Most college students are in school to get the skills and credentials they need to get a job, and most college students have had this thought in one of their classes: “Will ever use any of this in the real world?” While your class probably does have some intrinsic value outside of career preparation, that’s a topic for another day. Today, we’re thinking practically. I’ve mentioned before how coursework can lead to real job skills if you approach it with an eye toward usefulness. Here’s how to find, develop and showcase skills so they can get you employed.
Skills for the Cover Letter or Interview
In a class that’s closely related to your discipline, you’ve got more obvious skills, but other courses can help you with soft skills, skills that help you interact with others and do any job more efficiently. Writing assignments expand your written communication skills. Doing a group project? Working in groups, especially in a leadership position, is a commonly sought soft skill. If you do class presentations, you’re learning about public speaking and training colleagues. You might also build skills like problem solving or task management from complicated assignments and projects.
Look for these in job announcements and respond to those skill sets in your cover letter, but don’t stop there. Take a moment to think about the experiences that gave you those skills. What was challenging about them? What made you proud? What steps did you take? It’s common for interviews to give prompts like “Tell me about a time when you….” Be ready with an anecdote or two to back up what you’ve said about your qualities.
Getting Outside of School Experience
Don’t just confine these skills to the classroom. Pick two or three that appeal to you and see how you can take them out into the world. Can you develop your chosen skills in a part-time job, club, or volunteer activity? Even unpaid work counts as experience. You might develop an assigned project further once the class is over or find inspiration in an assignment to do something similar in a direction more related to your future career. Take the opportunities you find and give yourself credit for them.
Making a Portfolio
Many of the activities you do to exercise these skills (both in and out of the classroom) create some kind of product. Consider making an online portfolio of your work. Your items don’t just have to be documents. Take pictures of events and physical projects. Set up a video camera while you give a presentation or training. Choose only your best work for your portfolio and tailor it to your career goals. Try tailoring assignments (after you turn them in and get your grade) to make them more real-world friendly.
One More Time…
So, ask yourself again, “Will I ever use any of this in the real world?” Yes, you will! And, if you’re proactive about your education and career prep, you can make the most out of this have-to-do work to get you to the kind of work you want to do and the kind of work that gets you paid.