Posted by: Tom Ross | August 20, 2012

The Three P’s of Soft Skills

This is a guest blog post written by Melody Vaught (her second blog post ever; read her first blog here) who is an adjunct counselor and counseling instructor at Santa Ana College, Santiago Canyon College, and for the Small Business Development Center in Orange County, California. She holds a Masters Degree in Educational Counseling and is a speaker on college and career topics. 

Recent college graduates walk into a job interview with a reputation. Fair or not, they are accused of being unprofessional. So say 621 human resource professionals and business leaders surveyed by York College of Pennsylvania Center for Professional Excellence in 2012 in their report, Professionalism in the Workplace.

So what is it about these young workers that has earned them this ire? According to these human resource professionals and business leaders, it is their appearance, body piercings and tattoos, attitude, rudeness—including being late for the interview–poor grammar and communication skills, and their sense of entitlement.

Professionalism in the Workplace (page 90)

Who is failing this generation of workers?  Whose responsibility is it to teach these soft skills that employers value? If there isn’t a foundation provided for those social and soft skills in the home, it falls to schools to integrate the skills into their course content.

The CTE Pathways Initiative Community Collaborative Grant—and our host, Orange Coast Community College, with the leadership and organization of Rita Jones (of Career Cafe fame), Dejah Swingle, Jen Kochanski, Tracy Parker (all from Coast Community College District) and Kathy Johnson from Vital Link—provided that opportunity for some Orange County high school and community college instructors this past July by offering a two-day soft skills training and externship workshop.  This training included a field trip for attendees so that they could learn directly from human resource professionals, what soft skills job applicants need. It also incorporated interspersed video clips, short lectures, group activities, listening to colleagues sharing their experiences, observations and best practices incorporating soft skills into their courses, and some time for self-reflection and planning.


During the introduction to the soft skills training, the tone was set when the facilitator asked, “How can a job applicant communicate their skills if they don’t even know when or how they have used soft skills?”  The challenge to our group of high school and college faculty was to think about how we can integrate information about soft skills into our curricula along with opportunities for students to practice them.  We need to graduate students who are prepared to talk about how their skills match the skills required for a particular job. And we need to help them tell a story and give examples of how they successfully used each skill.

The introduction was followed by a frank discussion of which soft skills these instructors see lacking in their students, which included:

  • coming late to class or excessive absences (attitude)
  • not meeting course deadlines (time management)
  • not doing their best work (strong work ethic)
  • avoiding oral presentations (oral communication)
  • exhibiting poor writing skills (written communication)
  • complaining about group projects (leadership and team work)

Orange County Sanitation Dept. Core Values:

1. Honesty, Trust, Respect, 2. Teamwork, Problem Solving, 3. Leadership and Commitment, 4. Learning/Teaching, Talents, Skills & Abilities, 5. Recognition & Awards

 In order for us to pinpoint soft skills that employers value and to validate that information, the first day included an on-site visit to four different industries.  My group visited the Orange County Sanitation District in Fountain Valley, California, a county government agency.  We were hosted by Mark A. Esquer, Engineering Manager, and Laura Maravilla, Senior Human Resources Manager, experienced interviewers who shared the following experiences:

  • Most candidates have very poor interview skills.
  • If the application or resume contains information that is not factual, the applicant will not be considered.
  • Candidates should know the company’s core values which are listed on the website, displayed on the walls, and printed on their literature.  (See above.)
  • They are looking for applicants who can provide examples of the skills that they have honed and which match the skills of the position for which they are applying
  • If these skills and examples are not covered in the application or the resume, they should be highlighted in the cover letter.
  • Applicants who don’t offer a solid handshake and maintain good eye contact and confidence in their abilities, don’t get the job.
  • Hard skills will get you an interview but soft skills will get the job; a paper screening is used to ensure that the applicant is qualified to do the job; the interview process is used to ensure that the applicant’s personality is a good fit with the team.
  • Being a good fit is so critical that a new hire’s probationary period can be extended to one year if there are red flags.
  • During the probationary period, a “keeper” employee is one who volunteers or looks for ways to learn new skills.
  • There is a job shadow program that enables an employee to learn about a new job of interest to them, so networking is a valued soft skill.


On the second day of the two-day training, a representative from each of the four groups reported on what they learned about the soft skills each industry valued in potential job candidates. Reflecting on the information we learned in the two-day training from the event leaders, our colleagues, and our field trip, we were given time to propose a classroom activity integrating a soft skill we want to initiate in our class.  Here are some examples of some of the more interesting activities we came up with:

1.  A high school photography instructor plans a final exam that requires each student to meet with a client, attentively listen to the client explain his photography job, and complete the job according to the client’s specifications by a deadline.

2.  A college counseling instructor will invite business and human resource professionals to visit the class to conduct mock interviews.  Each student will receive a written evaluation of their resume, cover letter, and interview. And the professionals, as a panel, will present interview tips and pitfalls.

3.  A marketing instructor will provide extra credit for students who join Service Learning, an on-campus program that places students in non-profits matching their skills with an organization’s need.  Students will improve their non-profit’s website and instruct employees on how to use social media to manage their visibility.

In addition to generating creative ideas for integrating soft skills into the classroom, other tangible outcomes of this two-day training were the invaluable networking opportunities between colleagues, the chance to meet with business professionals to confirm the importance of soft skills and, for me, receiving a commitment from Laura Maravilla, Senior Human Resources Manager at the Orange County Sanitation District, to guest lecture on interview skills in my classroom.

And those 3 P’s of soft skills?  I admit that the title of this blog was deceiving but I felt duty bound to include an Important Public Service Announcement from the Orange County Sanitation District as a thank you for their hospitality. Here are the 3 P’s:

The only three items that should be flushed down a toilet are:

poo, pee and paper (toilet)

Joining the team at Orange County Sanitation District by following these directions will not only help the environment but teamwork is an important soft skill.  How this will fit into a good story about how you were a productive team member to use on a job application will take some creativity and good writing skills, but I will leave it to you to figure that out.


  1. Thank you for your special announcment! :- )

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