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How to Succeed in the World of Work

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Whether you’re applying for an apprenticeship, an internship, a job or a work-based learning program, there are certain skills that employers — in any industry — will expect you to have.

Those skills are things like being on time, working well with others, being reliable and responsible for completing your tasks. They’re generally known as “soft skills” — as opposed to the “hard skills” you need to do a specific job, such as operating a forklift or knowing HTML.

“Soft skills are something employers can’t teach,” says Laurie Fuski, program manager at Jobs for Delaware Graduates (JDG). “But you need them for any job, whether you’re a trash man or a CEO.”

So what are some of the soft skills employers expect to see, and how can you get better at them?

Being on time. The importance of attendance and punctuality cannot be overstated, says Amy Taylor, CORE coordinator at JDG. “Knowing your shift and showing up to that shift on time is crucial. It shows you understand that people at this job are counting on you,” she says. Of course, things happen, and there might be legitimate reasons why you’re late for work. In those cases, call to let your employer know what’s happening. “You need to have a conversation with the person you work for,” Taylor says. “Don’t do the thing where you just don’t show up.”

How to work on it: When you make plans to meet up with friends, plan your time so you’ll arrive exactly when you said you would. Punctuality is a habit you can build through practice.

Being reliable. Employers want to know that they can rely on you to complete the task you’ve been assigned, Taylor says. For that reason, one of the things you might be asked in interviews is whether you’re responsible for doing any type of job at home. That’s right — an employer might care whether you’ve done your chores. You can also impress employers by talking about any volunteer work you’ve done in the community, or mentioning school teams and clubs you’ve committed time to.

How to work on it: If your job at home is to take out the trash and put a new trash bag in the bin, do it — consistently and every day. It may not sound like much, but it shows that you’re willing to put forth an effort every day and follow through on completing a task. But of course, you can work on this skill in other ways too. Important examples include making an effort to finish school assignments on time, or making a commitment to volunteer somewhere and following through. “Just get involved in something,” Fuski says. “Whether it’s church activities, volunteer service or school clubs — just be part of something.

Asking questions. This is important: your employers do expect you to complete your assigned task, but you’re allowed to ask for help if there’s something you’re having trouble with. In fact, employers want you to ask, says Denise Christiansen, senior manager of work-based learning at Junior Achievement of Delaware.

“One of my pet peeves is when I ask someone to do something and they tell me they can do it, but they’re only half grasping what I’ve asked. They go back to their cubbyhole and it takes them an hour to do the task instead of half an hour, because they’re trying to Google how to do it. So don’t be afraid to ask questions!”

How to work on it: Next time you’re faced with a question or a problem, resist the impulse to Google immediately, Christiansen suggests. Instead, is there someone you could ask for the answer, or can you think it through yourself, based on what you know? “It’s really important that you practice making decisions and figuring out how to find answers yourself,” Christiansen says. “Because nine times out of 10, problems at work can’t be solved by asking Google.”

Being polite to both colleagues and customers. “The importance of smiling and being polite can’t be overstated,” says Christiansen. “Be nice to people. Smile and say ‘good morning.’ Look people in the eye when they’re talking to you.”

How to work on it: Group assignments at school are designed to help you learn how to complete projects with others in a work environment, so make sure you take them seriously, says Taylor. Any workplace will have people with different personalities, and the better you can get along with all of them, the more successful you’ll be.

Respecting that virtual work is still work. “Remember to be professional even if you’re not
in person,” says Christiansen. “When you’re on Zoom for school, it’s very easy to turn off your camera, and there’s very little interaction. When you transition to a job or internship where you’re working remotely, you will need to up your game a little. Keep your camera on. Participate and be engaged.”

How to work on it: Practice speaking to the camera and being engaged with the conversation whenever you’re chatting with a teacher, a friend or a family member.

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