Job Hunting

Beyond Book Learning: The 7 Soft Skills Online Courses Can Help You Hone

While a college degree is an excellent tool to help you get the job of your dreams, showcasing your expertise in the “hard” skills, like mathematics, writing, and science, it’s not all you need. Employers also want employees who are responsible, creative, good at communicating, and work well on a team. These abilities, referred to as soft skills, can be what separates the good employees from great ones, making them highly desirable to employers and, in turn, extremely important for job seekers.

In fact, CareerBuilder reports that 77% of employers rank soft skills as just as important in hiring as hard skills and 16% say they are actually more important. Essentially, it’s not just your proficiency in your subject area that will matter—you’ll need the right attitude and interpersonal aptitudes, too.

Luckily, your college courses, even those online, provide plenty of opportunities for you to build these skills before graduation. Here, you’ll learn about some of the most in-demand soft skills and find tips and ideas on how you can turn your online education into a soft skills training ground.

Communication

Includes listening, presentation/public speaking, and both written and oral communication.

What Employers Are Looking For

Even if you have a seriously impressive resume you won’t get far without strong communication skills, by far the most in-demand of any of the soft skills (in surveys employers ranked it as more important than any other skill, and twice as important as skills like management). Because communication impacts your ability to do everything from send a basic email to convey complicated information in a sales presentation, this preference makes perfect sense.

A 2014 survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council found that employers are looking for hires who can “speak well, write well, listen to others, present well, sell ideas to others, and negotiate with others.” In short, they want to hire those who excel in all forms of communication. Honing this skill should be your first priority.

How Online Courses Build This Skill

You won’t find any shortage of opportunities to work on your communication skills in your online courses: communication is absolutely key to success in an online course. Most courses require participation in an online discussion board as part of your grade, where you’ll be able to build skills building persuasive arguments and engaging in a civil and intelligent discourse.

You’ll also be able to practice your netiquette and written communication skills there (including your spelling and grammar), as well as in emails to your professors and fellow classmates, especially if you’re doing a group project online. In some courses, you will need to be able to present yourself well in an online videoconferencing session, which is excellent practice for real world conference calls.

Accountability

Includes responsibility and personal accountability.

What Employers Are Looking For

Employers are looking for mature, competent employees and responsibility and accountability are two very reliable indicators of these attributes. You will be expected to not only take responsibility for fulfilling the duties of your job on a daily basis but also for having strong personal accountability, a broader term that some define as your “sense of commitment, pride in your workmanship, and your own values and quest for self-actualization.” Essentially, employers want to hire people they know not only will get the job done, but will take a personal interest in insuring that it’s done well.

How Online Courses Build This Skill

Online courses will force you to embrace personal responsibility. No one will be looking over your shoulder to make sure you do your work. You will likely not be graded on attendance. You, and you alone, are responsible for showing up, doing your work, and ultimately your success in the course. If you fail to take responsibility or do less than your best work, your grades will suffer. Just like your future employers, your online professors will expect you to know what tasks you need to complete, meet deadlines, and be an active participant without constant cajoling.

Problem Solving

Includes not only problem solving but creative thinking and decision making.

What Employers Are Looking For

Few jobs will be problem-free, and employers don’t necessarily expect them to be either. What they do expect is that you’ll be able to effectively address these problems. You will need to be able to identify a potential problem, dissect it, analyze the potential solutions, put a plan into effect, and monitor its progress. This kind of problem solving will require you to think creatively and to be an effective decision maker (you must both weigh risks and be able to take decisive action).

How Online Courses Build This Skill

While not unique to online learning, many of your assignments in an online course, whether debugging code, putting together an argument for an essay, designing a logo, or even just troubleshooting why your Internet connection isn’t working may require you to do some creative thinking and problem solving.

Additionally, because you will be working outside of the classroom, you may need to get creative about how to address any tech issues you run into, as well as being able to effectively make decisions on the best course of action, in assignments and otherwise, with limited guidance.

Emotional Intelligence

Includes empathy, social awareness and self-regulation.

What Employers Are Looking For

You might think your general intelligence, or your IQ, is the most important kind of intelligence when job hunting, but employers often care a great deal about your emotional intelligence, or your EQ, as well.

As defined by psychologist Daniel Goleman, Emotional intelligence is the ability to “be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” Not only will  you need to be socially and emotionally aware (e.g. in touch with your and others feelings), employers will value those who can moderate their emotions and act with kindness and understanding towards coworkers, both incredibly important skills to have when working in a team or managing others.

How Online Courses Build This Skill

How good are you at reading the tone of an email or an online post and controlling how others might read your tone? How do you respond when someone else is upset or deal with your own, sometimes heated emotions? You will get a chance to practice these skills in your online course, learning not only how to better read others emotions but also how to manage and express your own as well.

For example, those balancing work, school, and other responsibilities may feel stressed and will need to learn to identify that feeling and figure out how to manage it in order to get things done and be successful. It sounds simple, but is actually a very complex skill that can serve you well throughout your career.

Teamwork

Includes collaboration and leadership.

What Employers Are Looking For

Employers don’t just want people who can problem solve on their own—group problem solving is also a critical soft skill. As a team member you’ll need to not only work well with others but also be confident and assertive in contributing your own ideas, be able to take responsibility for your share of the work, and to both give and receive constructive criticism.

How Online Courses Build This Skill

Online courses may or may not require teamwork, but those that do will force you to find new ways of communicating with your collaborators. You’ll be required to take initiative in reaching out and to focus on clear and regular communication, and you will likely get a chance to figure out what role you feel most comfortable in taking as part of a team (the leader, ideas person, compromiser, encourager, etc).

Additionally, you will gain experience in encouraging others to participate and be an active participant yourself and learn how to work with people from a wide range of backgrounds, personality types, and experiences.

Adaptability

Includes flexibility and stress management.

What Employers Are Looking For

In our modern, always-on, globally connected world, being able to quickly adapt to changing situations, ideas, and circumstances is a highly valued skill. In fact, a recent survey of HR managers found that 53% felt that an ability to deal with unexpected problems was not only a key attribute but the key attribute to business success. As a result, you can expect employers to be on the lookout for employees they believe will be able to change and adapt as needed and work well under pressure.

How Online Courses Build This Skill

Never taken an online course? Then you’ll experience firsthand what it is to adapt, by working on your coursework in a setting that will likely be different than you’re used to in traditional courses. Even if you’re an online whiz, you’ll still need to be able to deal with constantly changing priorities and workloads, as you balance your online coursework with jobs and other commitments. And what happens if your Internet service suddenly disappears or your laptop fizzles out? You’ll need to be able to quickly adapt to these changing circumstances, handle stress, and find a way to get your coursework done that is outside of your norm. All of this while learning new, unfamiliar material.

Time Management

Includes organization, planning, prioritization, and delegation.

What Employers Are Looking For

Time, as it is limited, is one of your most precious resources, and employers are always on the lookout for those who know how to get the most out of their working hours. Strong time management can include your degree of efficiency, how well you prioritize tasks, how well you delegate, and your ability to plan and organize your time into the most productive and effective blocks. Essentially, those who can get more done in less time will have a leg up on those who procrastinate or otherwise struggle with time management.

How Online Courses Build This Skill

Many students take online courses because they cannot get to campus or have other responsibilities that make an asynchronous format more feasible. While this is a big benefit, it also requires that students learn to manage their own time and complete their work by the deadlines given without set course periods.

Students must learn to be organized, set realistic goals, to plan ahead for time to study and review course materials, and must sometimes prioritize their school work over other things in their lives. Procrastination is also very dangerous in an online course, and learning to stay on task week to week will help you prepare for the demands of large scale projects and long-term goals in the office.