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How soft skills can give you an edge after uni

Soft skills

STEM skills + soft skills = a recipe for success…

So you’ve been working hard at uni and you’re feeling really good about everything you’ve learned throughout your STEM degree. But did you know there’s something else you need to land a job and succeed in the STEM workforce? Yep, you need soft skills. But what are they?

Soft skills are non-technical, personal skills that team up with your hard skills (that’s your area of expertise/what you’ve been studying) to make you an all-round awesome employee and colleague. Working on these soft skills before you land your dream STEM gig can be super helpful so you can hit the ground running right away.

Below, we’ve rounded up five soft skills that can give you an edge in STEM and have provided tips on how you can start perfecting these right away.

Soft skills you should sharpen NOW

1. Communication

You could be the world’s greatest scientist, tech legend, engineer or mathematician, but if you can’t communicate your ideas effectively? Your smarts could be overlooked. Good communication is vital because in all jobs, including STEM careers, you’ll be working (and talking!) with others, collaborating on projects and setting goals together. Being a solid communicator isn’t just about being a good speaker or knowing how to send a brilliant email though – you need to listen, use positive body language, and have empathy and understanding for your team members.

How to sharpen these skills at uni:

  • Sign up for public speaking lessons or a debating team
  • Get comfortable talking infront of your classes, and remember to use eye contact
  • Practise active listening with a friend (this means absorbing what they’re saying, reflecting it back and giving feedback)
  • Work on your email etiquette (including clear and concise writing)
  • Be mindful of your tone when having important or difficult conversations

RELATED: Check out the Careers with STEM: Graduate Options hub


2. Teamwork

There’s no ‘I’ in team and this is definitely true in the STEM workplace. Amazing innovation happens when we work together, utilise people’s strengths, nurture talents and improve on our weaknesses. Work tasks and projects are a team effort, so you need to go in with a collaborative mindset. You’ll need to be thinking about how can you cross the finish line together while producing solid results.

How to sharpen these skills at uni:

  • Take group work seriously and ask for feedback from your peers once a project is complete
  • Join a uni or local sports team – not only is this fun and social, but you’ll learn a lot about being a team player
  • Sign up for a hackathon – you’ll meet like-minded people who you’ll have to work with to solve a problem, usually with a pressing deadline
  • Pull your weight at home – who can you help out or what can you do for the good of the household?

3. Problem-solving

STEM and problem-solving go hand-in-hand, so if you’re already studying science, technology, engineering and maths then you’ve already got a leg-up in this area. In the workforce though, you’ll have to combine your pro problem-solving skills with communication and teamwork. Letting others have their say and really listening to their insights can help spark ideas and solutions. Keeping an open mind and being creative and flexible in your thinking can assist with solutions too.

How to sharpen these skills at uni:

  • Take creative electives or extra-curricular activities – these can give you new perspectives on how to tackle a problem and help with keeping an open mind
  • Work on your emotional intelligence, including empathy. If your problem involves a person, try to see things from their point of view or offer your assistance to get the ball rolling
  • Don’t give up! Next time you face a challenge, keep working at it until you find a solution

RELATED: Love problem solving? See how engineers are solving the world’s biggest problems


4. Confidence

Yep, everyone suffers from Imposter Syndrome from time-to-time, but to give yourself an edge in STEM employment you need to radiate confidence. This means believing in yourself and what you know (which is a lot if you’ve got yourself a STEM degree!), understanding what you bring to the table for your employer, and being brave enough to ask questions and ‘fess up when you don’t know something.

How to sharpen these skills at uni:

  • Sign up for activities or workshops that sound interesting but that you don’t have skills in. It’s humbling but will also help you build resilience and patience with yourself, while learning how to stay calm and persevere while being challenged
  • Come up with a positive mantra you can repeat to yourself when you feel your confidence dipping
  • Ditch negative self-talk – it’s never helpful
  • Find a confidence mentor (a friend, uni lecturer/tutor, professional contact) that you admire and get all their tips

RELATED: Find STEM role models and mentors


5. Time management

Like uni, the workforce is all about meeting deadlines so your time management skills need to be in tip top shape. Using digital calendars, time management software or good old fashioned to-do lists can help with this, but first it’s important to know how to break a piece of work or project down into a bunch of achieveable goals so you can chip away at it over the time period you have. Thinking about how long each part will take is a good first step, and remembering to leave a buffer for the unexpected will prove that you’ve totally got this!

How to sharpen these skills at uni:

  • Get your assessments in on time
  • Practise divvying your assessments up into a series of steps, planning out how you’ll achieve each part of the weeks, months or semester
  • Ask your lecturer or tutor for feedback or advice if you’re struggling with working to deadlines
  • Keep your study space clear and organised – this will help you feel more on top of everything

Not sure what your next move after uni should be?

Take this quiz to find out which option suits you best!

What else will give you an edge after uni? Staying up to date with all the latest graduate options! Sign up to our e-newsletter to do just that.

For more career advice, subscribe to the Careers with STEM YouTube channel!

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