Students must improve on ‘soft’ skills to increase employability: head of online recruitment site

ABU DHABI // Even after graduating from Stanford University, Rabea Ataya struggled to get a job. He had all the right academic credentials and sat through a number of interviews lined up with the help of his school. But Mr Ataya initially received no employment offers.

“I thought I’ve never been rejected for anything in my life and I have a great CV. I thought it was a cake walk, but I got rejected by the first six interviews which happened in a two-day period,” said Mr Ataya, who went on to head one of the largest online job sites,

What Mr Ataya was lacking, he said, was good interview skills, something you are not always taught in school.

“What happened? I went to the library, picked up books on interviewing,” said Mr Ataya. “I did another six interviews and I got a job offer from every single one of them. So it was the same exact human being, but I just learnt how to play that particular game a bit better.”

Mr Ataya said students needed to take the initiative to improve their employability skills on their own, as these “soft” skills needed to excel in life are often not part of the university or high school curriculum.

Indeed, a study published this month in the journal Tertiary ­Education and Management, found that, “enhancing the employability of graduating students is a major challenge,” for universities.

“The gap between industry and academia make it difficult for universities to identify and deliver the appropriate and needed skills to prospective graduate employees. The findings of this study also indicate that higher education curriculum development should be directed towards attributes that are expected of graduates and are relevant to the needs of the market and industry.”

Mr Ataya said students should lobby their institutions to develop better career counselling services. They should also enrol in public speaking and writing classes and any other coursework that promotes communications and team projects.

“Universities for the most part are doing a fairly good job of training you how to be an engineer or how to be a developer or whatever the case might be. However, to be successful in the workplace, you need to work in a team, you need to have good communication skills, you need to be a lifelong learner, you need to be able to work under pressure,” said Mr Ataya.

Job seekers also need real-­world work experience.

“The vast majority of people in the Middle East graduate from university and have never worked a day in their lives,” said Mr Ataya. “Trying to get work experience earlier on in life is very important, so don’t wait until you graduate from university. Try to get involved in projects whether in school or otherwise that tend to put you in contact with other people, because that coordinating, liaising is extremely important.”


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