Use Your Time in Graduate School to Build Key Job Skills

Edited by Laura Morrison, for, March 2014

picture of graduate students working on their job skills

This past February, the national unemployment rate was at 6.7 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While this figure is lower than the 7.7 percent reported one year earlier, it's actually one point higher than January's 6.6 percent unemployment rate, proving how unpredictable the economy can be.

Of course, the job market could change drastically by the time you finish graduate school. Should things take a turn for the worse, you want to make sure you have the right knowledge and skills to navigate challenging economic waters. That's why it helps to possess the qualities employers value.

If you don't have skills that can serve you well in your career, consider doing what you can to acquire them while pursuing a graduate degree.

Are you confident in your skills?

When applying to graduate programs, think about the various skills you possess. How sharp are they? Is there room for improvement?

If you feel like you could be a stronger job candidate, you're not alone. In February, talent mobility consulting firm Lee Hecht Harrison released the results of a survey of 472 job seekers. According to a press release, 63 percent of respondents said they needed to improve their computer, math or writing skills.

"Unfortunately, only 28% of job seekers feel confident in the basic skills they bring to the table," said Greg Simpson, senior vice president and career transition practice leader for Lee Hecht Harrison. "In today's competitive job market, no one can risk complacency. It's essential to follow a continuous path of learning and skill development that goes beyond these basic skills to ensure you remain desirable as a prospective employee."

Enrolling in master's programs may help your skills stay sharp as you continue to acquire new knowledge.

Do you have the skills employers want?

While evaluating your current skill set, ask yourself if you've got the qualities that employers want to see in their candidates. In 2013, the National Association of Colleges and Employers investigated what skills matter to those who hire in the Job Outlook 2014 survey.

In the survey, NACE asked participants to rate the importance of specific skills on a scale from one to five, with one being "not at all important" and five being "extremely important." Based on employers' responses, the ability to work in a team structure was most crucial, with a weighted average rating of 4.55.

Almost as important, with a weighted average rating of 4.50 was the ability to make decision and solve problems. The ability to prioritize work, verbally communicate with others and analyze quantitative data were among the other valuable qualities.

How can you enhance your skills?

So what can you do to ensure that you graduate ready to be a strong job candidate? In addition to developing valuable career skills in your master's program, you can develop crucial qualities outside of academia.If your reading skills could use some work, CBS MoneyWatch suggests reading whatever interests you. Whether you pick up a magazine or a teen novel, you're engaging in an activity that could make you a stronger reader.

Do your writing skills need a tune-up? The news source advises you to use full words when you text, in addition to always using punctuation and capitalizing where appropriate. When you write, spelling and grammar check features can be your friends, as they will show you the errors you've made. They'll also point out your most common mistakes, which informs you of what needs to change about your current approach to writing.

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About the Author: Laura Morrison is the Web Content Manager for She earned an MBA from the Rutgers School of Business in 2010.

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