list goes on. I think by now you get the point. Historically students in STEM careers have ignored the “soft skills”, often brushing them aside to hone in more of the tech crunch. The 21st century engineer can no longer expect to find jobs solely on their ability to solve problems.

"Stand out in the crowd with a well defined set of soft skills" says Dr. Eddie Custovic

“Stand out in the crowd with a well defined set of soft skills” says Dr. Eddie Custovic

 

In a recent survey 77 percent of employers surveyed by careerbuilder.com said they were seeking candidates with soft skills — and 16 percent of the respondents considered such qualities more crucial than hard skills. Soft skills relate to the way employees relate to and interact with other people. Another study conducted by Millennial Branding said employers ranked placed the most emphasis on: communication skills, a positive attitude and the ability to work in a team, all of which can be labelled soft skills or emotional intelligence. Hard skills, on the other hand, are teachable abilities or skill sets that are easy to quantify, such as a proficiency in a computer programming language. In today’s world employers have an expectancy that graduates will come to an organization already in possession of soft skills. When employees lack these basic soft skills, it can hurt the overall success of the organization.

While there are endless articles on which soft skills matter most, I have taken the liberty of creating a summary of 10 that are crucial:

1. Effectively managing your time and being organised Time management is one of those skills that we often feel we are failing at as students. Late assignments? Missing a class? Forgot to do your preliminary reading before a laboratory session? During your studies you will be introduced to the concept of project management which contains an element of time management. Your undergraduate degree should serve as a testing ground to hone in on your time management skills. 8 semesters of studies will allow you to experiment with different ways of keeping track of time. Some of you prefer keeping notes in a diary and others will use a digital diary/calendar to keep track of tasks. It is important that have time management and organizational skills that stand out. There is not much room to missing meetings and project deadlines when out in industry. Missing project deadlines can often have grave consequences for the organization you work for.

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2. Working under pressure. Many of you have pulled an “all-nighter” during your undergraduate studies. Drinking red bull or coffee to give you that extra few hours of concentration need to complete an assignment or project. While learning good time management skills can help you minimize the frequency of these taxing situations, they are likely to occur from time to time in a demanding job. This is particularly true if you are wanting to make an impact early in your career.While “working smarter, not harder” is a term often thrown around, evidence shows that putting in the extra hours from time to time early in your career delivers results. You will not go unnoticed. It might come as a surprise that the ability to focus all your energy on something is a skill you often utilize in the workforce.

3. Being dependable. Employers value workers they can rely on to get the job done. There’s nothing better than an employee who is on time every time and is highly reliable. Your managers will be under enormous pressure to deliver outcomes. Having employees who can take on tasks with confidence can alleviate some of the pressure from management.

4. Being creative and innovative. Whether you are an IT professional or biomedical engineer, creativity is what sparks change in the workplace. Finding a unique solution and thinking outside of the box is what standout graduates do. During interviews you will most likely face questions such as “Please tell us about a time when you were assigned a tasks and how you dealt with it”. This is the time to demonstrate your creative thinking and ability to provide innovative/non conventional problem solving. The challenges we face in industry often require solutions that fall outside of what we normally expect to see. A great example of a large scale creative solution is the construction of the Burj-Khalifa tower in Dubai. To ensure the concrete of the mega structure cured properly, ice blocks were thrown into concrete and poured over night.

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5. Voicing opinions while being open to feedback. Employees who are confident in their ideas but open to feedback can play influential roles in a workplace. During a brainstorming session, for example, such an employee would not only share ideas but also challenge others’ by asking thoughtful questions. This can create a stimulating discussion and even spark innovation. As a graduate you should ask yourself the following questions; Are you open to training and advice? If someone senior in the organization made a comment about your work (feedback), how would you react (defensive or acknowledge it)? Accepting negative feedback in a graceful manner speaks volumes about an individual and their character.

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6. Solving problems. Especially for fast-paced organizations, strong employees can think critically and effectively solve problems. Are you generally a resourceful person? Even if you don’t have all the answers, would you be able to look for them? Know what to do? People who take ownership and are ready to own up their mistakes are highly regarded by the organisation. A typical question you will face during an interview in this area is: “Please provide an example of a time when you had to overcome a challenge in the workplace”. This will help a hiring manager gauge the candidate’s ability to solve problems, be resourceful and face obstacles at work.

7. Coaching and mentoring of co-workers. According to Millennial Branding report, 92 percent of employers value strong teamwork skills. Strong employees are individuals willing to help co-workers and coach them along the way. Let’s say a new employee has been hired and added to a group project. The new employee probably doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on yet. In this scenario, an employee who’s been on the team a while should take the new worker under his wing and coach the person through the new project.

CoachHelp

8. Taking initiative. An employee demonstrates initiative by coming up with an idea and putting it into action. For example, an employee might develop an idea for social-media marketing campaign that will build awareness for the organization. Don’t always wait to be assigned a task, if you can see a problem take initiative to see how you can contribute in solving it.

9. Being flexible and focused. Deadlines and projects can change at a moment’s notice. Employees need to quickly adapt while remaining focused on meeting deadlines. For example, an employee may have just received an assignment and deadlines for the week. But Wednesday arrives and the manager decides everything needs to be shifted to arrive a day earlier. A flexible employee would be able to quickly adapt to these changes and focus on projects with top priority.

10. Developing new work processes. Employees with the ability to analyze work processes and discover new ways to complete them efficiently are valuable to employers. Not only does this save employers time, but it can also add to the bottom line.

Have other soft skills that you believe should be in this list? Let us know.

Article contributed by Dr. Eddie Custovic, Editor-in-Chief, IMPACT by IEEE Young Professionals

 

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Today’s story is about a group of talented IEEE Young Professionals from the Technical College of Kirkuk (Iraq), who, amidst all the instability, invested their attention to developing future leaders. IEEE Senior Member Hussein Al-Bayati along with the Member Development Officer Ahmad Alaiady and the Deputy Chairman of Iraq Sections Dr. Sattar Sadkhan delivered an inspirational and interactive lecture on ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’.

IEEE Senior member Hussein Al-Bayati delivering the lecture

IEEE Senior member Hussein Al-Bayati delivering the lecture

 

Although motivation for Young Professionals around the world to tackle global problems is not lacking, they are not always equipped with the knowledge they need. They must take initiative in developing the skills and attributes to succeed in life. This was the intent behind organizing a lecture on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

It is commendable, something most of us may never fully comprehend, that the IEEE Young Professionals team in Iraq is striving to produce future leaders, better leaders to lead their nation towards a conflict free country. The lecture was based on the famous Dr. Stephen Covey’s book – The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Dr. Stephen Covey is a well-known author who has inspired millions around the world to lead a life of principles. His message for leading a meaningful and successful life is woven in the 7 habits of highly effective people. As David Starr Jordon, the Founding President of Stanford University, states in the very first lines of the book that there is no real excellence in all this world which can be separated from right living. And that is how the author sets out to attempt to change our deepest paradigms.

Dr. Stephen Covey

Dr. Stephen Covey

“Most people’s lives run on auto-pilot and there is no self-awareness about their daily habits. This results in the absence of a plan for life, and that they do not get the opportunity to lead their lives. Most people’s lives are affected by external factors like the environment, community, family and friends” says Hussein Al-Bayati.

HABIT 1: Be proactive – Because we are humans, we have the ability to see ourselves, our attitudes and behaviours as though we were someone else. This ability called ‘self-awareness’ has helped us advance as a race in the most significant ways. As long as we are self-aware, we can see the consequences of our words and actions and say and do the right things, we can choose. In the words of the author, our basic nature is to act and not be acted upon. Each of the 6 habits depends on the ability of being proactive. It assists in creating a balance between P(Production) and PC (Production Capacity).

HABIT 2: Start with the end in mind – The most fundamental application of this habit is to imagine the end of your life as a reference against which all life’s experience will be marked. This helps to significantly contribute daily to our lives. To start with the end in mind also means clearly knowing the destination for without that knowledge, one is lost. We either design our lives or we operate in the default mode. The most effective way to start the end in mind is to develop a personal mission statement. In essence, habit 1 lets you be the creator and habit 2 is your final creation.

HABIT 3: Put first things first – Contrary to belief, the third habit points that the key is not to prioritize what’s on schedule, but to schedule your priorities. The first step towards developing habit 3 is to make a list of roles that you play, say, in a week. Once the roles are defined, goals need to be defined and then each goal must be translated into a task. Prioritizing activities even before knowing if they will help achieve your personal mission is disastrous as you might prioritize and achieve goals which you never needed. Using a computer metaphor, habit 1 says “You are the program”, habit 2 says “Write the program” and habit 3 says “Run the program”.

HABIT 4: Think Win-Win – Win-Win is a mindset which constantly seeks to mutual benefit for all parties involved. In the words of the author, win-win sees life as a cooperative, not a competitive arena. Win-Win is a paradigm based on the fundamental principle that there is enough for everyone in this world. There are three character traits essential to the win-win paradigm which is Integrity, Maturity and the Abundance mentality.

HABIT 5: Seek First to Understand and then to be understood – Trying to understand other people’s points of views is very important as it assists us in being empathetic towards them. Not all emotions can be heard in words and hence trying to first understand other people gives us the reference we need to make them understand our point of view. This is a powerful habit of interdependence.

HABIT 6: Synergize – The exercise of all the above habits help in the habit of synergy. In the words of the author, Synergy is the essence of Principle centred leadership. It catalyses, unifies and unleashes the greatest power in people. The definition of synergy is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. If you plant two plants close together, their roots will combine and make the soil fertile so as to benefit both the plants. The whole is better than its parts or one plus one equals three or more.

HABIT 7: Sharpen the Saw – Habit 7 is the principle of balanced self-renewal. In the words of the author, habit 7 is taking the time to sharpen the saw instead of wasting time and energy sawing with an unsharpened saw. It’s enhancing the greatest asset we have – us. We need to replenish our body, our soul, and our minds to ensure we work effectively. Daily exercises for the physical body, nourishment for the soul by doing things we love and our minds by self-analysing daily can be powerful tools to sharpen the saw.

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The lecture on the 7 habits of highly effective people saw a very good turnout which is just proof of the direction in which positive minded IEEE Young Professionals in Iraq are moving towards.

Lastly, the IEEE GOLDRush team would like to congratulate the IEEE Young Professionals team in Iraq for organizing some outstanding events amidst such unrest. We are proud to present this article to the world in the hope that Iraq can be seen in new light, in the light of hope and courage and a strong willingness to create better future leaders.

Article edited by Sneha Kangralkar, Assistant Editor, GOLDRush