By Goke Ilesanmi
Employability skills are variedly defined. One of the definitions is that they are general, transferable, soft or personal skills that most employers are looking in prospective and existing employees in addition to job-specific skills.
Employability skills can also be defined as a set of skills, achievements, understandings and personal attributes that make individuals more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen fields.
On a broader scope, it is noteworthy that in addition to the major focus on the transferable/soft/personal skills, employability skills also cover the mechanics of applying for a job such as composing an effective curriculum vitae, writing a persuasive cover letter and excelling during oral job interviews which we have once discussed.
Based on the combined contents of all the definitions examined therefore, we can conclude that employability skills border on how to apply for jobs, possession of personal qualities that prospective employers are looking for and how to achieve career advancement.
Acquisition of employability skills can help facilitate and accelerate employment. The skills can also help you in your job security and make you climb the rungs of the career ladder to the top easily. If you assess a job interview, chances are that you will be asked questions about your job-specific or technical skills and your employability (transferable/soft/personal) skills.
Employability or soft skills are the foundation of your career-building blocks. It is a truism that they are insufficient or totally lacking in school-leavers, graduates and those already in employment. Organisations spend a lot of time and money training staff, not just in job-specific areas but in general and basic skills.
In times of high unemployment, employers have more choice of applicants and will favour those with well-rounded employability skills. This is especially so because employers are often looking for skills that go beyond qualifications and experience. While your education and experience may make you eligible to apply for a job, to be successful on the job, you will need to exhibit a mix of skills tagged “employability skills”. This means that the specialist or technical skills associated with different roles may be less important than the employability or soft skills that can be transferred between different jobs and different employment sectors.
For employers, getting the right people means identifying people with the right skills and qualities to fulfil the role and contribute to the organisation’s success. Candidates may have the qualifications and hard skills needed to be able to manage the job role but, without a well-honed set of soft skills, employers are less ready to employ.
For many people today, a career for life is no longer an option. Most people will hold jobs with a variety of employers and move across different employment sectors through their working life.
We all need to be flexible in our working patterns and be prepared to change jobs and/or sectors if we believe there are better opportunities elsewhere. In order to be flexible, we need a set of transferable skills, that is, skills that are not specific to one particular career path but are applicable across sectors and different jobs.
At this analytical juncture, let us examine different personal, soft or transferable employability skills available.
Effective Communication Skills
To get your dream job, impress prospective or existing employers and boost your career, you need the employability skill of effective communication. Communication is simply defined as the process by which information is shared between two people or organisations, or among individuals, etc. It is very critical to success in (almost) all areas, including career and business. For communication to be relevant, we must ensure it is effective. It is effective when the intended feedback or result is achieved.
It is noteworthy that organisations and people who communicate effectively are more successful and peaceful. Mastery of communication allows you to effectively reach, sell and relate with a worldwide audience of customers for business transactions. In the business world, the bottomline is money, and communicating well saves – and makes – it.
Four Skills of Communication
There are four communication skills you need to master. These are listening, reading, speaking and writing. Listening and reading are called Receiving or Receptive Skills because they are about assimilation; while speaking and writing are called Transmitting Skills because they are about dissemination. And mastery of all these skills is very important.
Depending on the job, involves being confident about speaking to people (face-to-face or over the phone). It also involves writing well enough to be understood in emails, memos, reports, etc.
Team spirit/interpersonal Skills
Interpersonal skills are vital when seeking employment and may be the single most important factor for many recruiters. Interpersonal skills are the skills we use to interact with other people. Good interpersonal skills allow you to participate effectively as a member of a team, satisfy customers and clients’ expectations, negotiate, make decisions, manage your time efficiently, take responsibility, and work effectively with other employees. Well-honed interpersonal skills allow us to empathise and build rapport with colleagues and clients, leading to a better working environment which can be less stressful.
Team spirit means being good at working with people – both the people you work with and other people that come into contact with your organisation.
Personal development or learning is a conscious effort by the individual to train and discipline himself after determining his strengths and weaknesses. Although training is the first step in self-development as champions are not born but made, it is a never ending process. One noticeable characteristic of a functional individual is constant training. Even the great leaders, intellectuals and sportspeople achieve(d) greatness through self-discipline in the form of training.
Learning is about the desire to understand new things and being able to pick them up quickly. It is also about being able to take on new tasks and to adapt when the way things are done in the workplace change.
Another thing you need to be conscious of is your physical, intellectual, psychological and social make-up. Self -awareness is about having a clear perception of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation and emotions.
Self-awareness guides you on the type of job to do, how to improve on yourself, etc. For instance, somebody who is aware of his physical structure as a short person will not have the ambition of choosing playing of professional basketball as a career. Also somebody who is aware of his insufficient interpersonal skills will probably not go into marketing or selling career. Somebody that is aware of his introversion state will not like to go into a career that involves a lot of oral public communication. Self-awareness or self-auditing will help such a person to also work on areas of weakness.
As far as self-awareness is concerned, you are conscious of your temperament, character and personality and carefully make a distinction among them. In Psychology, personality refers to the emotion, thought, and behaviour patterns unique to an individual. Personality influences one’s tendencies, such as a preference for introversion or extroversion.
Emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) is another strong personal employability skill. Beyond the issue of personality, studies indicate that emotional intelligence accounts for 15 to 45 per cent of one’s job success, whereas one’s intelligence quotient (IQ) accounts for less than six per cent.
In the words of Mike Poskey, vice president of ZERORISK HR, Inc., a Dallas-based HR firm, “An employee with high emotional intelligence can manage his or her own impulses, communicate with others effectively, manage change well, solve problems, and use humour to build rapport in tense situations. These employees also have empathy, remain optimistic even in the face of adversity, and are gifted at educating and persuading in a sales situation and resolving customer complaints in a customer-service role. This ‘clarity’ in thinking and ‘composure’ in stressful and chaotic situations is what separates top performers from weak performers in the workplace.”
Experts say social abilities, that is, abilities that determine how we handle relationships; and personal abilities, that is, abilities that determine how we manage ourselves, etc. outline a set of emotional intelligence qualities that have proved to contribute more to workplace achievements than technical skills and cognitive ability combined.
According to Freda Turner, Ph.D. with University of Phoenix, USA, in jobs that involve sales and mechanical skills, employees with high EQ are 12 times more productive than employees with low EQ. Research also confirms that insurance sales professionals and account managers with high emotional intelligence are 127 per cent more productive. A Fortune 500 company in financial services in the US proved that its high EQ salespeople produced 18 per cent more than the lower EQ salespeople. One recent study conducted by a Dallas corporation revealed that the productivity difference between the low-scoring emotional intelligence employees and high-scoring emotional intelligence employees is 20 times.
Problem-solving is about being able to find solutions when faced with difficulties or setbacks. Even if you cannot think of a solution straight away, you need to have a logical process for figuring things out.
Analytical skill is the ability to visualise, articulate, conceptualise or solve both complex and uncomplicated problems by making decisions that are sensible. Solving math problems is one of the most common ways of improving analytical skills. Math is very logical and math problems are. Analytical thinking skills are critical in the work place because they help you to gather information, articulate, visualise and solve complex problems.
Creativity and Innovation
Creativity and innovation are about being able to think out of the box and make improvements to the way things are. They are also about looking at the bigger picture and how the way you work fits into that. The urge to create, to generate a life that counts, encourages people to innovate.
The target of business people or corporate organisations is to achieve substantial growth and by implication profitability. Yet, it is very challenging to achieve appreciable growth (which signifies productivity) and profitability in the midst of competition. The solution is innovation, that is, conversion of new knowledge into new products and services.
Only individuals and companies that can consistently bring imaginative, value-added new products, services and value propositions to the market will survive and grow in a rapidly-changing economy.
Planning and Organisation
Planning and organisation are about things like working out what is required to get a job done, and then working out when and how you will do it. They are also about things like developing project timelines and meeting deadlines.
Self-management or self-motivation is about getting on with your work without someone having to check up on you at (regular) intervals. It is about being able to stay on top of your own deadlines and to delegate tasks to other people to make sure things get done on time.
Self-motivation, which consists of thought and action, is a key to success. This is because the willingness to act on your ideas is at least as important as the ideas themselves. Anybody that wants to be successful in life needs to be a self-starter; give his or her success aspiration all he or she has; and dare him- or herself to act immediately.
Ethical awareness is another employability skill. Every day, managers and employees need to make decisions that have moral implications. And those decisions affect their company and shareholders. Conducting business in an ethical manner is the responsibility of everyone in an organisation for legal and business reasons. And as a manager, it is important to understand your ethical obligations so that you can meet your company’s expectations as well as model appropriate behaviour for others to emulate.
The concept of ethics refers to a set of standards for judging right from wrong. At the most basic level, ethics mean acting fairly and honestly in individual as well as group decision-making. On a business level, it can refer to fair and honest competition, acting without deception and working within the boundaries of the law.
According to Barrie Gross, a business management expert, “In the wake of corporate scandals over the past several years, most organisations have written or updated their Codes of Conduct and Ethics Rules. The first thing a manager should do is to read and understand those documents. That means understanding the actual words used in the documents along with the spirit and intent behind the words. The second thing to do is to be sure that your staff also reads and understands the documents and can come to you with any questions.”
If you act consistently ethical, you provide a foundation of trust in your relationships with others, and part of your goal is to show others what it means to make ethical decisions.
Technological/Digital Skills and Online Presence
Technological or digital skills and strong online presence are also other skills that you need to apply for a new job, attract the attention of prospective employers, impress (prospective) employers and boost your career. General technology skills that employers want include things ability to use a computer for word processing and sending email, or knowing how to use a photocopier. Some more specific technology skills relate to using social media, working with design or video editing software or knowing programming languages, etc.
On a broader level, the concept of effective communication has changed in scope and dynamics in this digital or information and communications technology (ICT) explosion age with multiplicity of technological devices and social media platforms. The implication is that the world is now a global village with many career and business opportunities as well as global threats of career and business competition. We need to be able to communicate well digitally to stay ahead of career and business challenges.
To be able exploit the global career opportunities derivable from the digital explosion, impress prospective employers outside the shores of Nigeria and boost out career globally, we need to acquire digital skills and maintain strong online presence. In the modern workplace, digital skills are highly valued.
Phillip Burton, founder of Filecats, an online company that provides a file cataloguing and metadata extracting services for computers says it is not simply the development of old jobs that make digital skills so important in the modern workplace, but the creation of entirely new jobs. There is a genuine fear of a digital skills gap created by the boom in the digital economy versus the amount of people who are trained to work in it. Specifically, the UK needs 750,000 more people with digital skills to capitalise on jobs that could boost the UK economy by 12 billion pounds.
The digital skills gap should not be something to be afraid of. Rather, it is an opportunity for people of all ages – not just young people – to jump into a new sector or to get a better job in their current one.
It is now common for reporters to research, plan, write, proofread and send an article to editors all using their mobile phone or tablet. In some senses, digital skills make the workplace a freer and simpler place to navigate. A lot of work can now be done from home, or on the move, but this also brings its own set of challenges.
A consumer expects more from a company knowing that technology has made everything so much faster.
Presenting an Effective Profile on LinkedIn
LinkedIn is, for many professionals, the essential professional networking tool of the moment. There is no question that potential employers and new contacts are likely to look at your LinkedIn profile before they meet you.
LinkedIn is also a really good way of keeping up to date with colleagues who you would not describe as friends exactly, but who you would like to stay in touch with professionally.
So what does it take to write a really good LinkedIn profile? It’s surprisingly easy if you follow a few simple guidelines.
LinkedIn is a professional networking tool. It’s not Facebook, so you do not have to update your status every five minutes (in fact, a rule of thumb is that if you update your profile everyone assumes that you are job-hunting). But you have to present yourself in a professional way, and that means providing a complete profile without spelling and grammatical mistakes.
Managing Your Online Presence
If you have prepared a carefully-crafted CV or application form, and a beautiful LinkedIn profile online, but you are not getting job interviews, experts say there may be a reason.
Perhaps there is information about you online that is putting off potential employers. You should therefore be managing your online presence across social media and other sites.
Note that your first step is to find out what information is out there. The best way to do that is to do a Google search for your name, because that is what potential employers will be doing. Put double quotes around your name to tell Google to search for it as a phrase, rather than two separate words, for example – search for “Gbenga Amos“. Unless you have a very unusual name, you are going to find that there is a lot of information available that does not relate to you; look through the first five pages or so of search results, as well as the first few pages of images. If you get too many results about other people with the same name as you, try including your country and/or city as part of your search term. Furthermore, you should search Google for your email address and see what is found.
Once you have scanned through the Google listings you will also need to do a trawl through social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the like, searching for your name. Do not just look at sites on which you have a profile, as you are also looking for anything off-putting that has been tagged with your name, whether by you or someone else, and is publicly available to view.
ICT experts say once you know what is out there, then you can start to effectively manage it.
Remember, you can tell what content relates to you, and what is about someone else with the same name, but other people can’t necessarily do so. Your strategy is therefore two-fold: To remove or hide anything unprofessional or off-putting that does relate to you and make clear what doesn’t relate to you.
Effective Leadership Skills
Employers are also looking for employees with strong leadership skills because everything rises and falls on leadership. One thing that is especially central to leadership success is influence. “Leaders have only their influence to aid them…Followers in voluntary organisations cannot be forced to get on board. If the leader has no influence with them, then they won’t follow,” asserts Maxwell.
Four Stages of Leadership Influence
Employers seek employees with great leadership skills also because the end product of effective and influential leadership is reproduction of other leaders. This is technically referred to multiplication.
Sequentially, the stages of leadership influence are modelling, motivation, mentoring and multiplication. By modelling, we mean followers or subordinates will do things the way do you not according to what you say. So if you are a corporate leader, and you fail to walk the talk by treading the path of morality for instance, people will not take your talk seriously but will rather do what you do.
From modelling, we get to the level of motivation. This is about a leader inspiring the followers or subordinates. From motivation, the leader can become more involved in the followers by mentoring them. Reproduction or multiplication already mentioned refers to a level in which the leader has taught followers or subordinates all they need to know and they can be on their own. Endeavour to put all these tips into practice and you will definitely become a successful leader.
It is necessary at this juncture to reiterate that your acquisition and mastery of employability skills will make you get your dream job(s) and ensure dramatic acceleration in your career.