Soft Skills Every Millennial Should Learn

Gen Y expert Dan Schawbel has advice for his generation

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By Richard Eisenberg

If, like me, you're the parent of one or more of the nation's roughly 80 million Millennials (young men and women in their 20s and early 30s), or even if you're not, you undoubtedly know what a tough time they're having launching their careers.

The Wall Street Journal recently called them "the new lost generation," noting that the unemployment rate for Americans under 25 was 15.6 percent - more than 2½ times the rate for people 25 and older.

So I decided to ask Dan Schawbel, one of the nation's leading authorities on Millennials (also known as Gen Y), what career advice their parents should deliver to their adult kids. His tips were fascinating and sometimes surprising.
Schawbel, a Gen Y'er, is the Boston-based founder and managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm; founder of the Personal Branding blog; a columnist at Time and Forbes and the author of the new best-seller, Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success.

Schawbel draws some of his spot-on tips from a survey his firm and American Express conducted for Promote Yourself, interviewing 1,000 Gen Y employees and 1,000 managers at U.S. companies.

Before I get to the interview, a brief explanation of the distinction Schawbel draws between "soft skills" and "hard skills."

Soft skills, Schawbel says, are nontechnical, interpersonal talents that "let you form relationships with co-workers, fit into the corporate culture and communicate successfully." Examples: a strong work ethic, time management, the ability to accept and learn from criticism and integrity. Hard skills, he says, are "the practical, technical skills you need to fulfill your job description." They include project management, using office software and business writing.

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Highlights of our conversation:

Next Avenue: Should parents just stay out of their grown kids' way to help them get their careers started?

Schawbel: Yeah, that's exactly what they need to do. Parents need to give their kids support but they should also back away a bit and give them space. Otherwise, their kids won't become independent, which is very important.

We did a study on this and asked college students who they go to for career advice and they said their parents over anyone else. I think that's just a major mistake.

If you're in marketing and your parents are a lawyer and an accountant, they're not really going to be able to do anything for you because they don't know how a marketer can be successful. You need to find people who are doing what you want to do and get them to mentor you.

What's the No. 1 thing Millennials don't understand about career success?

The importance of soft skills. Managers are looking for people with the ability to communicate, prioritize work, keep a positive attitude and adapt to change. Soft skills matter more than actually being able to do the job.

The problem is Millennials have bad soft skills.

Why is that?

They rely too much on technology.

How can you improve your soft skills in your 20s?

Take classes in giving presentations or public speaking. Go to conferences and networking events.

In the workplace, get feedback after a meeting to find out how effective you were and how you can improve.

You say in the book that a key soft skill for young people who work remotely is finding ways to see their managers periodically. Why?

You have to do that because if you're out of sight, you're out of mind. The No. 1 way managers want to communicate is through in-person meetings and face time, not through technology.

How critical are hard skills and what should young people do if they don't have some that are required for positions they want?

Hard skills are important; you can't get hired without them. If you need to build these skills, take an online class from an educational website like Coursera and Khan Academy.

What should students in college do to become stronger candidates when they graduate?

They need to do whatever they can to get work experience, whether that's having jobs or internships. Just saying you went to a particular school isn't going to do anything for you anymore.

I had eight internships before I graduated. That helped me figure out what I wanted to do and didn't want to do after college so I could focus all my attention on what I did want to do.

What should Millennials who already have jobs do to improve their resumés?

When people ask me to look at their resumé, I tell them it needs to be results-focused. Their resumé shouldn't say just that they've done something; it should say what the results were and how what they did benefited their company.

Some Millennials quit their jobs after three or six months because they're not happy or they're bored. You say that's a mistake. Why?

You can't stay less than a year at a company; it just looks terrible. Stay for a year; two years is better.

If after two years you see there's no growth potential at your job or you don't get along with your co-workers or your boss doesn't like you, you have to look for a new opportunity.

What about someone who's been at an employer for four months and is miserable? Does it ever make sense to cut your losses and move on?

Why would I want to hire someone who only stayed for a few months at their previous company?

You think it's useful for Millennials to be "reverse mentors" for their older colleagues and to be mentored by them. Why?

It's how you establish relationships, become more well-known and get advice that'll pay dividends later in your career.

Any tips about preventing things on your Facebook page from leading to problems at work or from getting hired?

Make sure your main Facebook profile is private, so only your friends and family can see it. Create another profile or fan page that's professional; you can link with work colleagues and managers there.

I have two sons in their 20s who don't see the point of using LinkedIn, the social network for business. What do you tell Millennials about LinkedIn?

When I speak at colleges, about a quarter of students are on LinkedIn. The main excuse for the others is that they don't have a network yet to capitalize on it.

I tell them: You just have to get out there more to build your network. It's time to promote yourself. Take your career in your hands and meet as many people as possible.

People lead to opportunities, not your resumé.

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Maree Harris

Thanks Richard for this affirming article. I too have Gen Y children. They defy in many ways the stereotype of Gen Y because they are all now in good work with ambition and drive and are successful, but it wasn't easy for them to get there. Once they arrived and were given an opportunity, they seized it. It's the soft skills stuff I want to comment on. This is where I work and I've written a book on the topic - Soft Skills-The Hard Stuff of Success - primarily for young people. They have obtained all the technical skills they need, got all the academic qualifications and now find themselves missing out on the opportunities and promotions they believe they deserve. As you are saying in your article, the hard skills get them the job in the first place, but it is the soft skills that will see them keep it and advance their careers and they don't have the soft skills. I totally agree with what is said above that they rely so heavily on technology that those social skills are undeveloped. I'm not too sure what they would do when they reach management positions and they have to manage people, inspire them and motivate them. I think they'd find they couldn't do it. But I take soft skills further than they are taken above - into self-mastery and self-leadership skills like resilience, pro-activity, emotional intelligence self-awareness, for example. I think young people are extremely devoid of those types of skills, most of which are only developed, or even seen to be important, with life experience.

February 07 2014 at 7:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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