5 skills young professionals should master!

There’s good news and bad news for the Class of 2023. The positive: Employers plan to hire 14.7% more new college graduates this year than they did in 2022, according to NACE’s Job Outlook 2023 report. The bad news: A large majority of college coursework doesn’t teach the soft skills that many workers need, and a lack of internship opportunities during the pandemic puts new grads behind the curve on experience in a collaborative work environment.
Many of the most critical skills for a successful career can’t be conveyed in a textbook or evaluated in an exam. To help prepare recent grads for what’s to come, we asked professionals of all experience levels on Fishbowl, Glassdoor’s online community platform, what skills and information they wish they would have had before entering the workforce. These were the top answers.
  1. Develop the skills you can’t study for
Soft skills are character traits, personal attributes, and other non-technical abilities that help you work and communicate with other people, like listening and delegation. These skills come naturally to some people, while others need to practice their soft skills.
“Soft skills, such as communication, time management, and teamwork, are essential for success in the workplace, but may not be emphasized enough in college,” one Fishbowl respondent noted.
Another soft skill that many wish they had learned earlier is networking. “Building relationships and networking with professionals in your field is critical for career success, but many people feel that they did not learn enough about networking in college,” a commenter said.
A marketing manager who responded on the thread noted that networking is especially important when starting out. “Later in your career, you’ll have an easier time finding work. Recruiters will do a lot of the groundwork for you once you have your skill set and a successful track record of getting things done,” they said.
While university coursework may be more relevant to your eventual day-to-day tasks, Fishbowl respondents in technical fields, like data science or accounting, noted that soft skills still “play a huge part in determining your career growth and how you’re perceived.”
  1. Advocate for yourself
Self-promotion is another skill that Fishbowl commenters wish they had had when starting their careers. People often feel self-conscious about touting their accomplishments, and young professionals in particular can struggle with taking or sharing credit without coming off as obnoxious. As a data governance manager put it, “The humble brag would be something nice to have learned.”
An executive director added that there’s no point in doing good work if no one knows you’re responsible. “Too many people wait for promotions to just magically come to them because they see themselves as good at their jobs. You can be as good as you want, and it doesn’t matter unless the people that matter know too,” they wrote.
  1. Lean into (or avoid) office politics
Hard work alone isn’t enough to succeed. To get promotions, raises, and awards, Fishbowl members say it’s important to be well-liked. That means learning how to handle office drama and communicating in a way that demonstrates emotional intelligence.
“I wish I had learned how to navigate office politics to accelerate my path to a leadership role,” a law professional offered on the thread.
“Picking up verbal and non-verbal cues and reacting appropriately is crucial,” a quality manager shared.
Interpersonal dynamics can be the difference between a dream job and a nightmare, but taking a beat to observe the existing relationships on a team when starting a new job can help you succeed.
“The reality is that politics are a part of every company,” says CEO and The Compass Alliance author Tim Cole. “Whenever three or more people gather there will be politics. But not only can politics be put to good use, they are essential in learning how to engage others, gain consensus, build your sphere of influence, and climb the ladder.”
Those interactions can be uniquely challenging in remote work.
“Virtual versus in-person interactions are similar but vastly different. Tones, expressions, [and] pace are even more important than in person. It truly is a form of emotional intelligence and a degree of wit,” a consultant added to the conversation.
  1. Become more tech-savvy
Like it or not, basic technical and analytical skills are part of most jobs. At a minimum, Fishbowl commenters overwhelmingly said they most regretted starting their first jobs without Excel skills.
“I’ve always said the only two classes that helped me in my career [were] Business Communications and Intro to Excel,” a financial professional said.
“​​I am shocked by the number of interns and staff who come to us with no basic knowledge of Excel. Mind-blowing,” an accounting professional wrote.
A consulting professional who received a humanities degree emphasized the value of hard technical skills, saying they wish they had studied more data analysis, data science math, and related coding. Another said they had to complete a master’s program after undergraduate to get the necessary technical skills for their job.
  1. Improve your financial literacy
A young professional’s first year out of school can be a rude awakening. After taxes, living expenses, and student loan repayments, a lot of entry-level employees find themselves struggling to save for retirement or even cover their monthly expenses. Fishbowl commenters agree that those are topics that young adults need to learn before entering the workforce.
“There should be classes about credit cards, investing, and how to factor in benefits with a job offer,” a sales professional said, while a manager shared that they wished they had learned about 401K savings, investing, how to divide direct deposits, HSAs, and leveraging benefits before graduating.
Among the many financial topics the Fishbowl community wished they had learned about earlier, they most frequently cited credit cards and retirement planning.
How to keep learning
Are there skills on this list that you wish you had learned earlier? Whether you’re starting your career or already well-established as a professional, it’s never too late to learn. You can teach yourself practically anything online today, from hard skills like Excel to soft skills like negotiation. Try searching sites like CourseraUdemyKhan Academy, and edX for self-paced courses that can help you develop a new skill set.
By Glassdoor Team, Career Advice Experts
Glassdoor Team, Career Advice Experts