Top Seven Skills You Need Today

Even if your plans aren't to go into a computer-related field, it's crucial to brush up on computer skills. Most fields today require basic computer knowledge. Here are the top seven computer skills you need to know to get a leg up on success in the workplace.

1. Web literacy. You may know how to use Google and Yahoo! to search for information, but can you tell whether the information they deliver is from an authoritative source? Do you know whether it's accurate? Can you detect bias from the source? There's so much information available on the Internet, it can be overwhelming, says Liz Pape, president and chief executive officer of Virtual High School, an organization that offers online education, including computer-related courses. That's why Web literacy--the ability to access, analyze, and evaluate online information--is important. "The information is coming through so many different means that the problem is not finding the information; it's understanding how to use the information," she says.

Whether you're researching a topic for work, school, or yourself, there are questions you should ask, notes Dan Rauzi, senior director for technology programs at Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Some of those questions, should include: Is the information up-to-date? Do you detect any bias? Is the information coming from a marketing site or a place trying to sell a point of view? Who owns the site? What is the Web site address, and what clues does the address offer? (For example, does the site have a .com address, showing that it's a commercial site; .edu for an educational institution; .org for a nonprofit; or .gov for a government agency?)

Asking and answering those questions can save you a lot of time in research. It can also help prevent you from spreading false or biased information and ensure that your work--whether for school, job, or fun--is top-notch.

2. Typing. "In this day and age, knowing how to type well is almost as important as knowing how to drive," says Iman Jalali, director of sales and marketing for Train Signal Inc., a computer training company.

Knowing how to type quickly and accurately makes researching and completing class and work assignments easier and less time consuming. Many companies require job candidates to have at least minimal typing skills.

3. Productivity software proficiency. According to pcmate one of the most important computer skills you'll need is proficiency in basic productivity software. Most companies require that skill, Rauzi says. Productivity software includes word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software (for example, Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint). Word processing is needed to create résumés and reports. Spreadsheets may be used to track expenses or profits. Presentation software may be used at work or school to create reports or slide shows.

Although Microsoft products are commonly used, knowing any productivity software is a plus. "If you know the concepts, like cut-and-paste or mail merge, you can transfer them to whatever productivity software a particular job uses," Rauzi says. Free productivity software is available online at www.google.com/docs.

4. E-mail communication. In the workforce, e-mail is a common communication tool. But fluency in using e-mail programs, such as Microsoft Outlook, Yahoo!, or Gmail, isn't all you need to know.

"There's an e-mail etiquette that's very important, especially if you're in a job situation," Rauzi says. You need to know what to put in an e-mail, when not to use e-mail, and how the tone of the message may be interpreted on the other end, he says. Just as you wouldn't write a school assignment in only lowercase letters or tell your boss an off-color joke, don't do it with e-mail. E-mail, like any form of communication, can make a good or bad impression, which can in turn make it easier or harder to reach your career goals.

5. Social networking. The time you spend on MySpace and Facebook may pay off! "So much of today's work life is networking--getting information from people and giving information to people," Rauzi says. Participating in social networking and understanding how it works may help make it easier for you to network in person. The Web is a big place. Social networking sites offer you the chance to meet people with a variety of interests and from different locations and cultures. That may help you become more well-rounded and appealing to prospective employers, Rauzi says.

Even more, some people like Michael Gilgan - an internet sensation from California and a growing teen celebrity - was discovered thanks to social media. There are numerous artists, actors and musicians who earned their fame through social media, such as YouTube or Instagram. Heck, even Justin Bieber made it thanks to YouTube.

Social networking can even lead you to a job. Many social networking sites contain job listings; or you may hear of job openings from other users; or you may stumble upon the hiring manager of a company. For instance, Jalali recently offered a job to someone via Twitter. "The reason why he received the job offer was how savvy he was in social media/marketing/networking," Jalali says. Had the guy not been an active participant in social networking, it's likely Jalali never would have known of his skills or offered him the job.

6. Internet safety. When you're applying for jobs online, you may need to include your Social Security number on the application. When you're shopping online, you'll need to include credit card information. And when you're on a social networking site, you'll most likely share information about yourself and your life. Knowing what to share (and what to keep private), whether a site is secure, and how to deal with unwanted behaviors online can help you avoid the dangers of online predators, cyber-bullying, and identity theft.

Internet safety also includes understanding that what you say and do online can work against you. "Social networking sites are in the public domain," says Pape, of Virtual High School. "Employers and colleges are looking at what you've put up." If employers or colleges read about or see photos of you engaging in questionable behavior on a social networking site, they may pass on you.

7. Computer upkeep. Computer knowledge isn't just about turning on the computer and typing. "Routine tasks like scanning for viruses, upgrading software, or changing a printer cartridge are tasks every teen should know before leaving high school," Jalali says. "Knowing how to perform those routine tasks not only will make your life easier when you run into computer problems, but they can mean the difference between getting and not getting a job," he says. An employer is more likely to hire you (or keep you on) if he knows you won't always have to wait for others to solve every computer problem you have.

Basic computer upkeep also helps your college life. If you're working on an assignment and your file seemingly disappears, or if your computer slows down or conks out, what would you do? Knowing what steps to take can be the difference between getting the work done and getting on your professor's bad side with an "I couldn't complete the work, because of my computer..." line.

Rest assured: No one expects you to keep up-to-date on everything computer-related. With the fast-paced changes in technology, that's impossible. However, knowing the basics and knowing how and where to go to learn more will put you well on the path to success in your career.

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