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What Skills Do STEM Majors Need?

Finding a STEM job is about more than just your technical skills: it’s about balancing practical knowledge with an emotional IQ.

Are you beginning your search for a job or internship in tech or engineering? The technical skills you learn in the classroom for STEM fields (that’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are fundamental, but a truly well-rounded STEM major also possesses professional “soft skills.” 

Soft skills are interpersonal skills and personality traits that go beyond technical and analytical skills. Of course, having a solid STEM education and being a star student is a must, but in order to differentiate yourself for a STEM job, you must also show a certain emotional IQ. 

Hiring managers look for candidates who balance technical and practical knowledge and skills with adaptability to new situations, feedback, and ideas. Here are a few personality and soft skills that STEM majors should develop during college and highlight in a cover letter and interview. 

Collaboration + Communication

Team players have one thing in common: the desire and ability to make decisions with a greater goal in mind. This means setting aside your ego to find the best way forward. Even if you are at the beginning of your career path and have little experience, consider your participation in a team or campus group, and how you contributed to its success, as well as how you learned to work with others during this experience. This shows you can collaborate effectively with co-workers.

Listening + Reflecting

The best way to analyze information, evaluate your own work, and come up with new ideas is to think beyond yourself. Take time to really absorb the information that colleagues and managers share, and make sure to reflect these ideas. When communicating in the workplace, being attentive to what is being said is key to reaching goals and creating relationships.

Perspective + Problem Solving

Without a sense of how your work in a STEM job will translate in the real world, you can’t put your soft skills to real use. Being able to apply ideas to a range of situations and effectively analyze results shows a big-picture approach to your vocation. In a technical interview, be prepared to explain how you would solve a hypothetical problem. Learn to be concise in your answer to show your clarity of judgement and tendency toward simple, effective solutions.

Creativity + Critical Thinking

To solve big problems in STEM-related fields such as engineering, software development, research, computer science, or biotech, you must be able “think outside of the box.” This means identifying the problem your work is meant to solve and presenting multiple solutions you’ll prototype and test until the right solution is reached. Being willing to take a different perspective can make all the difference in making the best decisions. Show your ability to take risks: Employers seek new hires’ fresh perspectives and potential big ideas. 

Attitude + Gratitude

Finding the right balance of realism and optimism, humility and ambition, and strength of mind with flexibility is key to being a strong member of any team. This doesn’t mean backing down on your ideas—it’s about finding the balance between your strengths and other team members’ ideas, too. Understanding—and appreciating—differences, along with finding a balance between being right and being open, is key to creating the right kind of workplace relationships.

Along with a great education and technical skillset, create a mindset that shows thoughtfulness and perspective to make yourself the ideal candidate for a STEM career.

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