In high school, I believed that I needed to attend the college that would teach me the most, the one that would provide me with the material necessary for whatever career path I chose. Similarly, I used to dismiss soft skills, believing that those who believed in such strengths could only pretend to accomplish work rather than actually do so. However, my time at CMU has taught me that all competent educational institutions provide similar material instruction, but the best teach soft skills.
When I write, “teach soft skills,” I do not necessarily mean formal education, but rather an environment in which to develop them. Certainly classes like Business Presentations provide such a setting, but I have mainly established these skills through presenting in the Tartan Student Fund, attending career fairs and recruiting talks, meeting with my career advisor, and interviewing. These events excel in this regard because they require application rather than mainly theory, as often do my classes, and because soft skills cannot be directly taught but rather intuitively learned.
I first began to appreciate soft skills in my sophomore year, after witnessing upperclassmen and -women return from their summer internships more polished, confident, and professional than before. Of course, they remained friendly and could connect with me, but they carried something new inside them, something that made conversation with them more interesting and informative. Within a few weeks, which consisted of attending various recruiting events, I realized that this new feature stemmed from their soft skills, their “personal attributes that [enabled them] to interact effectively and harmoniously with [others]” (New Oxford American Dictionary), and thus that soft skills pertained not only to careers but to being a member of society.
Although I required time to internalize this notion, I eventually concluded that, while learning academic material would always benefit a given person, that same person would derive more utility from communication of their understanding and from teamwork to further it, both of which necessitate soft skills.
When interviewers ask me now, “What qualities do you believe a good leader has?” I always mention communication and teamwork, for a group of intelligent individuals that operates as a team will generally outperform a group of even more intelligent members that operate as individuals because, while they may possess distinct levels of intelligence, the former possesses soft skills.