7.3 Skill Development

Laura Haygood and RaeAnna Jeffers

Learning Objectives

At the end of this section, the learner will be able to:

  • Describe the different sets of skills that employers look for in an employee.
  • Build a networking strategy.

Hard and soft skills

If you lived and worked in colonial times in the United States, what skills would you need to be gainfully employed? What kind of person would your employer want you to be? And how different would your skills and aptitudes be then, compared to today?

Many industries that developed during the 1600s–1700s, such as health care, publishing, manufacturing, construction, finance, and farming, are still with us today. And the professional abilities, aptitudes, and values required in those industries are many of the same ones employers seek today.

For example, in the health care field then, just like today, employers looked for professionals with scientific acumen, active listening skills, a service orientation, oral comprehension abilities, and teamwork skills. And in the financial field then, just like today, employers looked for economics and accounting skills, mathematical reasoning skills, clerical and administrative skills, and deductive reasoning.

Why is it that with the passage of time and all the changes in the work world, some skills remain unchanged (or little changed)?

The answer might lie in the fact that there are two main types of skills that employers look for: hard skills and soft skills.

  • Hard skills are concrete or objective abilities that you learn and perhaps have mastered. They are skills you can easily quantify, like using a computer, speaking a foreign language, or operating a machine. You might earn a certificate, a college degree, or other credentials that attest to your hard-skill competencies. Obviously, because of changes in technology, the hard skills required by industries today are vastly different from those required centuries ago.
  • Soft skills, on the other hand, are subjective skills that have changed very little over time. Such skills might pertain to the way you relate to people, or the way you think, or the ways in which you behave—for example, listening attentively, working well in groups, and speaking clearly. Soft skills are sometimes also called “transferable skills” because you can easily transfer them from job to job or profession to profession without much training. Indeed, if you had a time machine, you could probably transfer your soft skills from one time period to another!

What Employers Want in an Employee

Employers want individuals who have the necessary hard and soft skills to do the job well and adapt to changes in the workplace. Soft skills may be especially in demand today because employers are generally equipped to train new employees in a hard skill—by training them to use new computer software, for instance—but it’s much more difficult to teach an employee a soft skill such as developing rapport with patients and coworkers or knowing how to manage conflict. An employer might rather hire an inexperienced worker who can pay close attention to details than an experienced worker who might cause problems on a work team.

Transferable Skills for Any Career Path

Transferable (soft) skills may be used in multiple professions. They include, but are by no means limited to, skills listed below:

  • Dependable and punctual (showing up on time, ready to work, not being a liability)
  • Self-motivated
  • Enthusiastic
  • Committed
  • Willing to learn (lifelong learner)
  • Able to accept constructive criticism
  • A good problem solver
  • Strong in customer service skills
  • Adaptable (willing to change and take on new challenges)
  • A team player
  • Positive attitude
  • Strong communication skills
  • Good in essential work skills (following instructions, possessing critical thinking skills, knowing limits)
  • Ethical
  • Safety-conscious
  • Honest
  • Strong in time management

These skills are transferable because they are positive attributes that are invaluable in practically any kind of work. They also do not require much training from an employer—you have them already and take them with you wherever you go. Soft skills are a big part of your “total me” package. Work on communicating your skills when speaking with employers, giving examples of how you have used soft skills in the past.

So, identify the soft skills that show you off the best, and identify the ones that prospective employers are looking for. By comparing both sets, you can more directly gear your job search to your strongest professional qualities.


In the context of career development, networking is the process by which people build relationships with one another for the purpose of helping one another achieve professional goals.

When you “network,” you exchange information.

  • You may share business cards, résumés, cover letters, job-seeking strategies, leads about open jobs, information about companies and organizations, and information about a specific field.
  • You might also share information about meet-up groups, conferences, special events, technology tools, and social media.
  • You might also solicit job “headhunters,” career counselors, career centers, career coaches, an alumni association, family members, friends, acquaintances, and vendors.

Networking can occur anywhere and at any time. In fact, your network expands with each new relationship you establish. And the networking strategies you can employ are nearly limitless. With imagination and ingenuity, your networking can be highly successful.

A series of stick figures connected by dotted lines.
Figure 7.3.1 Networking Diagram

Strategies for Networking

We live in a social world. Almost everywhere you go and anything you do professionally involves connecting with people. It stands to reason that finding a new job and advancing your career entails building relationships with these people. Truly, the most effective way to find a new job is to network, network, and network some more.

Once you acknowledge the value of networking, the challenge is figuring out how to do it. What is your first step? Whom do you contact? What do you say? How long will it take? Where do you concentrate your efforts? How do you know if your investments will pay off?

For every question you may ask, a range of strategies can be used. Begin exploring your possibilities by viewing the following energizing video, Networking Tips for College Students and Young People, by Hank Blank. He recommends the following modern and no-nonsense strategies:

  1. Hope is not a plan. You need a plan of action to achieve your networking goals.
  2. Keenly focus your activities on getting a job. Use all tools available to you.
  3. You need business cards. No ifs, ands, or buts.
  4. Attend networking events. Most of them offer student rates.
  5. Master Linkedin because that is what human resource departments use. Post updates.
  6. Think of your parents’ friends as databases. Leverage their knowledge and their willingness to help you.
  7. Create the world you want to live in in the future by creating it today through your networking activity. These are the times to live in a world of “this is how I can help.”

Strategies at College

NOTES FOR NURSING SUCCESS! Each of these areas includes tips specific for nursing students… just for you!


  • Get to know your professors: Communicating with instructors is a valuable way to learn about a career and also get letters of reference if and when needed for a job. Professors can also give you leads on job openings, internships, and research possibilities. Most instructors will readily share information and insights with you. Get to know your instructors. They are a valuable part of your network.
    • Nursing students: This is especially important for nursing students. Instructors are keen observers of their students. They are looking for those who exhibit a passion for the profession and are actively engaged in their learning. Establishing a good working relationship with your instructors is key. You are more likely to get help from those with whom you have built connections than those you have not. Treat every day in college like an ongoing job interview. It is good practice!
  • Check with your college’s alumni office: You may find that some alumni are affiliated with your field of interest and can give you the “inside scoop.”
  • Check with classmates: Classmates may or may not share your major, but many of them may have leads that could help you. You could be just one conversation away from a good lead.
    • Nursing students: Many of your classmates already work in the health care industry in a variety of roles and settings. These classmates can alert you to job openings even before they are posted publicly. Be a good colleague. Do not pester your classmates for this information. Rather, be helpful to them and build working relationships through collaborations, teamwork, communication, empathy, etc. Show them your value. Your attitude and approach will influence your classmates to either help you or avoid you. Ask yourself, “Would I want to work with me?” followed by, “How may I serve?”.

Strategies at Work

*For more nursing organizations and links to the journal publications for each are located in the Appendix. Click the permalink to access the journal through UTA Libraries. It is good practice to read the literature coming out of these organizations to stay abreast of new developments in your area of practice.*

  • Volunteer: Volunteering is an excellent way to meet new people who can help you develop your career, even if the organization you are volunteering with is not in your field. Just by working alongside others and working toward common goals, you build relationships that may later serve you in unforeseen and helpful ways. Research to find a placement that interests you. Understand your responsibilities and be aware of the time commitment you agree to.
    • If you are seeking a local position, The Leadership Center at the University of Texas at Arlington maintains a database of ongoing and short-term volunteer opportunities for students. A cross-section of organizations — including schools, ministries, nonprofit organizations, and nursing facilities — are represented. VolunteerMatch.org lets you search for opportunities by location and area of interest, such as Health & Medicine, Seniors, or Crisis Support. Databases like GoAbroad.com and WorkingAbroad.com let you search for international opportunities.
    • Nursing students: Potential options include the American Red Cross, local hospitals, long-term care facilities, hospice/palliative care (Check out The National Hospice Foundation’s search tool to find a hospice near you).
  • Get an internship: Many organizations offer internship positions to college students. Some of these positions are paid, but often they are not. Paid or not, you gain experience relevant to your career, and you potentially make many new contacts. Check CollegeRecruiter.com and internships.com for key resources.
    • Nursing students: Many hospitals are now offering residency programs to new graduate nurses. Research these early in your college career so that you may prepare to meet the criteria outlined in the posting or announcement. These can be highly competitive depending on the location of the facility and the number of applicants per rotation. These can last from 3 months to 1 year. Benefits include exposure to multiple areas of practice, comprehensive training, and mentorship throughout the program. When the residency is completed, nurses will then be provided with options for placements. This process has proven to increase confidence in the new nurse graduates and reduce the experience of burnout.
  • Get a part-time job: Working full-time may be your ultimate goal, but you may want to fill in some cracks or crevices by working in a part-time job. Invariably you will meet people who can feasibly help with your networking goals. And you can gain good experience along the way, which can also be noted on your résumé. Check your college career center website. Many have online job boards for full and part-time employment.
  • Join a job club: Your career interests may be shared by many others who have organized a club, which can be online or in person. If you don’t find an existing club, consider starting one.
  • Attend networking events: There are innumerable professional networking events taking place around the world and also online. Find them listed in magazines, community calendars, newspapers, journals, and at the websites of companies, organizations, and associations.
    • Nursing students: The appendix has centralized many of the relevant nursing organizations for your convenience.
  • Conduct informational interviews: You may initiate contact with people in your chosen field who can tell you about their experiences of entering the field and thriving in it. Many websites have guidance on how to plan and conduct these interviews.

Strategies at Home and Beyond

  • Participate in online social media: An explosion of career opportunities awaits you with social media, including LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and many more. You will find an extensive list of suggested sites at CareerOneStop. Keep your communication ultra-professional at these sites. Peruse magazine articles, and if you find one that’s relevant to your field and it contains names of professionals, you can reach out to them to learn more and get job leads. Realize that social media is public and posting pictures of yourself at parties or commenting in an unbecoming way could cost you an opportunity.
  • Ask family members and friends, coworkers, and acquaintances for referrals: Do they know others who might help you? You can start with the question “Who else should I be talking to?”

activity 7.3: networking


Identify 1-3 professional organizations in your career field that you want to join.

    • Do the organizations publish any professional journals?
    • What journals do they publish?

Identify 1-3 people in your network that may be able to help you connect with a job opportunity.

    • Craft a professional email to solicit their support.



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7.3 Skill Development by Laura Haygood and RaeAnna Jeffers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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