4 Skills I Wish I’d Learnt In College

If I knew then, what I know now…

I graduated from college back in 2004 getting a degree in communications. I graduated from my next college course in 2007 and another one in 2012. I’ve gone to college three different times, each time acquiring soft and hard skills for different careers.

I’m always surprised when one job evolves into another. I’ve also accepted that my skillset will never be complete. That said, here are four skills I wish I’d known before enrolling for all those courses.

1. Deliver Value First

“What’s your favourite book?” asked the interviewer.

I was sitting in a room with a dozen or so order interviewees in a group setting. We were applying for a sales role at a media company in Dublin.

I wanted to work for this media company, but I’d no interest in working in sales. I thought the job might become a backdoor into my ideal career.

“Lord of the Rings” I declared.

I explained how it was a fascinating story that captivated me as a child.

The interviewer nodded and smiled and moved on to the next interviewee.

“Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson.”

He went on to explain how this book helped him understand how to sell products and services to customers and how he’d apply lessons in the sales role.

Suffice to say, I wasn’t invited to the interview round. Whatever stage you’re at, always consider how will you help the company achieve its goals?

2. Manage Upwards

In my first few jobs, I thought a manager was someone to be feared. They held all the hiring and firing power. It didn’t help that there was a recession in Ireland at the time.

In some companies that’s true, but a good manager or leader, will help you succeed in a role and advance onto something better (assuming you meet the basic requirements).

That said, if you want to work with a good manager for the long term, understand their goals and priorities are. After all, they have to manage upwards too.

Ask questions like:

  • How does my manager or leader like to consume information e.g. email, phone calls or some other format?

  • What is my manager’s goals and how can I help them succeed?

  • What’s important to my manager?

  • What work can I take off their plate?

3. Diversify and Focus

Careers I dabbled in included hospitality, retail, social care, nursing, radio production and journalism.

Not all of these were by choice, but I learnt skills in each job that helped me get a little better at the next.

At the start of your career, diversify in different disciplines. Unless you’ve a family to support, spend a few months (or jobs) trying sales, design, development, marketing or anything aligned to your interests. Learning how to talk the language of a designer, for example, could help you in a marketing role.

Diversification offers a taste of different disciplines and help you figure out what you’re great at. As your career advances, double down on one or two that you excel at. As a management consultant, Peter Drucker said,

“You can’t build on weakness.”

(I recommend anyone new to the working world pick up a copy of The Effective Executive by Drucker)

4. Softer Skills Matter More Than Harder Skills

I watched friends and colleagues get promoted above me, and I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong. I was sure we had the same technical skills for the roles in question like writing readable reports or producing a radio show.

Much later, I learnt effective leaders cultivate softer skills such as persuasion, communication, and presentation, their presentation skills.

A VP at a company I worked with a few years ago said she he doesn’t spend much time keeping up to date on the latest software. Her team does that.

“My job,” she said “is to ensure everybody is working towards one goal.”

Learning Never Stops

Graduating for the first time back in 2004 feels like an age ago and I’ve the receding hairline to prove it.

So don’t worry if you don’t land into your dream job immediately after they hand you a cert or degree. Almost every graduate will tackle different careers as their interests and what the marketplace wants evolves.

Variety is the spice of a rewarding work-life.


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