You've spent formative years in college classrooms, learning and developing the skills you hoped would make you successful in the workplace. But with graduation behind you, what skills do employers want from college graduates?
Here are some steps for describing transferable skills in a cover letter.
Define your transferable skills
Break down your previous jobs, programs of study, activities and achievements into a list of transferable skills. Think big picture about the core of each one, and the take-away you want potential employers to know. Here are some common skills and qualities to jump start your thinking:
- Communication skills: Clear oral and written communication
- Interpersonal skills: How you work in groups and collaborate with others
- Leadership qualities: Think about honesty and integrity, inspiring others, and times when you took accountability and delegated tasks
- Positive work ethic traits: Qualities like persistence, drive, stamina, effort, self-motivation and diligence
- Conflict resolution skills: Includes problem-solving skills (especially during high-stress situations), the ability to adapt quickly, and a high emotional intelligence
- Organizational skills: Highlight planning, multitasking and being flexible
- Ability to learn: How quickly and well you acquire new technological, language or other skills
- Negotiation and persuasion: How you settle disagreements, find common ground and manage conflicts.
Once you have your list, look for themes and data points. These can form the basis of compelling storytelling in your cover letter.
Examples of marketable skills
For recent college students, your on-campus work, internships and accomplishments will likely be the main source of marketable skills. Here are some examples of how to translate your activities:
- Meeting deadlines and thriving under pressure: From application deadlines to assignments and exams, successful college students know how to get things in on time. If meeting deadlines is an important skill in the job you seek, speak up about your ability and experience with them.
- Handling multiple tasks: Remember the frustration — and panic — of multiple papers and projects all due on the same day? Managers value employees who can handle multi-tasking, and your cover letter is a great place to spell out your ability to juggle many projects at once.
- Setting goals and achieving them: Excellent grades are proof that you're capable of accomplishing big things, so highlight if you graduated with honors. You may have also met other goals while in school, such as earning your degree in three years instead of four. Any goal you've met in school is potential cover-letter fodder.
- Adapting to your circumstances: Your college years likely offered you your first opportunity to make adult decisions and act independently. How did you handle stumbling blocks and disappointments along the way? Share examples of how you rose above difficulties and made the best of a hard situation.
- Writing ability: Jobs that require top-notch writing skills span many industries and disciplines. If you demonstrated your ability to write well in college, it might be one of your strongest transferable skills from university. Of course, your writing talents should be self-evident from the quality of your cover letter, but mention them by name as well.
- Researching skills: Many people in the workforce can't boast the internet research skills the average college student possesses. Your experience sourcing facts, articles and reliable information may be exactly what your prospective employer is looking for. Be sure to emphasize any research skills.