Top Soft Skills for Engineers: Which Ones Your Students Need, According to Employers


Engineering students’ resumes score below average compared to other disciplines because they put too much focus on generic technical skills

As an educator, you have an incredible impact on the skills your students develop. And in many cases, you’re their only connection to the professional engineering world.

This puts you in a great position to help your students navigate the rocky waters of preparing for — and securing — a job.

To get a better idea of the skills employers are looking for in engineering candidates, we can turn to the Association of Graduate Recruiters survey.

The survey asked companies to rate the quality of applications they receive on a scale from 1-6 (one being poor and six being very good). The average ranking was a 4.4.

Engineering applications, however, landed half a point below average at 3.9.

While factors like poor written communication skills are at play, the study highlights that engineering applications tend to focus on generic technical skills. Almost every graduating engineering student has these generic technical skills, so focusing solely on them does very little to help your students stand out on a job application or during an interview.

Instead, employers want to see the specific skills students have that apply to that position, not engineering in general.

Hiring managers also look at soft skills for engineers. Having these skills can make or break a job offer; however, graduating students don’t typically highlight soft skills — if they even have them at all.

List of Soft Skills for Engineers

  • Communication (both listening and speaking)
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • Time management
  • Conflict resolution
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Attention to detail
  • Willingness to learn
  • Empathy

Thinking like an engineer isn’t just about having the right technical skills.

The results from the Association of Graduate Recruiters survey results align with the feedback we got from professional engineers who often hire for entry-level roles. These experts emphasized the importance of soft skills.

The soft skills managers wish your students had

We spoke with the following engineering professionals to learn about the why soft skills are important for engineers:

Here’s what each of them had to say.

Ashley: We look for communication and the ability to be proactive, such as identifying an issue and having the ability to look at it as a challenge instead of waiting on someone to assign it to them. Nearly all of our entry-level employees have computer skills, but we often find, especially in the younger generation, that they are missing basic communication skills — even personal skills on a foundational level.

Miley: Communication! We work for clients who are nontechnical people, so we have to communicate through meetings, phone calls, and presentations. We have to be able to distill the design down so they can understand it enough to get on board.

Puckett: Students need to know how to interview. They should know how to build a LinkedIn profile and act on social media. When I hire recent grads, I Google them and look at their lifestyle. Grads also should know how to interact with people and listen. If they are graduating high school or college, they sometimes don’t look forward to taking instruction again.

Miley: I would say being able to apply what you know to do your job. We’re not designing gear trains or complicated systems. We’re creating stuff where it’s really subjective what it can look like and how you can make it. It’s more about taking the idea and making sure that someone can make it. But when we’re hiring, we don’t really look at the hard skills as much — we realize that if you have an engineering degree, you can probably pick up on things.

Serio: Communication and understanding that people communicate differently. I study manufacturing where the average age is about 54 years old. The younger generation has high levels of communication without saying a word, and now they’re interacting with someone who would rather pick up their rotary phone and talk in person. I tell the students that it’s up to them to adapt to their manager and their employer’s communication style, and they have to do it in order to tap into their knowledge. Students can’t control their environment, only themselves.

One theme became clear after speaking with these engineering hiring managers: it’s important engineering students have communication skills if you’re concerned about them being career-ready.

Read the Full Interviews in this E-guide: The Engineering Job Market is Changing: Are Your Students Prepared

The frenzied job market needs well-rounded, entry-level candidates

Having the right skill set is imperative for engineering students looking to land their first job.

Employers know it takes a great deal of intelligence and a strong work ethic to earn an engineering degree; now, they want to know if students have the real-world experience to be able to jump into a new job and start making a positive impact right away.

That’s what the current, frenzied job market demands.

Related Article: The Engineering Hiring Crisis and What Educators Can Do About It

So, while your students are getting book smart in the classroom, don’t forget to incorporate opportunities for them to develop soft skills for engineers through internships or apprenticeships, group work, and presentations.

Madie Norris Forcier
About the Author

SolidProfessor content writer and self-appointed World’s Greatest Dog Mom