Matching Skill Gaps: an Opportunity for International Students

Cross-cultural skills for international students

“A skill gap is … a critical skill that is not meeting the job requirement now or in the future” defined in a survey report by University of Missouri – St. Louis (UMSL). Skill gaps cause frustration for employers, employees and job applicants. With a team hurt by skill gaps, employers face reduced productivity, lower employee morale, and higher costs; employee feels underemployed, underpaid with lost potential; job applicants feel less appreciated, discouraged, and hopeless.

A skill gap means a missing skill. What is missing then? Why Good people Can’t Get Jobs looks into the American hiring process and argues that companies now look for people with “soft skills” rather than “hard skills” since the latter are much more trainable. American Business Roundtable confirms the importance of “soft skills,” commenting “the most serious gaps are believed to be ‘soft skills,’ such as work ethic, accountability and self-motivation.” Ritu Sandurum called them as “an extra edge” for international students.

The UMSL report has a more comprehensive list, topped by communication, leadership, critical thinking and people management.

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Skill Gaps: ill-prepared workforce, University of Missouri – St. Louis, 2012

Mastering these soft skills is no easy game. It requires intentional training, practice, guidance, and mentorship. It takes tremendous effort, but it is worth it, especially for international students.

It is time to realize that your education credentials qualify you to apply for a job but doesn’t guarantee you one; your “hard skills” will put you among others, but only your “soft skills” can put you on the top.

The challenge is the soft skills are often not taught in academic programs. I have a few recommendations on how international students can improve their soft skills:

  • Make observation and take notes: I can never over-emphasize the importance of learning by observing. Cultivate the mindfulness is the first step to achieve anything difficult. Classrooms, campus jobs, internships, networking events and conferences can provide for your mindful learning.
  • Be aware of the embedded cross-cultural barriers: Soft skills have strong culture inclination. Awareness of cultural differences can help you to gain adaptable soft skills and build your intercultural competence.
  • Find online resources for self-learning: A few clicks on the internet can lead you to some great resources. Sign up for newsletters, attend virtual training and read articles. Don’t forget the last step, apply what you learn and keep at it.
  • Ask for advice and guidance: We like to ask questions such as “how did you land this amazing job”. What we should is “how did you master XXX skills that led you to have this great job?”
  • Trial and error: You will not master it at the first try, but you will get better and better as you practice more and more. It will soon become part of your natural self.



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