What Leadership Skills Should You Develop in College?

As a former college recruiter, candidates often asked me how they could demonstrate their leadership skills when applying for their first “real” job. I always told them think back on their college career. College provides a ton of opportunities to build and practice leadership skills, if you’re deliberate. Here’s our intern’s take on the four leadership skills Gen Z should build in college.

Image of college student using leadership skills in a group project


As I’m getting ready for the fall semester, I’ve been considering a lot of opportunities offered by my school and wondering how they will build me as a person in addition to building my resume. College provides an excellent opportunity to build key leadership skills to be utilized in your future career and even your daily life. 


Here are a few that Gen Z tends to lack and needs a little help with:


Nonverbally Communicating

One of the most important skills we use every day is communication. While our formal writing and speaking skills will be used in everything from emails to meetings, our nonverbal communication is essential to strong leadership. Our body language can either help or hinder our communication skills and is a key component of interviews and networking.  Most of Gen Z spends a LOT of time on the internet and we communicate mainly through texting. That means we spend less time physically interacting with others. This leads to decreased nonverbal skills since we aren’t seeing each other’s facial expressions and body language as we communicate.

We learn our nonverbal skills by observing and imitating people who are influential to us. In college, this skill is best developed by simply surrounding ourselves with people. This can be achieved by joining organizations and volunteering in the community. These fantastic body language cards designed by Leo Cardenas are flashcards that help us what our posture communicates to others. Most of the time, Gen Z doesn’t realize just how much is said by the way our arms cross or shoulders hunch, but more experienced professionals pick it up immediately. Even if you aren’t feeling particularly confident, being conscious of your nonverbal cues helps you look like you know what you’re doing!



As a perfectionist, I know how difficult it can be to hand over the reins to others especially in high-stakes projects. However, it’s impossible for us to do everything: We would have terrible time management and unhealthy work-life balances. Because of this, good leaders need to know that delegation is a fundamental skill. As I mentioned earlier, the best way to develop this skill is through group projects.

Another way to build up our skills of delegation is by becoming leaders in school organizations where you work with others who are supposed to carry out specific functions. Control is a big issue when it comes to EVERYONE, not just Gen Z; however, learning how to delegate according to everyone’s strengths, communicating expectations, and following up is essential. Most leaders have high-strung, type A personalities and won’t settle for less than perfect. This can lead to an overload of tasks and burnout. We’re more efficient when we specialize and focus our attention on individual pieces in order to form an even better whole. 

Infographic that shows the four skills college students should develop in college

Becoming Creative

Some of us are definitely more artistically or musically inclined than others, but creativity is more than that. Creativity is also the ability to generate ideas and analyze the risks involved to determine a plan’s feasibility. It’s a skill that is used in every single career, and like other skills, it can be developed. In an academic setting, students build their creative skills by pushing the limits on their school assignments—going above and beyond to place their own spin on assignments. Part time jobs and responsibilities can also contribute. Becoming a Resident Advisor is a great way to build creativity. RAs often mediate conflicts which require creativity to form compromises and solutions. 


Accepting and Giving Feedback

When I first started high school, receiving feedback was a major struggle for me as it is with most kids. However, I was fortunate enough to be in clubs and extracurriculars like marching band where I was surrounded by constructive criticism. A lot of students entering college don’t get these opportunities in high school and must develop them in college.  In addition, by receiving constructive criticism, I learned how to give it too. Everyone makes mistakes, but we need to be productive and empathetic when giving corrections or giving suggestions. This makes everyone more efficient.

In fact, an Officevibe survey showed that offering positive feedback made workers 30x more likely to be actively engaged at work, resulting in higher productivity. An awesome way to do this is by doing what I did and joining team-based extracurriculars. You will always be surrounded by feedback and must learn how to best approach it in order to become a strong leader.

In addition, you need to learn how to ASK for feedback rather than just accepting it. By asking for feedback, you’re showing that you want to grow in your field and demonstrating your commitment to your job. The same Officevibe survey showed that 65% of employees want more feedback. Try practicing this in college by asking your professors for feedback on your assignments or participation in classroom discussions. As far as giving feedback, it takes a little time to get comfortable putting your ideas out there, but it’s definitely worth it in the long run! Not every leader is great at giving feedback. Some even rely on formal reviews, but by actively asking for and giving feedback, you’re making it easier for your managers to understand your own concerns and build their skills.


College has many opportunities for us to grow and develop a wide skill set that prepares us for our careers and our everyday lives. It’s the stepping stone into our professional lives, and we need to build ourselves—not just our resumes—into our best versions. As Gen Z, we tend to enjoy a relaxed atmosphere; however, the corporate world doesn’t tend to lend itself to that lifestyle. In order to get the best opportunities, we must refine our skill sets and build ourselves as leaders.