If you have decided to pursue a mechanical engineering career, you may be mathematically minded, have exceptional spatial skills, and be detail-oriented. Those skills coupled with a concrete engineering education should make you an excellent candidate for an engineering job, right? Well, it’s a start. What other skills can you offer? Do you understand what others are saying? Do they understand you? Can you multitask? Are you dependable?
Of course, employers are seeking people who demonstrate knowledge and have expertise in a particular area. However, that gets candidates only so far. Employees that are more desirable not only have the basic technical or practical skills required, but they also possess soft skills. Soft skills are general skills that can help a person succeed in a variety of jobs—not just one career area. Soft skills may include good communication skills, being flexible, or getting along with others. A higher education offers the opportunity for students to learn specific skills that will help them excel in their chosen career. That is certainly important, but students who also possess the softer skills are at an advantage for moving forward in their career.
For example, Joe wants to be a lab technician intern this summer. Joe has straight As in high school. He is a member of the National Honors Society and a member of the Biology Club. He spends hours of his own time studying biology and longs for the day when he can work in a lab studying microorganisms and furthering his knowledge. This summer, Joe applied to a very coveted internship at a major university. Each summer, the internship is granted to only one high school student. In Joe’s mind, he was the perfect candidate. In fact, he was the brightest of all the candidates—that was indisputable and demonstrated on the near-perfect score he achieved on the biology test issued to each candidate. After his test and interview with the lab mentor, Joe eagerly waited for the congratulatory email, welcoming him to the program. However, Joe got an unexpected response. He did not get the internship. It turns out that Ashlyn got the internship. Joe was stunned. Ashlyn’s GPA is lower than Joe’s is. She divides her time among soccer, chorus, and biology—clearly, she isn’t as focused and intense as Joe is when it came to microorganisms. So what happened?
Ashlyn did amazingly well in her interview. During the interview, she looked her interviewer in the eye when she spoke to him. Joe mostly looked down at the floor. Although her essay had less content than Joe’s did, Ashlyn was an excellent writer. Ashlyn was the captain of the soccer team, and spoke of working with and motivating her teammates. Joe’s example of an accomplishment was his taking over all the work on a group project to assure the group received a high grade. Ashlyn was 5 minutes early for the interview. Joe was one minute late.
Joe, and other students like him, while bright, may lack many of these important life skills. Understanding how to build soft skills is the first step to mastering them. There are many, many soft skills that will help students succeed in college and their future career. These are just a few of the soft skills students can hone while in school, at a job, or during their summer internship.
Communication Skills: Speak the language of others. Listen. Be a good writer. If you are a technical person, learn how to communicate difficult concepts to others.
Time Management: This is more than getting someplace on time (although that is important!). Know how to plan and organize for tasks and projects. How long will the task take? What are some possible obstacles, and how can avoid them? What will you do if something unexpected causes a delay?
Problem Solving: Solving problems uses your knowledge, experience, and information available to solve a problem. Many problems don’t have obvious solutions, so taking a creative approach to resolving an issue is an excellent skill to have.
Interpersonal Skills: This is the ability to understand others and react appropriately to them. Maybe you need to brush up on basic manners. Can you work without losing your temper? Can you speak to customers? Answer the telephone? How well do you fit into the company culture?
Teamwork and collaboration: Understand how to work as part of a team. Personal successes are certainly important, but it’s just as important (if not more) to successfully work with others both as a team member and a leader.
Accepting Feedback: Learning is what happens while you’re becoming an expert at something. You may not get it right the first (or tenth) time. Understand how to listen to feedback and apply it to the next time. Feedback is meant to be constructive so that you and everyone can continue to improve.