I don’t want you to listen to me about the importance of soft skills. Don’t believe me when I tell you how much better off you’re going to be in school and in your career if you start learning soft skills now. But, there is someone I do want you to listen to.
But — please listen to Andres Aguilar.
Aguilar is a dedicated, academically successful junior at Marquette University with a double major in accounting and finance. He’s a great example of the success you can have if you learn and apply soft skills.
The mission of EmpowerMe is to help high school and undergraduate students learn and practice soft skills, like networking. Andres was a rather quiet individual when I first met him about a year-and-a-half ago. Since he’s been an EmpowerMe student, he’s added a lot of new skills and he’s already on the road to a successful career. Andres gained his career advantage through applying soft skills.
Here’s what Aguilar had to say about soft skills, what he’s learned, and how soft skills have already helped him on his career path.
Before EmpowerMe, what soft skills did you have?
Aguilar: I’ve always been a responsible person and got back to people in a timely fashion, for example, but I discovered these are only two of many soft skills. Although a lot of soft skills seem like no-brainers, like following through when you tell someone you will, I didn’t possess many others before being an EmpowerMe student. Most soft skills seem like common sense. They seem easy, but most people don’t practice them unless they’re reminded to, and often not even then. That’s the trick.
What are the top three soft skills you’ve learned through EmpowerMe?
A: Networking is definitely the most important soft skill that I’ve learned. It’s helped me establish relationships throughout the community and given me a presence in the professional world before I step into it. I truly believe networking is the best way to develop your career. People at work have complimented me on my networking skills.
Another soft skill that’s helped me grow is writing hand-written thank you cards. It may seem kind of odd, because it’s so easy.
I met someone at a networking event from a public accounting firm — a company I’d like to work for someday. He shared information about internships at the company. After the networking event I sent him a hand-written card thanking him for his time and information. I believe it was that thank you note that set me apart from other intern candidates and helped me land my internship at a big four public accounting firms.
The third thing I learned is to find a mentor. Working with a mentor has helped my career, even while I’m still in school. Before working with a mentor, it was hard for me to ask questions at my job and internship. I’m no longer afraid of to ask questions. It’s made a noticeable impact on my internship. I continue to learn a lot from my mentor.
What’s the next soft skill you’d like to master?
A: I want to develop my public speaking skills. While I do get some practice in school, it’s a skill I still need to develop. I think being able to speak in public is very important for any career.
What was your experience writing a personal mission statement — an EmpowerMe requirement?
A: Everyone says to write out your goals, but I don’t think most people take it seriously enough. I had never written a mission statement, and, at first, it was difficult.
Writing my mission statement helped me figure out my main goals in life and create a path to get where I want to be. It helped me discover myself. I wrote it, printed and laminated it, and now it’s hanging in my room where I see it every day.
My mission statement helps keep me motivated during rough times. It reminds me what my goals are and why I’m going what I’m doing today. It helps me stay grounded and focused everyday. It’s definitely helped me out.
How have soft skills prepared you for your future?
A: EmpowerMe has prepared me for the future by helping me learn soft skills that have already placed me a step above my peers. I learned the “it factor,” and that separates me from a stack of resumes on a recruiter’s desk. Employers quickly notice my professionalism and business etiquette when they meet me. I believe these skills are extremely valuable to any employer, which will make me an asset to their company.
Do you think high school students should learn soft skills?
A: High school students need to realize that they’re only a name on a piece of paper until they make themselves stand out. Soft skills will help a high school student: develop positive relationships with their teachers, coaches, and others; help them get into the school of their dreams; and, eventually get a job. Soft skills provide intangible traits that will make students stand out and help lead them to success.
What advice do you have for high school students?
A: My advice to high school students is to take advantage of the resources available to them to learn and grow personally and professionally. Don’t just pass them by thinking they’re a “waste of time.”
My generation seems to think we can do things on our own, without any help or support, but it simply isn’t true. We need to listen to those who have lived and learned, and begin to surround ourselves with the wisdom and resources that are available to us.
I hear excuses left and right about how busy everybody is with school, sports, work, and such. I used the same excuse, “But, I’m too busy!” Now I realize that everybody has time, especially for something important!
The reality is that our lives will always be busy. Networking and building professional relationships are important skills, and they take time and dedication. It may require attending networking events on a regular basis. Students need to realize that by passing on a networking event now, because they would rather go to the movies or a party, they may be passing up a job, a career, and a successful life. You never know who you’re going to meet while networking, what relationships may come out of it, or the doors that may be opened for you.
People at school and my family have all noticed that I’m more outgoing than I used to be. I’m not as afraid to go out and introduce myself. Soft skills have helped me change for the better.
Andres’ soft skills helped with his success. One networking event. One introduction. One hand-written thank you card. Results? An internship at a big four accounting firm. He’s proof that one thing leads to the next, and the next.
What’s the one thing you’re going to do next?