Making an Impression: Ten skills you need to land a STEM job.

By Matt Sauri September 20, 2013


This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Seattle magazine.

While Washington state is number one in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) job opportunities, our students arent always making the grade to fill these positions. Its more important than ever that Washington students get a strong foundation in STEM education as well as other critical skills that will help them land these jobs.

Here are 10 skills students need to work on now to ensure their future success in STEM-related jobs.

1. Critical thinking. Tech leaders face problems every day and the course they choose to take in solving them can have far-reaching implications. We look for candidates who have honed their critical thinking skills to make the best possible decisions. Early on in their education, students must learn to define and approach problems and situations from many different viewpoints and analyze every possible solution, as well as anticipate the consequences and outcomes of each option before taking action.

2. Analytical skills. Its important for students to develop skills to analyze data sets and to understand how they relate to other data, systems and processes. The ability to synthesize and interpret complex information from multiple sources is a huge indicator of success in our business.

3. Problem solving. Efficiency and value are paramount for our clients, who want solutions that use the smallest amount of effort to the greatest effect and are able to solve multiple issues at the same time. In the interview process, we ask candidates how they would go about solving a hypothetical problem. This exercise tells us whether they tend to layer on complexity or distill a problem down to its essence. An ideal job candidate demonstrates the ability to devise the simplest yet most effective solution.

4. Innovation. In an interview, we look for a candidates willingness to take risks and offer creative, even quirky ideas. Ultimately, a fresh perspective and a spirit of inventiveness will outshine those that follow the same old path.

5. Collaboration. No employee is an island, so its critical that job seekers develop skills they need to be team members who can work with others toward a shared goal. Recent college graduates may not have extensive work experience to demonstrate this ability, but they can share a story about a time when they were part of a high-performing team or group at school or elsewhere. In an interview, talk about how you contributed directly to your teams success, how you learned from challenges of working with others and how your working style has evolved as a result. This information helps recruiters understand how well you will relate to and collaborate with others in the workplace.

6. Communication. You may be a rock star in your technical field, but youll be at a major disadvantageas job seeker and employeeif you arent able to communicate your ideas. Students should learn to convey complex ideas to people of varied backgrounds and job titles, including those who have less or more technical expertise than they do.

7. Customer orientation. The most successful businesses make the customers needs priority number one. Our employees are invested in creating a meaningful experience for each customer while designing solutions that help them achieve their goals today and 10 years from now. They use the same skills we encourage STEM graduates to focus on: active listening to understand the clients needs, and going above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to customer service.

8. Adaptability. Its almost impossible to stay up to the minute with all of the skills and systems youll need to be effective as you move from college to career, or when you land a job at a new company. What you can do is show how you have gained knowledge and new abilities quickly in past positions, and offer evidence of continual career development, such as recent education, certifications, promotions and training courses.

9. Social responsibility. We look for candidates who share our values and who can demonstrate consistency with those values in their decisions, their actions and the way they work with others.

10. Balance. Employees who have a passion outside of the workplace are more productive and more satisfied with their work, as well as more physically healthy. We love it when job applicants use these types of activities to demonstrate qualities were looking for, such as teamwork, leadership or perseverance.

Finally, Salvador Dali said, Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings. All the knowledge and technical training in the world will get you nowhere unless you have optimism and ambition driving you every day. These powerful forces are contagious in the workplace.

MATT SAURI is CEO of Wimmer Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting, staffing and managed services firm.

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