7 skills to learn in college for big bucks

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Do you wonder what required skills you need for a high-paying job after college?

The key might actually be some of those practical traits you acquired while pursuing your diploma.

With college students, “50 percent of the learning for their career future is not happening in the classroom,” says Bill Coplin, director of the public affairs program at Syracuse University and author of “10 Things Employers Want You to Learn in College.”

Students also hone career-boosting skills at the dorm, dining hall, fraternity or sorority house, after-school jobs and internships.

Scientific formulas and important historic events may be vital in some disciplines. But when it comes to snagging a big paycheck, you need to impress your next boss by mastering these seven required skills:

1. How to see the big picture

Chess players learn this early, as do successful athletes. When you move into the working world, it helps to see how one little task you do for your boss fits into the larger scheme of things for your employer.

“Being a systems thinker, being able to see the big picture makes you a better problem-solver,” says Katharine Brooks, director of liberal arts career services at the University of Texas at Austin, and author of “You Majored in What?”

“Today’s employers want people who have vision, people who can see where something is going, not just where it is right now,” she says.

2. How to work hard

Everyone pictures college as the time to party. But in reality, for the typical college student, it’s a period of vigorous hard work. And today’s college students are balancing studies with extracurricular activities and, very often, jobs.

That strong work ethic will really pay off when it comes time to pursue a career.

“It sounds very traditional,” says Brooks. But when you look at some high-paying fields, like medicine or investment banking, the jobs require long hours and are very intense, she says.

“Being able to work hard, have good powers of concentration and good focus,” is important, Brooks says.

3. Which subjects you’re passionate about

Finding the topics that you’re passionate about — what you love to do and to study — “is what will result in your commitment to the job,” Brooks says.

“College is the time to experiment, to try out different interests and different career ideas, to learn what will work and what will not,” she says.

That drive is what will bring you the big bucks. One key to success, Brooks says: Find the job you’d be willing to do for free.

4. How to get along with people

“Good interpersonal skills are critical,” says Coplin.

That’s one of the reasons presidents of fraternities and sororities “get snapped up right away” in the job market, he says. Their peers liked them, and that job carries a lot of responsibility, he says.

Employers need workers who “build and maintain good relationships with people,” Coplin says. “If you have these relationships, you have no problem being on a team and will make a good manager.”

5. First-rate communication skills

Want to stand out and snag the high-dollar jobs? Polish those written and spoken communication skills.

“Your ability to communicate one-on-one is probably a key variable,” Coplin says.

For employers, it’s really “all about efficiency,” he says. Bosses need to be able to explain something once and know that you get it. That means you have to be able to listen effectively, ask succinct questions, present solutions and demonstrate that you understand.

Writing skills are just as important. Being able to write, edit and proofread can push you up the career ladder.

Coplin recalls one freshman who beat out Ivy League juniors and seniors for an internship on a congressional campaign because she had experience in editing and proofreading. Later, the campaign needed a press release and she volunteered to write it. Because she did a great job, the internship turned into a paying position.

6. Compile a professional track record

Bosses “are not impressed by GPAs,” Coplin says. Employers want to hire someone who already has work experience. When they see a degree from a high-prestige school, they “are worried about a sense of entitlement.”

The best way to allay such fears, says Coplin, is to show you have “a track record of jobs and internships where you got a lot of experience.”

Ideally you want jobs that display increasing levels of skill and responsibility.

Showing that another company’s “personnel department selected you — it’s a confirmation that you’re going to be good,” he says.

7. Understand the software

It’s one thing to take a software seminar or list a program on your resume. It’s another to be able to explain a “pivot table,” Coplin says.

“I’ve had kids beat out M.B.A.s for jobs because they know Excel,” he says.

So identify the various programs used in your chosen field. “And don’t just learn a program, use it,” he says.

Written by
Dana Dratch
Personal Finance Writer
Dana Dratch is a personal finance and lifestyle writer who enjoys talking all things money and credit. With a degree in English and writing, she likes asking the questions everyone would ask if they could and sharing the answers — along with smart money management tips from the experts.