There are many skills employers are willing and able to teach you if you don't already have them; e.g., proficiency with a particular software program or familiarity with a specific manufacturing or design process.
But there's one critical skill that employers are unwilling and, more importantly, unable to teach you: Self-motivation.
Ask employers what matters most in a new employee and many of them will answer, "How badly the person wants the job and how committed that person is to the job."
"Anyone can say 'I'm motivated,'" says one employer. "Fewer can show it through their actions."
Fortunately, it isn't all that difficult to prove that you are self-motivated. In fact, it can be surprisingly easy to do through actions that may, on the surface, seem like nothing special. But if you stop to think about these actions, you'll realize that they all send an unmistakable message: "I'm self-motivated, and I can demonstrate it." You'll also see that so few college students take these actions that, when you do, you automatically stand out from the crowd.
What actions are we talking about? Here are a few examples:
Joining a Professional Organization
When you join a professional organization in your field and attend its meetings, either as a student or recent graduate, it's obvious to other members that you're serious about your career. Professionals in the organization will notice you. At first, perhaps, simply because you're one of the few students in attendance! Before long, however, you'll likely be approached by some of these men and women who may offer you some helpful career advice or even a job lead.
Conducting Informational Interviews with Employers
If you contact a prospective employer and ask to meet with him to learn about career possibilities in your field, you make a distinct statement that you find your career interesting and that you're willing to go after it instead of letting it come to you. If you were an employer, who would you see as more self-motivated: Someone who responded with a generic resume and cover letter to a job ad or someone who contacted you, not knowing whether there was a job opening or not, to inquire about the possibilities?
Tailoring Your Resumes and Cover Letters to Each Company's Specific Needs
I once sat on a campus search committee responsible for hiring a new career services director for the university. Needless to say, my expectations were high for the applicants. I figured that, as professional career counselors, they would submit stellar letters and resumes tailored to the needs of our institution and our career services office. Imagine my shock when most of the applicants did no such thing and my resulting positive impression of the remarkably few candidates that did!
When employers can easily tell that you're one of the few applicants who has spent time and effort tailoring your resume and cover letter to their specific needs, you stand out. Once again you've offered tangible evidence of your self-motivation.
Doing Something Out of the Ordinary
Many college students have landed an internship or even a full-time job by, for example, volunteering to work for a company for free, either for a specified time period or on a specific project. Some students have even developed their own projects to volunteer for, as in the case of a student who offered to develop a Web site for a local nonprofit organization. In this case and others like it, the self-motivation involved is crystal clear, because without it, the project or work experience would never have existed.
Creating Something to Show Employers
When I finished my undergraduate degree in journalism in 1990, I had accumulated a healthy stack of article clippings that I could show to prospective employers. The problem was, they all dealt with sports issues, and I was trying to land a publishing job in the non-sports world.
So after a number of rejection letters, I decided to create my own newsletter, focusing on me! I wrote the content and laid the newsletter out in a desktop publishing program. Soon after, I got a job as a writer/editor for a higher education publishing company. The folks who hired me there still remembered my newsletter years later and how it had illustrated not only my creativity, but my desire for the job as well.
Take the initiative to do something similar by, perhaps, developing your own newsletter or, even better, creating an academic/work portfolio or even your own Web site. Any of these options can fully describe your skills, experiences, accomplishments and goals.
These actions and others like them certainly take time and effort on your part. Fortunately, most employers appreciate that, and it won't take them long to digest what you've known all along: "I've committed time and energy to you, I really want to work for you, and I've just proven it!"