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Career, Student Life

3 Soft Skills You’re Already Developing (Hopefully) as a Student


What are some of the non-technical skills you developed at UVA? – Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

To help frame my response, I will define “non-technical” skills as those that bring you to the next level in your job, beyond those of the essential skills needed to perform at the most basic level. For me, as an investor relations practitioner, technical skills would be the ability to: 1) write in a business and journalistic style, 2) read and analyze financial statements, and 3) understand the structures and processes of the global financial markets. In addition, I need to be able to use Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, and Word at an advanced level.

Non-technical skills, frequently referred to as “soft” or “transferable” skills, require continued development and practice and are honed by experience and age – just like technical skills. A big difference between soft and technical skills is that unless you are studying for a specific profession, such as law, medicine, or engineering, many students at the college level have not yet started developing the technical skills needed for their future career (let’s be honest, how many of us know exactly what they want to do when they graduate? Or in the first five years after graduation? Or ten?) The good news is, as your question suggests, you may have already started developing the soft skills. Here are my top three from my time at UVA:

Time management and prioritization. As a student, you are likely juggling a challenging course load, extracurricular activities, and even a job, not to mention a plethora of social activities. To be successful at school, work, and play, you need to be able to manage your time effectively and prioritize to make sure that assignments are completed on time, that you man the OYFA booth at the annual activities fair, that you complete your job or shift to your manager’s satisfaction, that you show up to and participate in class, and that you make it to the concert that’s been planned for months. In your job and career, you will have to manage your time effectively so that you can do your job within the required time frames and balance your life between family, friends, and you.

Organization. This one I often relate to time management because being organized means you save valuable time and effort. For example, you would probably prefer to spend two hours adding pages to your term paper rather than looking for it on your computer. Your group project will go a lot more smoothly if everyone has access to the files they need in the shared folder on Google Drive. Nor would you want to forget to order food for the upcoming CSA meeting, just because you mixed up the dates on your calendar. You need to be able similarly organized in the workplace, where the stakes are higher. For example, your company may have a clean desk policy in order to preserve confidentiality, lower risk, or to comply with certain laws or regulations. There may be files, physical or digital, that must be stored in a central location so that everyone, or just the authorized individuals, can access them. You may have to retrieve an email from six months ago. Or you may be organizing a meeting, employee event, or corporate function, and you need to be able to keep track of all the dates, vendors, deliverables, and people required for the event to be successful.

Teamwork. By graduation, you have likely completed your 100th group project or organized your 50th PAFN ice cream social and are probably pasting on a fake smile in interviews when you say you love them. But the reality is that teamwork is everything in your career, regardless of industry or role. As an individual contributor, you are likely working on just a piece of the work needed to complete a particular project or assignment. As a manager, you are both managing teams as well as working as part of one. The scale of work in the real world is so large that it is impossible for just one person to do it all, nor is it entirely wise from a risk management standpoint for just one person to be making a particular decision. The good news is that in the workplace, each person’s contribution – or lack thereof – is much more obvious, and the rewards or consequences of excellent or non-participation are real and serious.