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Study: Companies prize 'soft skills' over specific majors

Anjalee Khemlani
Senior Reporter

There may be no such thing as having the “right major,” but a majority of students still believe the one they choose will determine their career path, according to a new report — which found employers increasingly value softer skills that are critical to professional success.

Handshake, a career site for college students, recently found that an overwhelming 80% of student respondents hold this belief. Yet what they study may not be what companies are looking for, a Handshake official explained to Yahoo Finance.

“...Only 50% of employers even bother to list majors on their job postings, so there’s still a disconnect between what students think they need to have in order to be successful, and what employers are actually looking for,” Christine Cruzvergara, Handshake’s vice president of higher education, told YFi AM recently.

Cruzvergara said that companies are more focused on skills like critical thinking, writing and communicating, rather than specific majors.

“Most employers are still looking for the skills such as strong communication, the ability to think critically, your ability to synthesize information, your ability to work on a team,” she said.

“And these are skills that we know many of our liberal arts and humanities students walk away with in spades, but that’s not the social narrative that most of our communities and families actually know or believe,” Cruzvergara added.

New graduates participate in an undergraduate commencement ceremony for Ramapo College in Newark, N.J., Thursday, May 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The status-quo usually puts pressure on students to accept the first job offer they get — especially as the financial pressures of post-college life become more acute. In fact, soaring student debt is prompting some students to weigh college alternatives, which may include 2-year colleges or skilled trades.

The latter has become increasingly popular, especially as jobs grow more technical and technology-dependent, are the most important. But in the last 10 years, that has changed, Cruzvergara stated.

“Employers are really starting to recognize how important skills can be, and how a major doesn’t necessarily dictate that, so there has been a bit of a shift in the past 10 years, and I would predict there’s going to be more of a shift as we go into the next five to 10 years,” she told Yahoo Finance.

Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem

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