top of page

Skills for Career vs Skills for School

Come to think of it, the traits and skills required to be successful in "the real world" are often different from what we go through in school, isn't it? You could be functioning in the workplace with the skills that made you successful in school (such as taking notes, getting good exam scores, taking instructions), but they are not the same skills that will allow you to be successful at work.

Skills For School

If you were a stereotypical Asian kid who grew up in a stereotypical Asian school with Asian parents, the first focus in your life is getting good grades. From what I observed from the majority of my classmates back then, the second focus was to be the unassuming kid who does what adults say. Some of my classmates were chaperoned to piano lessons straight after school, then it's off to some tuition center to advance their mathematics skills.

There is one universal goal of schools - getting good grades.

What do you need to do to achieve that goal? Build skills such as a) being responsible - this means finishing your homework on time consistently; b) being obedient because a good student does not defy what your parents and school wanted; c) taking notes in class; d) taking exams because scoring well is a skill itself.

I many of these skills are applicable to being successful in your career?


Skills for Career and Life

When it comes to life and being successful at work, these are the skills that schools do not emphasize on:

  • Financial literacy because over time, you would need to learn how to manage personal finances, savings and investment

  • Teamwork because you need to work with people from different walks of life in an organisation. I learnt social skills through playing sports while growing up. If you went through school without joining any clubs or sports team, just know that social skills at the workplace is very different from "hanging out with friends". When things are at stake in a stressful environment, it does require some skills to be tactful.

  • Communication skills and this is not just reading off a passage. This is the importance of bringing points across with clarity and effectively. This is the importance of engaging audience with storytelling skills.

  • Getting what you want in the most respectful manner. In a workplace, we may need to rely on others to complete step one before we can proceed with step two. The laziest way is "any update?" when you could value add a little more to progress the task. Being respectful includes respecting goals, timeline and everyone. Don't we all play on the same team in an organisation?

  • Array of soft skills such as sales skills, mentoring, leadership and resolving conflicts. Sales skills is important because even if you are not a salesperson, every job requires you to do a pitch - about your project, results or yourself.

  • Personal reputation and personal brand management. Do you reply to messages promptly? Are you indecisive? Are you tardy? Like it or not, every little thing says something about you. What kind of image are you hoping to project in the workplace?

  • Question everything and prioritize. Do think deeply why someone is asking you to do something. If you say yes to everything, you will get pulled in different directions and you will not deliver.

  • The importance of being strategic.


Call to Action: Are you on autopilot from school mode?

As a call to action, it's really a good investment of time for you to contemplate what kind of skills are required to be successful in your career.

Do you have these skills to be successful in your career?

Did you learnt these skills from your parents or from school as a student?

For all you know, you could be functioning on autopilot as you transit from school into your career. It's so important for you to reflect because you may not have even realized you are on autopilot from your school environment. After all, you spent over a decade in school. The school mindset and habits are so ingrained that you don't realize that you are operating in student mode still.

You could be functioning in the workplace with the skills that made you successful in school but they are not the same skills that will allow you to be successful at work.

As a student, I have done great many stupid things that now on hindsight, have served me well in my career.

One time, I colored my hair honey brown because I thought it looked cool. Upon arriving in school, the disciplinary mistress told me to return to school only after my hair is black again.

It was disastrous - first, I had to purchase another box of dye (but black this time) with my own money. Secondly, the jet black hair looked like a bad wig. Third, my hair was dry and brittle because of two rounds of chemical. My father laughed at my bad hair. My mother told me "serves you right".

They knew I've learnt my lesson on bearing with consequences. I was also told before I do something stupid in future, to think two steps ahead about the consequences. This stuck with me forever. Doing one dumb thing as a student served me well for the rest of my life and it's a good skill to have in the workplace.

I'm sure you have your unique stories that have shaped you to be the person you are today.

Though you have been in the workplace for the last couple of years, for all you know, you are still operating on your school mindset because you didn't consciously shift away from it.

My request for you to contemplate today is "what mindset are you operating on?"

bottom of page