Feeling the pain: Employers respond to the soft skills deficit

The soft skills deficit

Five years ago, while teaching full-time as an English instructor at a community college, I became painfully aware of my students’ lack of soft skills. When I walked into class, I greeted my students. Many times, only a few would respond. The rest stared blankly at their smartphones. When I passed students on campus, I noticed similar behavior. Lots of heads in phones. Lots of headphones on. Lots of blank, sad faces. When students chose to engage in conversation, they often seemed awkward and unsure about what to say and how to interact.

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At first, I assumed they simply lacked strong communication skills. Since I taught English Comp and Oral Communication, I made it my mission to educate and re-mediate. I tried. But I couldn’t help students who didn’t register for my courses. And I also couldn’t force feed unwilling mouths (or brains).

That was 2014. There was something in the air… it was a real turning point in the way I viewed my students. Why?

The role of technology

At first I assumed my own perception had simply changed, or I’d just gained new awareness. But statistics prove it wasn’t my perception after all. Pew Research data from 2014-15 cites that Gen Z respondents claimed to use their smartphones “several times a day,” while VisionCritical research shows that Gen Z respondents in 2015 spent an average of 15.4 hours per week on their smartphones and another 10.6 hours on their laptops. And if you want to really dig into learning about the soft skills gap, pick up a copy of Bruce Tulgan’s fantastic book on this topic (I’m a huge fan).

As employers and educators, we are starting to feel the effects of Gen Z’s addiction to digital devices and internet access. In the end, digital natives grow up and become candidates for employment. And guess who’s left to deal with the great chasm between the ideal candidate profile, which features strong soft skills (which we all need to work well with others), and the reality of today’s average candidate? The employer. YOU.

What are you going to do about it?

I hope you’re feeling the pain as you read this. I’m not trying to be mean. But I know this to be true–most of us simply won’t take action and make changes until we feel pain or desperation. And most of us won’t spend money on training until we notice negative effects in the workplace.

For years, researchers (ahem… like me) have shared statistics, information, and tips about soft skills training, the soft skills gap, and the need for awareness about this upcoming epidemic. Unfortunately, most employers and educators didn’t take action. Developing training programs takes time, costs money, and can feel incredibly frustrating. Why should you have to pay for training? Isn’t it the university’s problem or failure? Maybe. Why should the university have to deal with it? Isn’t it the high school’s fault or failure? Maybe. Why should the high school have to handle it? Shouldn’t the parents do a better job? Probably.

Choices and actions

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When we stop pointing fingers, we’ll ultimately realize we’re left with two choices:

1. Continue ignoring the problem. This will get us into a greater bind, lead to organizational chaos, and cause our businesses to lose more money and become less productive.

2. Accept reality. We’re stuck with the problem, so let’s search for solutions.

Implement mentoring programs. Reevaluate your recruiting and hiring process. Take a hard look at your onboarding process. Train your trainers to teach soft skills, and if you have no full-time trainers, hire me to train your hiring managers to teach soft skills or to directly train entry-level employees or coach selected struggling employees.

There are solutions. And as with most situations in life, we become ready to take action when the fear of moving forward becomes less intimidating than the misery of our current situation.

I am here when you’re ready to move.

Contact me to discuss soft skills training, executive coaching, and other solutions.

 

How do you make decisions about your career?

When contemplating changing jobs, applying for promotions within your company, quitting a job to spend time with your family, or other major career changes, how in the world do you make those big decisions? And how do you make major career decisions without undergoing stress and anxiety?

Here are seven steps I go through when making career decisions (or other big life decisions, for that matter). Decision-making is a soft skill you need while navigating your career journey. It’s also a “must have” soft skill employers look for in candidates during the hiring process. You’ll notice that many common interview questions are worded to ascertain your ability to make good decisions. “Tell me about a time when you had to make a tough decision.”

My personal decision-making process may not work for you; that’s okay. I’m sharing it with you because it might encourage you to find a process that does work for you. Take what you like and leave the rest. The important thing is to develop your own personalized decision-making process. If you need some help developing a decision-making strategy, let me know.


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  1. Pray. Make conscious contact with your Higher Power if that’s part of your lifestyle. This works well for me because spirituality is a major part of who I am. If you don’t feel a connection with a Higher Power, spend some time mindfully meditating or quietly contemplating the options you’re considering.
  2. Consult mentors. Don’t try to fix the stuff in your head with the stuff in your head. That typically doesn’t produce great results. I made many poor career decisions—large and small—by relying too much on my own thoughts and feelings.Talk to people who have lots of experience and expertise. Seek a real career mentor if you don’t already have one. It takes guts to reach out and ask for help, but eventually you’ll surround yourself with experts who are kind and supportive. And you’ll give back to others, too. That’s what networking is all about!
  3. Make a pros and cons list. Get it on paper and out of your head. What if you’re weighing two really good options? Then weigh the pros and pros instead. I once had to consider whether to remain a full-time faculty member or to leave my faculty position to accept a position as content manager of a company I had admired for over a decade. I loved teaching—but I loved that company I’d admired and the people who managed it, too. It was a tough call!
  4. Do research thoroughly, whether it’s researching a company, a position, the financial impact of your decision, or the impact of your decision on your family. Simply perusing a company website isn’t going to cut it. You should reach out and talk to people who work at the company you’re considering aligning yourself with. Crunch numbers. This is due diligence, and if you don’t do thorough research, you may regret it. 
  5. Release outcomes. Whether you simply mentally let go of outcomes or spiritually let go of outcomes, understanding you’re not in control of whether you land jobs—even if you do ALL the right things—is important. One of the prayers that helps me when making decisions is, “God, open the right doors and close the wrong ones.”This helps me stop worrying throughout the decision-making process. I can do all the right things, but there are many X factors involved in the hiring process. I often have no way to know what recruiters are really looking for, whether or not I’m the best fit for the position or company at the time, and whether the company already has an internal candidate in mind for the position.

    I’d like to believe my destiny rests in my hands, but that’s not realistic. Sometimes other people have a big hand in outcomes which affect me. I have learned to do my best—that’s all I can do. If I’m not happy with the outcome, I move on and knock on other doors of opportunity. Eventually, I’ll find a great fit.

  6. Wait before responding to invitations or job offers. When making decisions, responding rather than reacting is key for me. Impulsive decision-making is almost always a poor idea. Don’t burn bridges with recruiters or hiring managers if you don’t get hired. Recently, a client of mine was not offered a position he’d applied for. Less than 24 hours later, the recruiter called back and offered him the position because the “first choice” candidate rejected the offer. Had my client reacted negatively to being rejected, there’s no way he would have been called back and offered the position. He had to swallow his pride knowing he was the second pick, but who really cares? He got what he wanted in the end, and he was mature enough to handle himself with dignity.Waiting before responding to job offers also gives me time to consult experts and mentors and do more research. Sometimes I need to negotiate salary and benefits because I’m not being offered what I’m worth, and if I react impulsively out of excitement, I may not see the offer realistically.
  7. Take action. If I don’t eventually take an action, and do the next right thing for me—whatever I can determine that may be at the time—I will get stuck or paralyzed in fretting about trying to make perfect decisions. I have to understand that I’m imperfect and will make mistakes throughout my career. And boy, have I made some big ones! However, I’ve learned from every mistake I’ve made. All my mistakes have helped me coach other people in similar situations. As long as I continue to learn, I don’t carry regrets, so there’s really no losing in the learning process.

If you find yourself stuck in making decisions and need guidance along your career journey, reach out for help.

How to look your best for professional events

Whether you’re preparing for an upcoming job interview, a professional networking event, a career fair, an important meeting or conference, or dinner with clients or potential employers, you need to look your best.

But how do you define “looking your best?” What should you wear, and how should you prepare your overall appearance? What matters most when it comes to appearance, and what will employers and your professional contacts really remember about you?


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  1. Always be comfortable.

That being said, don’t wear yoga pants or sweats. You want to appear professional, but you don’t want to be slouchy. If in doubt, dress up (not down). Suits are almost always appropriate for workplace and professional events.

That being said, do your best to purchase clothing (or have clothing tailored) which fits you really well. If you’re uncomfortable, you will be completely unable to focus on important people and conversations. You’ll be focused, instead, on how tight your pants are, whether your neckline is plunging too low, or comparing your new very tight and uncomfortable dress to the other very tight and uncomfortable new dresses in the room.

Don’t do that.

Invest (moderately) in a few key pieces of professional clothing. These pieces should fit you well, be tailored to your body, and mix and match with separates which you can dress up or down.

And let’s not forget shoes. Never–I repeat, NEVER–wear uncomfortable shoes to a networking event, work function, or site visit/tour of a facility. Your feet will thank you.

2. Focus on who you are instead of what you look like; content matters.

If you struggle with feeling egotistical or self-conscious, you may have difficulty with this one. The more you can let go of your thoughts related to your own appearance and focus instead on the content of the conversation, the more likely you will have a great time. The more you can ignore your own appearance and enjoy yourself, the more likely those around you will enjoy being around you, too. Like attracts like.

People who enjoy themselves and exude joy attract happy, joyful, positive people. Be that person at networking events, interviews, career fairs, and conferences. Strike up conversations about interesting social issues, current events, and your own life. Ask your colleagues and new connections about their own lives, personally and professionally. The more you focus on content (instead of packaging), the deeper the relationships you’ll build. And if you’re trying to land a job or connect with people who may know about great job leads, this is really significant!

Don’t obsess about your physical assets. Let that stuff go.

Certainly wear flattering clothing and practice good hygiene. But rather than focusing on physical assets, play up your character assets. This is the stuff that gets you hired.

For more networking tips, branding suggestions, and hiring secrets, reach out to me for a free consultation.