After four years of college, my son is about to graduate with a degree in Environmental Politics. We are both aware that he is entering the job market at a time when more and more young people cannot find work.
While putting together his résumé, he recently asked me what kind of skills today’s employers want from a new job candidate. A lot of people his age are probably asking the same question, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts.
According to recent surveys, employers these days aren’t just looking for experience. They’re also interested in “softer skills” like problem-solving and creativity that can play as big a role in career advancement as training or education.
The good news is that even young people with no job experience at all will possess at least some of these skills, and that’s what they should focus on when writing their résumés. If that’s your situation, here’s a list of six that you can focus on.
The Top 6 Work Skills
1. Flexibility/Adaptability: Chances are, your job will change substantially over the course of your career, even if you stay in the same field. Employers want people who can adapt to change quickly, juggle multiple tasks and work with a variety of people. You can show this on your résumé by noting any skills or languages that you’ve had to learn, time that you’ve spent abroad or situations when you’ve had to manage a variety of different commitments.
2. Effective communications skills: Whether you’re writing an email or delivering a presentation, good communication skills are crucial to most careers. Employers want people who can listen and observe to gain understanding, relate their ideas effectively, and devise strategies for working together. Writing a clear and concise résumé is your first opportunity to show this. Remember to include any public-speaking experience or writing projects you did during school.
3. Problem solving: In order to succeed in the workplace (and life in general) you need to be able to evaluate situations, break them down, consider ways of resolving them and decide which is the most appropriate. This includes recognizing long-term consequences and taking personal responsibility for them. Quantifiable results can help you demonstrate this. One example would be if you’d turned around the finances of a struggling student organisation or saved time or money by making a process more efficient.
4. Creativity: How many times have you heard that you must be innovative, intuitive, or imaginative? Employers want recruits with fresh ideas that will help to expand their businesses. Here’s another skill that you can convey with a real-world example of a time you found a new way to approach something that other people hadn’t thought of.
5. Interpersonal skills: You probably already knew that employers want people who are dedicated, hard-working and reliable. Your job is to convince them that you’ve got what it takes. Consider the job you are applying for and which interpersonal skills you think will be valued most by the employer. List each one in order of importance.
6. Teamwork: Teamwork is all about being able to operate smoothly and efficiently within a group. That requires leadership and decision-making skills, as well as the ability to follow instructions and play your role in a group. Team sports are a great way to show this on your résumé. Volunteer work or group projects at school are other good examples.
So, what’s the best way to highlight these universally sought-after skills if you don’t have any job experience? A functional résumé is a good place to start.
Unlike a traditional résumé, a functional résumé emphasizes skills over experience. Instead of listing all the places you’ve worked, it demonstrates the skills that you have to offer an employer.
Here’s one example from a high-school graduate without any previous work experience. If you’re in a similar situation, it can give you an idea of how your functional résumé might look.
This blogpost was first published on the ILO Work in Progress Blog. Also see the free full guide “Enhancing youth employability: What? Why? and How? Guide to core work skills” by the same author.