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Careers Café

The only 3 skills graduate students need to learn

BY UA/AU | APR 23 2014

This is a guest post by Isaiah Hankel, author and consultant at Cheeky Scientist.

Hard skills are dying. Think of how many hard skills have been outsourced or replaced by computer apps over the last 10 years – thousands. Remember when large companies used to hire people to write expense reports and to organize rolodexes? Me neither. On a long enough timeline all hard skills will be replaced. There are three skills that will never be replaced though: oral communication, initiative and mental choice.

Oral communication
If you go high enough up in any organization, the people at the top are the best oral communicators. This is because oral communication is the most direct way to share ideas, generate enthusiasm and motivate people to action. Most serious business deals require at least one face-to-face meeting. This is because things like body language, mannerisms, facial expressions and vocal tone affect your evaluation of other people.

It will be decades before a computer can analyze rapidly changing facial expressions, along with fluctuations in the pitch of someone’s voice, rapid changes in conversation topics, changes in mood, sarcasm, and underlying humor – if ever. This makes your ability to orally communicate with another person extremely valuable. It cannot be outsourced or automated.

Everyone has a great idea. Great ideas are a dime a dozen – they are here today, gone today. But, not everyone can bring an idea to life. Making an idea real – creating something from nothing – requires initiative, or deliberate action..

Have you ever taken a really long vacation and then, after going back to work, struggled to get back into the swing of things? You struggled because your action-taking muscle – your initiative – has atrophied. The only way to keep your initiative sharp is to exercise. Stop only doing things when someone tells you to do them.

Mental choice
When I travel to give seminars, I dictate and send my emails with Siri, I have all of my Facebook messages, Tweets, emails, texts and phone calls forwarded to Talkatone, I have my voice mails automatically transcribed and emailed to me with Google Voice, I automatically upload business cards to my phone contacts with WorldCard, I automatically download my receipts and generate expense reports with Expensify, and I save all my MP3s, videos and pictures on iCloud.

Thanks to all of the different apps and software programs that allow you to store, organize and transfer information in cyberspace, everything is becoming automatic. The only thing left for humans to do is to choose which app to use, or, more broadly, which actions to take.

Mental choice is the mother of initiative. Before you can take action you have to choose which action to take. The three most common job qualifications listed on Fortune 500 job postings are critical thinking, complex problem-solving, and decision-making. Your ability to choose the right problem and choose the right solution are incredibly important.

Mental choice is also responsible for directing your focus and determining your attitude. Happiness is a decision. And productivity is the result of deciding to do the right things. It’s your choices, not your circumstances that will determine your future.

How to use your skills
If you’re trying to transition from academia into business, the first decision you need to make is the decision to improve your oral communication skills. The best way to do this is to start interacting with people in person.

Next, you need to decide to start taking action on your own. Show initiative by going to networking events and conferences to find job leads, instead of sitting behind a computer and sending out a resume. Start building up your online platform. Start commenting on LinkedIn threads related to your field. Start your own group. Just start.

Finally, decide to think about things in a different way. Make sure you’re choosing to focus on the right problems. Don’t get stuck putting out fires and don’t get pushed around by other people’s agendas. Zoom out mentally and identify the right problem for why you are where you are. Then, find a way to get to wherever it is you really want to go. Your choices will determine your path.

Isaiah Hankel has a PhD in anatomy and cell biology, is a Fortune 500 consultant and author of the book Black Hole Focus.

The UA editorial team.
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  1. Madhav Shanbhag / April 26, 2014 at 07:43

    A must read

  2. Mark Harrison / April 26, 2014 at 09:17

    Excellent perspective. It’s hard to predict the way the world is moving as it’s at such a fast pace. People who, as the author put it ” take action”, are primed to ride the wave.
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Tidi Gaamangwe / April 30, 2014 at 12:46

    Excellent article. Couldn’t agree more!

  4. Roger Graves / May 7, 2014 at 18:27

    I agree that these are three core skills, but I’d add a fourth: written communication, including writing done via social media.

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