Essential Workplace Skills for College Grads

By Margaret Steen

As soon-to-be college grads hit the job market, they need to show employers they have what it takes to succeed.

Outlined below are six essential skills for college grads -- and tips on how to demonstrate them to employers.


A work memo is not a text message. Employers want workers who can produce well-organized written reports with no spelling or grammar mistakes. "I think that's an area that's amazingly important, as well as oral communication," says Ruth Prochnow, career and internship counselor at the University of Denver Career Center.


Some jobs require specific technical skills, such as knowing a programming language. But even for people in supposedly nontechnical jobs, computer skills are essential. "Technology is just a given," says Norm Meshriy, a career counselor and owner of Career Insights. "We have to work very effectively and efficiently, and technology provides tools that allow us to do that."


Companies have been cutting out layers of management in recent years, so they're now looking for leadership at all levels of the organization.


Employers want workers who will be a productive part of a team. This means getting along with coworkers, meeting deadlines, and being willing to pitch in to get a project done rather than saying, "It's not my job."

Although many schools are trying to teach teamwork, a lot of schoolwork still emphasizes individual achievement. But part-time jobs and extracurricular activities often involve working with others to achieve a goal. "To do almost anything in this life, we've got to work together," Meshriy says.


It may seem like the opposite of teamwork, but employers also want workers who can work independently. "Students are really being thrown into work settings where it's the 'more with less' mentality," Prochnow says.


Be able to write a traditional memo but be fluent at instant messaging. Be a leader but also a team player -- and work independently. Employers' demands can sound almost contradictory, which points to a crucial workplace skill: flexibility.

Coworkers and bosses come and go. Priorities change. It's critical to be able to adapt to new requirements and work even during uncertain times.

Nurturing Your Skills

A key challenge for recent college graduates is that with thin work histories, it can be difficult to demonstrate all the skills employers are looking for.

Internships and part-time jobs are particularly important, though, as are recommendations from supervisors at these positions. Take these jobs seriously, says Carrie McKnight, director of career services at Notre Dame de Namur University. "Sometimes it's what you have to do to be tested," she says.

Experience volunteering at a homeless shelter or playing on a sports team can also help you demonstrate qualities employers want to see.

To sell interviewers on your skills, Meshriy suggests thinking of a story that illustrates each skill, with a challenge, the actions you took to meet it and the results. When an interviewer asks how you get along with others, you can segue into your story about teamwork.

It's important to have several different stories so you don't tell the same one over and over in an interview.