Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the list of “must-have” skills for the current workforce? That’s understandable. As more career experts weigh in, the list just gets longer and more complicated. While the jury’s still out on whether or not you’ll soon need to be proficient in coding, data management and UX in order to be hirable, you can assume that pretty much any boss will want (and expect) you to have a certain amount of self-awareness. After all, it’s much easier to work with an employee who gets that their role, albeit important, is just one part of the bigger picture.
The good news is that college can be a solid training ground for self-awareness. Here are three skills you learned in school that can be applied to the workplace.
Working with people you don’t like
Whether it was student government, an event committee or a group project that was worth 25% of your grade, chances are you’ve had at least one opportunity to work with people who ranged from mildly annoying to wildly combative. But, because there was a bigger goal on the line, you found a way to work around the drama and focus on the task at hand.
Even if you end up loving everyone on a personal level, you will undoubtedly have coworkers with competing priorities and clashing work styles. And, since your job performance helps determine little things like raises, promotions and whether or not you survive the next round of lay-offs, the stakes are even higher for everyone. Find a way to make it work. You don’t have to be friends with all of your colleagues, but you do have to respect them. Think about what you can learn from them and how their differing perspectives can supplement and maybe even complement what you bring to the table.
Knowing when to speak up (and when to back off)
There was one in every class: that clueless guy who had something to say about everything. Even in intro-level classes, he spoke with an air of authority and felt it was his place to interrupt everyone (including the professor). Even if that guy’s behavior was coming from a pure place of genuine enthusiasm, his classroom domination showed a lack of self-awareness and isolated him from his peers. He wanted to be heard, but everyone stopped listening about two weeks into the semester.
Don’t be that guy. You were hired for your experience, talent and ideas, but resist the urge to prove your worth at every meeting. Speak up when you have something valuable to add to the conversation, but allow space for others’ ideas. Listen without immediately contradicting or editorializing upon them.
Between missing classes, bombing exams and getting busted for dorm room violations, college is fertile ground for screwing up. The silver lining is that, along the way, you probably learned how to own up to your mistakes and accept the consequences with at least a moderate amount of grace.
You will experience failure at work. And here’s the real burn: it will happen even when you’re on your best behavior and giving 100%. That product you worked so hard to launch on time may fall flat. Your boss may hate the deck you spent two weeks assembling, and your brilliant campaign concept may turn into a logistical nightmare.
Facing your mistakes in front of an audience of your coworkers is uncomfortable to say the least. But getting defensive or passing blame will only make things worse. Accept responsibility, be open to feedback and apply what you’ve learned to your next assignment.
What else did college teach you about self-awareness? Have you been able to apply those skills to your job search?
Jenessa Connor is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and young adult author. If you don’t find her in front of her computer, check the local movie theaters and restaurants, Prospect Park or the gym at CrossFit 718.