Do job applicants lack basic skills?

How well can you read and write? Well enough to be reading news articles on the internet, of course, but are you a confident reader? What about writer? And let's talk math. Quick: 5x5=?

By the time we reach adulthood, these should be skills that everyone has and is confident in. We're not talking about doing vector calculus or writing Pulitzer Prize winning material. Yet a recent survey by Lee Hecht Harrison found that 63 percent of job hunters felt they needed improvement in one or more basic area --reading, writing, math or basic computer skills. Only 28 percent felt confident in all these things.

What if you are one of the 63 percent? Then it's time to hit the books. It's never too late. Here's how you can help yourself become better in these areas and help your job hunt at the same time.

Read anything that is interesting. Head to the library and check out a book. Yes, you could try to take a class (and if your reading skills really are low, perhaps you should). In fact, pick out a book that you think is "below" your reading level. That is, don't try to challenge yourself with Shakespeare or Dostoevsky. Just pick up a book that you might find interesting. (Books marketed to teens and tweens can be surprisingly entertaining and will help your reading skills. And as an added bonus, you'll know what your teens are reading.) Read and read out loud when possible.

Writing follows reading. Reading will actually help you do this better as well. If you read a lot, it will help your writing. But the thing that will help you the most is writing. Use full words, not text speak. Remember to use capital letters where appropriate. Punctuation is also your friend. (Sentences end with . or ! or ?, not with ... .) Write emails to your mom. Ask her to correct them. Run things through a spell and grammar checker and see where you're making your errors.

Remember what your high school English teacher said about writing a paragraph. You need a topic sentence, then two or three sentences that support your main idea, and then a sentence that wraps it up and prepares it for the next idea. Think about this while you are writing and it will help you draft better paragraphs. As an added bonus, people will find what you write easier to read -- it is very difficult to process huge blocks of text.

Math is for everyone. Some people are scared of math. Don't be! The type of math you need to master basic skills is not complex, no matter how difficult it was for you as a child. Check out the Khan Academy to begin your skills refresher. Additionally, practice things such as counting change back to yourself. If the total comes to $14.32, figure out what your change will be if you pay with a $20. (To do this start with $14.32, and add 3 pennies to get to $14.35, then a nickle gets you to $14.40, a dime gets you to $14.50, and 2 quarters gets you to an even $15, add a $5 bill and there's your change. How much was that all together? Count it up. $5.68.)

Basic computer skills. No one is going to ask you to do hard core computer programming if you're not looking for IT jobs. (And if you are looking for IT jobs, you better have more than basic computer skills.) You can take online tutorials in just about anything basic, for free. Google the skill you want to work on, and work through the steps.

Don't give up. Just because you don't feel confident right now, doesn't mean you can't gain confidence through hard work. You can do it!

Include it on your resume. While putting down, "Read entire Magic Tree House Series" should not go no your resume, completing an online class on Microsoft Word can. As can any class you take as adult -- if it applies to the job you're trying to get.

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