Five Essential Skills for Your Future Career

At the beginning of every academic year, many of my students speak with fear about articles they’ve read listing professions which are disappearing or becoming obsolete in the near future. They ask a simple question: How can they best prepare for their future career in such a rapidly changing and unpredictable world? Well, here are five things I’d recommend to all students interested in future-proofing their career.

Study hard but don’t forget to focus on soft skills

A short survey conducted among students at the Ban Ki-moon Institute for Sustainable Development at KazNU found that 74 percent of respondents believe that “soft skills” are very important for success in professional life after graduation, while 26 percent believe that “hard knowledge” is more essential.

These survey results reflect the realities of today and the need to find a balance between learning hard and soft skills. We should bear in mind, though, that this issue is complex. I believe that “hard knowledge” in a specific professional field is still highly valued in the world outside universities (and you get your grades for that too). Yet, you have to acquire soft skills as well. I usually suggest devoting at least 25 percent of your time to learning various soft skills.

Some skills are transferable across many fields

Every field and every profession has its own set of very specific and narrowly defined essential skills. At the same time, some skills are universal and applicable in many fields. One such skill is project management. Indeed you will find almost every job description calls for project management skills or project management experience, as more and more companies and organizations build their work and activities around specific projects.

An unofficial motto of project managers is wisely expressed by American entrepreneur Denis Waitley: "Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised." The quote may make you smile, but it also conveys how solid project management skills will stand you in good stead, in practically any profession.

Don’t forget about strong communication skills

In the rapidly globalizing world, strong communication skills have become increasingly important for staying competitive in the job market today and tomorrow. Although almost everyone can claim to have communication skills in one form or another, modern effective communication has its own rules, techniques and scientific principles which can significantly boost success in communication.

Indeed, you can have the brightest and most innovative idea, but if you fail to communicate it to your friends and colleagues, the idea will be lost: in fact, the first 50 prototypes of the iPhone failed and kept failing until the innovative team learned to communicate between each other better.

Many comprehensive courses – both in-class and online – and complex communications matrixes and systems can boost effective communication skills. American billionaire Warren Buffett highlighted “learning communication skills such as public speaking” among top skills for success not only in the world of business but also in every other field.

Advanced digital skills have become key

Advanced digital skills have become increasingly important as we use and rely on our new technologies – social media, various gadgets and artificial intelligence. The recent trend has seen many of the largest and most venerated corporations and even government agencies adopting information communication technologies (ICTs) as their main mechanism.

In this environment, having basic computer knowledge is not enough. Employers demand recent graduates be capable of everything from using the internet efficiently to producing virtuoso work on Microsoft Office, and from software coding to advance internet business skills.

Emotional intelligence can’t be easily replaced by technology

Paradoxically many corporate leaders increasingly talk about and highly value emotional intelligence, despite the fact we use more machines than ever before and now communicate more online than in person.

In a nutshell, emotional intelligence is your ability to deal effectively with emotions, create appropriate emotional relations with each other, communicate competently with workplace teams, and intelligently and appropriately use emotional information to create a positive workplace environment.

By developing and training these skills and abilities, you can be more successful in your personal interactions, from attending job interviews to creating a positive emotional environment for a team you’re leading.

Written by Rafis Abazov for Quacquarelli Symonds.

Dr Rafis Abazov is a visiting professor at Al Farabi Kazakh National University, Almaty, Kazakhstan, where he also manages a joint program with Earth Institute of Columbia University (New York, USA). He has written 10 books, including The Culture and Customs of the Central Asian Republics (2007) and has regularly contributed op-eds to The New York Times. Mr Abazov enjoys collecting rare books on British exploration of Central Asia and reading travelogues on Central Asia and the Middle East by Eugene Schuyler, Vladimir Bartold and Lord George Curzon. He has also authored photo exhibitions about his trips to Central Asian republics, Turkey and Afghanistan. 

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