THE BLOG

14 'Soft' Skills to Master in Your 20s

03/18/2015 06:55 am ET | Updated May 18, 2015

What if, someday soon, you no longer need a four-year college degree to "compete" in the job market?

It seems hard to believe, given how much weight we place on the all-important question of "Where did you go to school?"

But as online courses become more legitimate and trustworthy, employers might not care where we gain the skills -- only that we have them.

Check out the story in the New York Times on the Open Badges project from the Mozilla Foundation (the Firefox people). "Badges" are defined as:

"electronic credentials that any organization, collegiate or otherwise, can issue. Badges indicate specific skills and knowledge, backed by links to electronic evidence of how and why, exactly, the badge was earned."

Traditional college degrees still play a huge role in our society, but student loan debt is just the worst. What if, someday soon, the big question isn't where you went to school but "Where did you get your badges?"

Until then, here are 14 "badges" we should claim right now in our 20s. They're "soft" skills, the intangible qualities you won't find in a textbook.

14 "Soft" Skills to Master in Your 20s

1. Be aware of your surroundings

Keep your eyes open and brain alert.

Like at a happy hour when you're in a one-on-one conversation. And there's a third person who stands nearby, listens in and looks for a way to join the discussion. Be the one who welcomes in that third person. That's a "soft" skill few possess.

2. Arrive 10-15 minutes early to meetings

Why? Three reasons.

- Prepare for a snag like if you're stuck in traffic on the way

- Give yourself extra time to find the meeting location

- Allow a few moments to gather yourself and prep for the meeting

3. Connect two people just because

Great networkers bring other people together -- even if the connection won't directly help themselves. Selflessness makes the world go 'round. Email template here.

4. Don't talk about yourself for an entire evening

Go ahead. Try it. Focus on everyone else, what they do and what they're all about. Never turn the conversation back on yourself. You'll be the most interesting person in the room -- and you only asked questions (like these six).

5. Make other people feel important

The next time you prep for a job interview, memorize a few nuggets about the employer's career (ex: website bio). And then say something like "I see you spent 15 years as a project manager at Honda. What was it like to work there?"

"Soft" skill FTW.

6. Take the heat

If you reach your 30th birthday and can't handle criticism, it's gonna be a long road ahead.

7. Match the other person

If someone writes an email full of exclamation marks, use ! too and bring the energy (more info on ! here). If a person has a low-key style around the office, be restrained and tone down the energy.

If you match the other person, you're always right.

8. "So what can I do to help your project?"

The question that opens doors and builds relationships. Ask it. Often.

9. Tell stories

If you want someone's attention, be entertaining.

10. Do what you say you'll do

Or better yet, don't say you'll do anything. Just do it, and it's done.

11. Value your network

If someone helps you land a job, the least you can do is send a handwritten thank-you note. The least.

12. Surprise people on LinkedIn

When you ask to "connect" with someone, remove the standard:

I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.

And replace with a special note like:

I loved your blog post on finance tips! Great stuff. 

You'll gain "connections" faster and perhaps spark new conversations.

13. Hold actual, human dialogue

Social media isn't a place to HAVE conversations. It's a place to BEGIN conversations. [TWEET]

By age 30, train yourself to engage with people on the phone or, better yet, in person.

14. Know when enough is enough

People have their limits, and you never want to exceed them. Through feedback and experience, understand when it's time to stop.

In our attention-deficit culture, it's perhaps the "softest" skill you can have.

What "soft" skills would you add to the list?

Share below!