When my wife left her last job, there was still a sign hanging on the staff computer with instructions on how to turn the computer on and off and save files on the hard drive or disk. Although she saw her computer skills as average, my wife was a technological goddess on the job because she could organize files on the hard drive, operate the internal email system and type her reports on the computer instead of writing them out.
I don't mention this to brag about my wife, but rather to stress that the average computer skills you've gained as a college student aren't necessarily as average as you think. In fact, the computer skills you probably take for granted are marketable, and you simply must include on your resume and highlight them in job interviews.
What skills am I talking about? Consider these three broad categories and be sure you point out any skills you have in these areas to prospective employers, both on paper and in person:
Think everyone is using email these days? Think again. There are still millions of people who are uncomfortable with it, if they're using it at all. If you use email regularly, make sure employers know that. You might even want to note the particular program you use, whether Microsoft Outlook or Eudora.
Perhaps even more important is noting your Web surfing skills for the purpose of research. If you're good at using Internet search engines like Google, Yahoo! or Alta Vista to find pertinent information, you'll be well ahead of most people in the workplace. If a prospective employer can count on you to keep up with a competitor's comings and goings through the Web, you'll have an edge over other candidates because knowledge equals power in any organization.
Did you design and maintain a Web site for a student organization while you were in school? Then you must know at least basic HTML, and perhaps even a Web development software program like Dreamweaver or Microsoft FrontPage. Again, be sure to highlight these skills. You may not think so, but they're comparatively rare in the world of work.
Everyday Computer Skills
By now you've probably typed up dozens of papers using word-processing software like Microsoft Word or Corel WordPerfect. You've learned how to format text, create headers and footers, make tables illustrating key information and perform a host of other tricks to make your written presentations professional.
Maybe you've used a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel or Lotus 1-2-3 in a basic accounting class or during an internship. Perhaps you've had the opportunity to work with a database like Microsoft Access or Filemaker Pro to develop and maintain an up-to-date mailing list during your summer job. Whatever your particular experiences with everyday computer programs are, don't forget to treat the skills you've gained as valuable assets.
Knowledge of Computer Platforms
Can you jump back and forth easily between IBM-PC compatibles and Macintosh computers? Do you know how to move files around in the very old Windows 3.1, as well as Windows 95, 98, and now 2000, ME and Vista? Can you take an old WordPerfect file that was created in the MS-DOS version of that program and figure out a way to open it on a newer Macintosh computer using Microsoft Word?
If you have troubleshooting skills like these and can use them on both PCs and Macs, you'll have yet another advantage over many job candidates and even more people who are already in the workforce.
Your basic computer skills may not mean much to you at first glance. If you're like many college students, you haven't given them serious consideration. But don't take your computer skills for granted. Learn to acknowledge and present them to prospective employers, and you'll give yourself a significant edge in a world of work that is still trying to keep up with the technology curve.