What Skills Do STEM Majors Need?

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By Shorelight Team
Last updated on July 1, 2024

Finding a STEM job is about more than just your technical skills: It is 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 is science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are fundamental, but a truly well-rounded STEM major also possesses professional “soft skills.” 

Due to the technical nature of STEM industries, STEM companies typically require a bachelor’s degree for entry-level jobs. Earning a bachelor’s degree in the STEM field you plan to pursue equips you with the necessary basics you need to successfully perform in entry-level roles, and gives you a pathway to explore more specialized areas throughout your career.

Check out STEM-designated degree programs at Shorelight universities >

Getting Hands-On and Professional Experience

Additionally, many STEM-related bachelor’s degree programs recognize the importance of developing practical knowledge and skills, and may provide internship or training opportunities for hands-on experience at major employers. One opportunity is Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows you to work or train in the US before or after your graduation for up to 12 months. With a STEM-related degree, you can be eligible to apply for an additional 24 months of OPT, giving you a total of three years to work in the US!

Many STEM-related organizations specialize in particular fields, so STEM jobs will likely have their own unique systems and processes that require on-the-job learning to master. As such, you may not need a master’s degree to progress along on your career path. However, certain job roles may require managerial skills or highly advanced understanding of complex fields, and this is where a master’s degree, such as an MBA in business analytics, for example, can support your skill development and open up new opportunities.

Whether you are new to STEM or want to dive into more advanced fields, a STEM degree is a great way to gain key industry qualifications. It is also a great choice to work toward a lucrative career: individuals with STEM-related degrees earn some of the highest average salaries in the US!

However, while the technical skills and expertise you gain are crucial, hiring managers also look for candidates who balance technical and practical knowledge with adaptability to new situations, feedback, and ideas. This is where the soft skills you earn throughout your degree become important.

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. Here are a few 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 cannot 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 judgment 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 to “think outside of the box.” This means identifying the problem your work is meant to solve and presenting multiple solutions you will 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 does not mean backing down on your ideas — it is 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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