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Everything I Need for a Job I Learned in Kindergarten

Companies want workers who show up and act pleasant


(This article appeared originally on MarketWatch.com.)

Everybody tells you that if you want to land a job, you need to learn advanced skills. But everyone is wrong. If all you want is a job, you don’t need college.

 
Many of the skills companies say they need the most these days are skills you learned (or should have learned) in kindergarten. If all you want is a job, forget college and concentrate on honing the skills that are acquired in the School of Hard Knocks.

Good Workers are Hard to Find
 
Ask any boss and you’ll hear the same thing: Good workers are hard to find, and hard to keep because other companies want them too. About a fifth of small-business owners say they couldn’t find a qualified candidate to fill a current job opening, according to the monthly survey by the National Federation of Independent Business.
 
(MORE: 10 Skills to Thrive in Today's Job Market)

And, yet, look around: There are 10.5 million people who are officially unemployed, another 6 million who say they’d like a job but aren’t actively looking and 7.4 million people who are working part-time but want a full-time job.

 
That’s a lot of potential applicants. And none of them have the right skills?
 
To be sure, many job openings can’t be filled easily. The skills required to do the job may be scarce. Companies large and small say their biggest complaint about job applicants is a lack of specialized training in computers, math, science or finance.
 
There’s only one way to get those jobs: Get the advanced training that’s required.

Soft Skills in Short Supply
 
But many jobs don’t require an advanced degree or special skills. They require the so-called soft skills that are typically taught in kindergarten: Play well with others, cooperate, be honest, be helpful, don’t be late to class and don’t run with scissors.
 
Reading, writing and arithmetic come in handy, too.

(MORE: How to Be Fabulous in Job Interviews)

 
That’s what business leaders told researchers at the New York Fed in a recent survey. Asked about their difficulties in filling job openings, executives said candidates with advanced computer skills are the hardest to find.
 
But they found it almost as difficult to find workers who had interpersonal skills or who were punctual.
 
It turns out Woody Allen was right when he said 80 percent of success is showing up.

Applicants Do Need Basic Education
 
Basic English, math and computer skills were also difficult to find, would-be employers said.
 
So if you’re a job seeker, the path is clear: Highlight your soft skills. Show prospective bosses that you can show up on time, work with co-workers and be pleasant to customers, even the cranky ones. For some jobs, that’s all you’ll need to succeed.
 
There are millions of people out there working who don’t know any more than you do. So why shouldn’t you have a job too?
 
Relying only on soft skills isn’t likely to get you very far, however. To make a living wage, you need at least some education. The typical full-time worker who didn’t graduate from high school makes just $362 a week — about $9 an hour. High school graduates earn $477, on average, while college graduates take home $754 a week.
 
Education matters a lot, but soft skills can get you started. And if you didn’t learn them in kindergarten, find a charm school to teach you the graces. Or look for a Henry Higgins type who can transform you just by teaching you the proper way to say: “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.”
 
Above all, don’t let your lack of skills discourage you. Show up!

Rex Nutting is a columnist and MarketWatch's international commentary editor, based in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @RexNutting.

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