Geared toward young professionals beginning to enter the workplace, this blog outlines what I’ve learned about transferring the soft skills I developed in campus organizations, to project management at an agency.
Soft skills may not be in the official list of agency responsibilities, but it is the key to managing client relationships. As a Communications and Research Fellow at Mission Partners, Benefit LLC, my college experiences at Loyola University Maryland outside of the classroom made the most impact on the job.While my freshman decisions to join the University’s voting initiative and its newspaper felt very “in the moment,” the long-term impact of these choices became especially clear when I began my role at Mission Partners. My experiences within the classroom have been undoubtedly impactful. However, the soft skills, or non-technical attributes that I now use daily, were cultivated during the moments in-between my class schedule— the newspaper interviews, club meetings, and presentations to faculty.
Here are four soft skills that have been essential to my success in both collegiate and corporate settings:
Adaptability: Much more than a buzzword on a job posting, adaptability is a skill that can only be cultivated through experience. It’s being able to easily pivot – like when Zoom won’t cooperate and you have to find an alternative form of communication. It’s also being able to reprioritize the day’s to-do list at a moment’s notice—like when a 30-minute project sporadically doubles in time due to an unforeseen circumstance. My experiences with a “virtual campus” surely prepared me for any curveballs I may face in my career. From planning virtual voter engagement efforts to leading a campus newsroom via Zoom, expecting the unexpected became a golden rule. This ability to adapt to new settings or projects is essential for any team.
Willingness to Learn: At Mission Partners, our team values continuous learning and growth. Whereas I can work through some new challenges independently, others require me to reach out to my team for support. During my year at Mission Partners, I’ve done a lot of learning and growing on our marketing team, putting my social media skills to the test via content creation and various engagement efforts. Looking back on some of the content I drafted a few months ago, I blanch at my sometimes novice approach. At the same time, it’s a good exercise to visualize my growth. I’ve utilized this approach at my campus newspaper, too, in looking back on my earliest articles to understand my growth as a writer. Growth can feel uncomfortable, but a willingness to learn will propel you through challenges and help you reach new leadership positions. Putting freshly developed skills into action will never be perfect at the onset, but in addition to the valuable practice time, making an effort to learn shows eagerness and a drive to improve.
Presenting with Confidence and Working through Feedback: No matter how promising an idea may seem, it can still be daunting to present it for feedback. When presenting my fellowship project to the Mission Partners team last year, I found that I could lean on my previous experiences with campus faculty and staff to channel the confidence I needed to present in this new setting. Albeit nerve-wracking, it’s a very valuable practice to present ideas— no matter how daring— to trusted advisors when the opportunity arises. Presenting your work is one challenge, but I have found that engaging in a conversation about the work once it’s been shared can be harder. When you allow yourself ample failures and successes, the easier these presentations, and the conversations that follow, become.
Putting People First: At Mission Partners, empathy is one of the foundational pieces to our relationships with one another and with clients. We always open internal and client calls with time to share good news or what’s on our hearts and minds. We also practice empathy in the face of abrupt challenges: if a team member is sick, or simply overwhelmed, we find ways to support their piece of the work to keep advancing projects. We’ve likely all been shown empathy and apathy in personal and professional settings. Channeling how it feels to be both validated and invalidated can help us choose to put people first, even if that means altering the workflow or pushing back a deadline. Making the extra effort to contribute positively to your work environment is never a wasted action.
While the experiences in which I chose to participate during my time in college seemed relatively arbitrary, they have each proven deeply beneficial as I think about what comes next, as a soon-to-be college graduate. Take a moment to explore the skills you’ve cultivated during the in-betweens of your class schedule—at your job, in campus organizations, and even socially. There’s likely more to your transferrable experiences than you may think.
Kaitlin Quigley is a rising senior at Loyola University Maryland and the Communications and Research Fellow at Mission Partners, Benefit LLC.