Millennials often enter the workforce at a disadvantage. Executives of previous generations sometimes perceive them as entitled or lazy because of their insistence on work/life balance, their penchant for coming at problems in non-traditional ways, or their optimistic expectations about climbing the corporate ladder. But the fact is millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, which means the corporate world will need to adapt to the younger generation just as much as the younger generation must adapt to the corporate world.

Millennials make up more than one-third of the U.S. workforce, and many of these workers will be tomorrow’s corporate leaders. Millennials seeking to fast track their way to the top need to possess a particular set of skills to impress existing executives.

A Soft Approach

Whether fresh out of college or a junior executive, any millennial who wants to sit at the boardroom table someday needs to have a number of marketable soft skills.

“Examples of soft skills include strong work ethic, confidence, communication skills, interpersonal skills, adaptability, next-level thinking, and ability to take initiative,” says Rae Sanders, principal staffing manager and team leader of the accounting, finance, and administrative division of recruitment firm WinterWyman.

Millennials grew up texting and talking online, and that means some of them don’t have the same personal interaction skills that Gen. X-ers and baby boomers developed. This difference in relationship styles can turn off older decision-makers from hiring millennial candidates.

Candidates should make an effort to showcase their soft skill sets leading up to and during the interview. Exude confidence without being cocky. Feature communication skills in all modes, whether it be email, phone, or face-to-face conversation. Other soft skills can be more difficult to showcase, but providing references that speak to things like innovation and work ethic can go a long way toward signing on with a company.

The Hard Sell

Of course, being personable and confident only gets one so far. Soft skills will get the attention of a prospective employer, but hard skills are even more important. Most millennials grew up with technology that escapes the understanding of some older executives, so many companies are interested in hiring workers who can carry them into the Digital Age. That also makes competition for jobs fiercer, because generally, most applicants will be tech-savvy and capable.

StandingMillennials who want to stand out from the crowd will need to find ways to get practical experience prior to entering the workforce.

“The training and skills that candidates should seek are dependent on the jobs they are applying to,” says Callie Adams, staffing manager for WinterWyman. “However, the hard skills you gain in an internship relevant to the career track you are trying to pursue are what makes you stand out. These could be applied technical skills – different from learned technical skills – or functional skills, such as actually processing accounts payable or arranging travel. Application of the skills you’ve learned is paramount in today’s market. Simply put, internships are the only way to develop a hard skill set to make you stand out amongst your peers.”

When hiring managers make a final decision about a hire, it comes down to what experience the candidate brings to the table and what they can bring to the company.

“Experience that exemplifies the soft skill sets aforementioned, would be considered valuable to prospective employers,” Sanders says.

For example, Sanders lists the following common experiences as ways millennials can demonstrate their soft skill sets:

  1. Leadership positions in clubs (confidence, ability to take initiative, and communication skills)
  2. Varied extracurricular activities along with a strong academic record (work ethic)
  3. Study abroad programs (adaptability)
  4. Internships/work-study (applied hard skills)
  5. Fraternities/sororities (interpersonal skills)

“These types of activities show you have taken advantage of what college had to offer,” Sanders says. “This is what would make you stand out as a potential candidate when the job may initially require a year or two of experience.”

To be attractive to a company, younger generations must leverage their lives beyond work and show hiring managers how their experiences have prepared them to do the job they are applying for. Many applicants will just put their degree on the application and leave it at that. Candidates who find ways to turn life experiences into work experiences will stand out from the crowd.

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