After four years of college classes and extracurricular activities — and with that sense of accomplishment that comes with graduating — it would seem the future looks bright for college grads. But the recession hit young workers the hardest: The unemployment rate for 18- to 29-year-olds rose to 13.1 percent in 2015.
It’s not a lack of education that has created the problem. It’s a lack of soft skills; the kind you can’t learn in a classroom.
An ability to be creative is a good example. You might know how to set up a Facebook advertising campaign, but do you know how to make an ad stand out? Another important trait is an understanding of money and emotions. Finance classes can demonstrate balancing a budget, and business classes can provide instruction on creating a business plan, but lessons won’t sink in when “money” is nothing more than dollar signs on a spreadsheet.
Perhaps most importantly, interpersonal and communication skills are difficult to learn. You can read about the perfect handshake and introduction in detail, but they won’t prepare you for sweaty palms, darting eye contact, and lulling conversations. Employers find it difficult to find hires seasoned in meeting and greeting, especially now that two-thirds of Americans have their eyes glued to smartphones.
Learning the Skills That Can’t Be Taught
It sounds like a Catch-22: You can’t learn these skills without experience, but without these skills, you don’t qualify for the jobs that will provide that experience. Fear not. While these skills can’t be learned through traditional demonstration, they can be earned. Here’s how:
• Blog about something you love
At Hawke Media, we have our employees write internal blog posts every month to spread the wealth of knowledge while they refine their skills, own their work, and articulate their knowledge. You can blog, too, and it will demonstrate passion for a subject and a strong work ethic. More importantly, the act of writing will crystalize your ideas. By editing and publishing that writing, it will distill those ideas and highlight you as enthusiastic and knowledgeable about your topic.
Your writing — and ability to express yourself in general — will improve. No matter where you blog, you’ll be forced to acquire at least a basic knowledge of web layout protocol.
Then, in an interview setting, “you can explain how having a blog has provided you with experience of the working world which you sought out yourself,” not to mention the practical experience you will have gained.
• Watch and learn with webinars.
Webinars are booming in popularity. A report by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and MarketingProfs found that 62 percent of marketers use webinars to deliver business-to-business content marketing. Plus, webinars are rated the third-most effective tactic (tied with videos).
They’re so popular because they work. Yes, live webinars like Moz teach specific skills such as using Google Analytics or SEO writing. Not only do participants learn vital hard skills, but they also develop those interpersonal soft skills employers want to see (particularly by communicating with presenters and fellow learners). You might not be physically shaking hands during webinars, but you’re meeting and greeting and networking.
• Build your brand.
Social media has made it easier than ever. It can be as simple as starting conversations on Twitter or leveraging LinkedIn for professional connections.
That said, I took another route. I decided to learn how to build a website, so I found a T-shirt manufacturer, built a website, and sold T-shirts. I wanted to understand the full marketing funnel, so I jumped right in.
Things got tough, however, when I had to figure out how to get customers. I started with press and online ads and saw measly returns. Over time, I realized the biggest potential market involved independent musicians (they spend a lot of time on Craigslist). My partners and I posted Craigslist ads (for free) and made money.
Above all, demonstrate your passion for marketing by creating a cohesive brand across platforms. When you have an interview for a marketing job, you’ll be able to show how you branded yourself.
Reasons for Optimism
The job market for recent college graduates seems to be improving. A recent CareerBuilder survey showed that 65 percent of employers plan to hire recent college graduates this year, an increase from 57 percent last year.
It’s those interpersonal skills that remain a sticking point. However, think of it this way: At least it’s not technical skills that are keeping early-career applicants out of the working world. Whereas computer programming could take years to learn, soft skills can be learned anywhere, anytime, and for free.
Go out and blog, brand, and webinar and teach yourself the lessons that can't be taught in a classroom.