By Lata Jha:
You could be the topper all through school and college. As the teacher’s pet, you could’ve garnered all the high scores, the trophies each year and the umpteen degrees. But these, apparently, are not enough to land you a job anymore. Companies today are looking beyond the pile of certificates for candidates that fit the bill for their most esteemed positions.
They want graduates with so-called soft skills, in other words, people who can work well in teams, write and speak with clarity, are comfortable with technology and adapt quickly to changes, innovations and business conditions and interact well with colleagues from different countries and cultures.
To find out what employers are seeking from university graduates around the world, The Associated Press has spoken to dozens of corporate recruiters, university career counsellors, economists and students. What’s clear is that companies increasingly want skills that don’t show up in a college transcript or a sit-down interview. Employers say that they want well-rounded students. Those with soft skills usually get up to 10 or 12 offers.
And companies are going to ever-greater lengths to identify these students who have the right mix of skills by observing them in role-playing exercises to see how they handle pressure and get along with others. They look for applicants who have already proven themselves in internships and co-op jobs where they usually work while attending school. They’ve also begun to organize contests that reveal how students solve problems and handle deadline pressure.
Google is an apt example of a company going that extra mile to recruit the right talent. It sponsors an annual competition that requires programmers from outside the company to solve algorithmic problems. Called Code Jam, the contest has been around since 2003 and last year drew nearly 21,000 contestants. Google has hired 1,000 Code Jam participants since 2009. The contest gives them the opportunity to see how creatively people can solve problems, their ability to think out of the box, and solve tough, algorithmically difficult problems. Googlers manage to interact with the coders, so they get a chance to see if they would fit in.
Globally, employers say that it’s hard to find that right combination of hard and soft skills. Just 43 percent of the 2,832 employers surveyed in the nine countries of Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the Americas said they could find enough skilled entry-level workers.
Companies have always needed people with specific technical skills. These remain important even today, but employers now want something more, the soft skills that their employees should be equipped with to embrace the spirit of the organisation, strive not just towards statistics and targets, but work as a team in non-technical areas as well, and seek joy from all of this. In short, they want their employees to make the transition from classroom to workplace and contribute effectively in time, if not from day one.