How We Can Boost Employment Outcomes by Communicating “Soft Skills” in Next-Gen TranscriptsLindsay Kelly | Graduate User Experience Researcher and Service Designer at the Center for 21st Century Universities, Georgia Institute of Technology
This is the first installment of a two-part series from Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities on the topic of next generation transcripts, blockchain and changing needs in academic credentialing.
Consider the last time you formed a team—perhaps for work, a school project or a sport—and ask yourself what made you excited about bringing someone onto your team?
Was it their past success record? Or was it more intangible factors like their work ethic, their ability to collaborate well with others on a team, or their flexibility and adaptability that made the difference?
Consciously or not, it’s likely you chose a specific team member due to a combination of the tangible and intangible skills they possess—skills you felt would make them both a great individual contributor and a team player. Industry demand for the (often) elusive combination of both soft skills and hard skills is also backed up by trends amongst company leadership. According to a recent LinkedIn skills report, both soft and hard skills are in high demand and 57% of leaders now say soft skills are even more important than hard skills. While there has been some recent debate about the terminology of “hard” and “soft” skills, what’s clear is that there’s a need for both—whatever you may call them.
At Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U), we recently hosted a service design workshop to better understand the experiences of a variety of groups that touch the career skills and academic credentialing space, including: students, registrar, faculty, admissions and company recruiters.
Student participants were asked to share their experiences in response to two questions:
- “How would you go about requesting your academic transcript and providing it to a recruiter?”
- “How would you go about obtaining a faculty letter of recommendation?”
The registrar group was asked to answer two questions:
- “How do you award students credit for passing a course?”
- “How would you go about sending a student’s academic transcript to an internship employer?”
Faculty were asked:
- “How would you go about writing a student a letter of recommendation?”
Admissions representatives were asked:
- “How would you go about evaluating the application of a Georgia Tech undergraduate to a master’s program?”
Finally, employers were asked:
- “How would you screen candidates for an internship position at your company?”
The service design workshop activities revealed a critical gap between college applicants, students and recent graduates—and the colleges and employers to which they are applying for internships and full-time jobs. This gap surrounds students’ ability to clearly communicate a person’s entire range of experience, including not only their hard skills, but also their soft skills. This communication gap matters because it can result in ideal candidates being rejected while sub-par candidates are hired (or admitted into undergraduate or graduate programs).
College admissions officers and recruiters shared strikingly similar experiences regarding the difficulty in identifying quality candidates using the traditional application materials, which often omit soft skills.
“One pain point for us is how to capture things like leadership activities,” one college admissions officer said. “We have a long-standing issue of students not knowing how to report certain types of information and leaving things out.”
“Does this person have a good work ethic? Are they a team player?” asked a recruiter. “For me the hard part is understanding some of the soft skills and whether they’re a cultural fit for the environment.”
Students, on the other hand, struggle to understand what they should be communicating to college admissions officers and recruiters, and how they should be communicating these skills and characteristics.
Some of the outlets students have at their disposal to reflect their soft skills are letters of recommendation, personal statements, cover letters and LinkedIn endorsements. However, students often lack clear guidance on what information is most valuable. On the topic of faculty letters of recommendation, one student in our workshop said, “I would want to know that I’m providing the teacher with the right information to write the letter of recommendation. Maybe I would ask a friend first what they think I should provide.”
It’s also worth noting that since cover letters are typically optional for internship and full-time job applications, many students opt out of submitting them at all.
Faculty are often caught in the crossfire between students and recruiters, as they are asked to shed light on students’ more holistic achievements, contributions to the class, and leadership potential (often long after students have been in their class). Faculty mentioned that the process of writing letters of recommendation can be extremely taxing and stressful. One faculty member said, “The student could have been from 10 years ago. Digging through information for anything 10 years ago is really hard! Everything we used to do for classes was through… [one site] but now we’ve migrated content. So, then you have to go through the Registrar or administrative staff. All of that becomes a pain.”
C21U has been working on a series of new products and services that are part of its “Creating the Next in Education” initiative. Several of these products and services fall within the credentialing space, such as the Blockchain Credential Project, which aims to develop secure, blockchain-powered academic credentials, via Blockcerts.
C21U plans to incorporate the service design workshop findings to broaden the definition of Blockcerts to include not only grades and other traditional transcript information, but also students’ soft skills. This will allow faculty to provide input on students’ soft skills in real-time, while the student is still fresh in their mind (information they can reference later when writing recommendation letters). It will allow students to own a record of their hard and soft skills, as well as their achievements. Finally, it will allow recruiters and admissions officers more holistic, credible, independent insight from universities into candidates’ qualifications.
Imagine the next time your team is looking to hire an intern or recent college grad. You are comparing Candidate X and Candidate Y, both of whom have the same major, similar grades and no previous work experience. However, looking at the additional soft skills, now visible in both candidates’ next generation Blockcerts transcripts, you see that Candidate X has also showcased leadership skills, leading numerous group projects in class. Additionally, you see that Candidate X has gone out of her way to participate in social good hackathons that show her growth mindset, motivation and community values. You’re impressed with these additional soft skills credentials and confidently pick up the phone to schedule an interview with Candidate X.
Incorporating soft skills into a broader digital credential framework will help ensure students, employers and institutions alike can begin to speak in the same language.