Working and Acquiring Skills

Sometimes, working in any industry or field requires a deep understanding of a concentrated body of knowledge. But more often, work requires a set of skills. From your summer job or internship, you may already have encountered the kinds of things you will do when you go to work. Some of these things include (in no particular order):

Being in meetings

Taking notes

Talking to people who understand what you're doing

Talking to people who don't understand what you're doing

Creating projects, products

Helping other people with their projects

Doing research

Explaining concepts, products, problems

Convincing people that you're right

Admitting you're wrong

Presenting concepts, products, problems

Calling people who don't want to talk to you

Arranging meetings

Jumping in when you're needed

Developing your ideas into projects, products


Managing time

Asking for money, time, advice, help, autonomy, more work, less work

Being in teams, workgroups, committees


Being solely responsible for concepts, products, problems, outcomes

Training colleagues

Staying late when it's necessary

Selling concepts, products, problems

Being on time

Getting paid for your effort

Given this set of activities, you can see why, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, these are the top skills that businesses are seeking from college graduates:

  • Communications (written, oral; speaking, listening, presentation)
  • Initiative
  • Critical thinking
  • Analytical thinking
  • Self-management
  • Leadership
  • Networking
  • Teamwork
  • Technical knowledge
  • Interpersonal abilities (working with others)
  • Perspective
  • Balance

So how do you acquire these skills? You're doing it right now. You're researching and evaluating information in your classes. You're writing papers, sending emails, presenting the results of your research in your UROP projects, and doing team reports and projects. You're heading a committee in student government or residence hall government or your fraternity or sorority. You're helping with a project in your community service organization; you're on an athletic team. You're thinking up a new way to organize your work at your work-study job. You're putting yourself through college. All of these things add up to the person you are.

How do you begin to think about your major and your career? A great way is to visit the Career Center, in the Student Activities Building (visit their website at They can help you begin to assess your skills and interests. Also, talk to department advisors (and look at departmental websites) to see what departments are saying about their own majors. Often, they can provide insights into broader perspectives about the skills that come from a specific major (the Career Center has information about this, too). See if you can find out more about the professions/jobs that interest you - do some informational interviews, or shadow someone at work. Talk to your academic advisor. And don't neglect your parents as resources - or even their friends. There's a lot of information out there - don't be afraid to search for it.