Good Job Skills for Thriving Now and Into the Future
Unless you are privileged or lucky, you're unlikely to get paid for doing nothing. Most of us require good job skills in order to make a living. But we don't always know exactly which talents or abilities will maximize our value in the labor market. Moreover, we often have wrong beliefs or incomplete ideas about what employers really want.
That's why, in order to be truly useful, any job-skills list needs to be based on actual trends and research instead of just assumptions or popular wisdom. Managing your career is too important to leave to gut instincts alone. Choosing the best skills to develop requires credible information and an eye toward the bigger picture, especially if you want to sustain your success well into the future.
Of course, it's also essential to identify the skills and areas of knowledge that you already have. That way, you'll be able to promote and build upon your most relevant strengths while taking steps to attain stronger abilities in any weak areas that might be necessary for your career growth.
Understanding the Different Types of Job-Related Skills
Separating skills into different categories can make it easier to get a handle on what you should be pursuing. But even the most basic job skills definition provides a useful starting point:
A job skill is any talent or ability that an employer values and will pay you to use.
Beyond that simple definition, job skills are commonly classified as either "hard" or "soft." Hard skills are generally considered to be any kind of technical or practical abilities that can be taught through formal training. In contrast, soft skills tend to include abilities that are more personality-related, such as those required for interacting with other people. As a result, soft skills are sometimes harder to define and more challenging to develop. But they are every bit as important as hard skills.
However, it might be more helpful to classify skills a different way. Instead of separating them into hard skills and soft skills, a more career-friendly approach is to categorize them as either occupation-specific skills or transferrable skills.
An occupation- or industry-specific skill is any ability that is used primarily in a particular vocational field. For example, the ability to repair airplane engines is very specific to the aviation maintenance trade. On the other hand, many job skills are common among a broad range of different occupations. Abilities such as "people skills" and general computer skills are transferrable between many types of jobs.
Of course, the line between occupation-specific skills and transferrable skills is increasingly getting blurred. In some fields, what were once considered good skills for a job in a stand-alone occupation are now getting incorporated into "hybrid" occupations. Simply put, many professional roles are expanding. So even a lot of technical skills are becoming more transferrable. For instance, web design skills are now necessary for a lot of marketing, graphic design, and public relations jobs.
Occupation-Specific Skills That Are Growing in Demand
Each employer requires a particular set of skills, many of which are still specific to individual occupations and industries. So it's always necessary to consider your occupation- and industry-specific job skills for resume inclusion. They are essential for being seen as qualified, regardless of the career that you pursue.
Which industry- or occupation-specific skills are in the greatest demand? Over the decade between 2014 and 2024, a lot of jobs are expected to open up for people with certain healthcare, culinary, business, and technology skills. And very particular skill sets will also be required in some of the fastest-growing occupational areas during that period. For example, look at the projected rates of job growth for the following careers, which are all among America's top 20 fastest-growing occupations:*
- Wind turbine technicians—108 percent
- Occupational therapy assistants—43 percent
- Physical therapist assistants—41 percent
- Home health aides—38 percent
- Commercial divers—37 percent
- Personal financial advisors—30 percent
Why Transferrable Skills Deserve More Attention
Career seekers who focus only on hard skills or occupation-specific technical skills for jobs are doing themselves a major disservice. That way of thinking is mostly outdated. After all, the rapid pace of technological change means that some hard skills eventually become obsolete. It's true that you can benefit in the short term by having the latest special skills for jobs that pay well, but your rewards might diminish over time unless you keep updating those abilities.
Succeeding over the long term usually requires an additional focus on non-technical skills, such as those that are more social in nature. That doesn't mean job-specific technical skills are invaluable. Quite the contrary; they are still essential. It's just that today's jobs also increasingly call for technical and non-technical transferrable skills. Consider these facts:
- More than 70 percent of today's most in-demand job skills are now required across at least two occupational categories.**
- These days, in addition to job-specific skills, it is common for transferrable skills to make up between 25 percent and 50 percent (or more) of total occupational skill requirements.***
- On average, about 33 percent of all skills that are requested in online job postings can be classified as transferrable skills.***
- Most employers believe that long-term success requires a wide range of transferrable abilities in addition to field-specific knowledge. In fact, over 90 percent of American employers strongly agree that skills related to critical thinking, communication, and problem solving are more important than your specific college major.****
So, in most cases, you need more than just special skills for a job. You also need skills that are commonly required for a broad range of occupations.
A lot of employers have trouble finding job candidates that possess the necessary transferrable skills. As a result, some of today's biggest skills gaps aren't for job-specific technical skills, but rather for abilities that are supposed to be a lot more common. By making sure that you develop some of the most widely requested transferrable skills, you can attain a major competitive edge in the labor market and pursue a wider range of opportunities.
16 Job-Ready Career Skills That Are Transferrable Across Many Different Occupations
Choosing a college-level education that includes training in transferrable skill areas is one of the smartest decisions you can make for your future. Fortunately, a lot of vocational colleges, trade schools, and career-focused universities offer programs that incorporate that kind of instruction. But developing transferrable abilities also takes practice outside of the classroom. The following list of job skills is based on what employers often cite as their biggest transferrable-skills needs in various surveys and job ads.
1. Communication Skills
The ability to communicate clearly and effectively—both verbally and in writing—tops this list for a reason: It is almost universally requested by employers in every occupational category. But these skills don't seem to be as common as one would think. In fact, in one survey, only 28 percent of employers said that recent college graduates were well prepared for verbal communication. And only 27 percent said that recent grads had good writing skills.****
Even in highly technical jobs (such as those in healthcare, information technology, and engineering), good communication skills are often essential. After all, it's hard to be consistently effective at any job if you aren't able to articulate your ideas and concerns at the most appropriate times and with the most appropriate attitude. Plus, some jobs require public speaking. And many jobs require writing and editing emails, memos, letters, reports, proposals, or technical documentation.
It's also important to remember that careful reading and attentive listening are often the foundations for communicating well. You need to be able to understand what other people are communicating so that you can provide an appropriate response. It's a skill that applies to interactions with bosses, coworkers, clients, customers, suppliers, and anyone else that you come into contact with either inside or outside of your organization.
Of course, the range of skills needed for a job related to communications (such as journalism, broadcasting, or creative writing) can be quite different from the skills needed for a position in business management, the skilled trades, or another seemingly unrelated area. But regardless of your occupation, chances are good that you'll need well-developed communication skills in order to stand out and have long-term success.
2. Organizational Skills
The ability to carry out tasks efficiently is another one of the top examples of job skills that are widely requested by employers but often scarce among job candidates. So it's also another area where you might be able to stand out.
Do you know how to arrange your workspaces (both physical and digital) and coordinate your routines in ways that assist your productivity? Do you have reliable methods for sorting and keeping track of files, notes, emails, and various work materials? Are you able to prioritize your tasks and give each one the proper amount of focus?
Having the skills to perform your job in an orderly fashion can prevent a lot of problems. And many employers make organizational abilities an absolute requirement for positions in management or any other jobs in which you need to plan or coordinate the work of other team members.
3. A Service-Oriented Disposition
It might not seem obvious, but customer-service abilities are among the most important skills for job success in almost every vocation. Think about it: Even if you don't have to deal directly with external clients or customers, you usually still have to interact with your boss and coworkers. They are your internal customers. And if you don't display a positive, respectful, and helpful attitude with them, then your chances of thriving in your position greatly diminish.
Of course, for a lot of us, customer-service skills don't come naturally. So acquiring these abilities takes practice. Don't shy away from any opportunities that require you to help different kinds of people. Focus on their needs and on finding ways to exceed their expectations and overcome conflicts. The more you practice, the more natural it will start to feel.
4. Critical-Thinking, Problem-Solving, and Analytical Skills
Able you able to use logic, established knowledge, and sound reasoning when faced with important decisions or complex challenges? If asked this question, most people would probably say yes. But, for a lot of people, that answer is often wrong. They might not be aware of it, but their emotions often drive their approaches to solving problems. Unfortunately, in a lot of jobs, that can be a recipe for disaster.
In many occupations, you need to know how to find and interpret the facts. You need to be able to evaluate various options, arrive at conclusions, and develop solutions based on those facts, with little or no input from your personal feelings. It requires staying skeptical about your own biases so that you can identify the truth and choose the most appropriate paths forward.
5. The Ability to Keep Learning, Adapting, and Applying New Knowledge
Change is constant. As new technologies and work practices emerge, old ones fade away. No industry is ever unaffected by change. So a lot of employers depend on workers who are able to adapt to changes by learning new skills on the job. More than ever before, job descriptions are fluid. Without continuous learning, many professionals get left behind or whole organizations fail.
Plus, learning is often unfinished until it can be applied in a practical way. That's why about 94 percent of employers in the U.S. are more likely to consider hiring recent college graduates who have successfully completed apprenticeships or internships. And most of them believe that students in college or university should be required to complete applied learning projects before they graduate.****
6. Research, Planning, and Project-Management Skills
Finding useful, relevant, and credible information is a fairly common part of many different kinds of jobs. After all, good information is crucial for developing strategies, preparing for negotiations, and managing complex projects. But solid research skills aren't the only abilities that many employers seek.
Increasingly, organizations are looking for people who have well-rounded skills in project management, including abilities related to tasks like defining project parameters, planning appropriate actions, monitoring progress, and managing risk.
7. Basic Computer and Digital-Technology Skills
More than 60 percent of all job ads posted online are now for vocations in which you're expected to have good digital literacy.*** That means a lot of employers will expect you to know how to use a computer and email as well as have at least basic familiarity with Microsoft Office programs like Word and Excel. But a lot of positions may also require practical knowledge of emerging and expanding technologies related to cloud computing and mobile productivity.
8. Attention to Detail
Out of all job-ready skills, this one might be the most overlooked among career seekers. It's amazing how many people fail to pay attention to basic details. And they often ignore them even when sending resumes and cover letters to potential employers. But even a mistake as seemingly innocent as a typo can create major red flags in the minds of the people you're trying to impress. Many employers believe that if you're careless with the easy stuff, you might be more careless when things get truly complicated.
Make sure that you develop the habit of double-checking your work and being mindful of the details. In a lot of occupations, even small errors can have damaging consequences.
9. Leadership and Mentoring Skills
For a lot of professionals who aren't technically inclined, these skills represent a major area of opportunity. The ability to inspire, guide, motivate, and set expectations for other people is something that can't be easily outsourced. Every organization needs leaders who can build effective relationships, assess and leverage the strengths of other people, and prioritize, delegate, coordinate, and supervise the work of diverse teams. And big-picture thinkers are vital to the long-term success of all organizations.
10. Time-Management Skills
It's hard to be consistently productive at your job if you don't know how to manage your time well. That means you need to understand how to prioritize and schedule your tasks in a way that enables you to meet deadlines or satisfy other job or project requirements. But it also means that you need to value punctuality and have the ability to evaluate whether, at any given time, multitasking or focusing on a single task will help you make the most progress on your short- and long-term goals.
11. Math, Statistics, and Data-Analysis Skills
Even if working with numbers isn't a regular part of your job, you'll still probably run into situations where you need at least basic math skills. But more advanced abilities in this area are quickly becoming some of the most valuable job skills. Examples of employers who want people with strong mathematical talents keep growing in number.
One major reason is that so-called "big data" is considered a significant new frontier for innovation across a wide variety of sectors. More and more organizations are looking for professionals who can organize and sift through large amounts of raw information in order to spot patterns that might be useful for developing new strategies.
Organizations tend to stagnate, become less relevant, or fail altogether unless they focus enough attention on exploring what they don't already know while striving to innovate. That's why creativity and inventiveness aren't just job-specific skills for occupations in the art and design sector. Being able to imagine and help execute new solutions is highly valued within most industries. And since success in today's economy often requires ongoing innovation, a lot of employers are always looking for creative people to add to their teams, regardless of the particular position.
13. Sales and Marketing Skills
In any of your jobs, have you ever needed to persuade somebody else to do something? Most people have. Persuasion is a common element in all kinds of jobs. But few people have mastered it. So developing sales skills can be an excellent way to give your career prospects a boost, even if the job you want doesn't directly involve selling products or services.
After all, being able to present and promote your ideas can make a huge difference when it comes to getting noticed and being taken seriously. And, within large organizations especially, marketing skills often apply just as much to internal buy-in between departments as they do to external promotions. Plus, digital marketing abilities are continuing to grow in importance for many types of professionals.
14. Teamwork and Collaboration
Over 95 percent of American employers believe that college students need experiences that enable them to learn how to develop solutions with people who have conflicting opinions.**** It's fairly easy to understand why. Almost all organizations are made up of people who come from different backgrounds and have different skill sets. But everyone needs to work together toward common goals in order to succeed.
As a result, employers often seek job candidates who have track records of collaborating with others and know how to manage conflict while staying personally accountable for their own actions.
15. Decision-Making Abilities
When you're in school, a lot of things get decided for you. But in the professional world, many jobs require people to make rational decisions about important matters on a regular basis. Unless you work in a very controlled environment, chances are good that you'll be given some leeway to make your own judgment calls. So employers tend to look for people who can select good courses of action based on factors like what's most ethical, timely, cost-effective, or in the organizations' best short- or long-term interests.
16. Entrepreneurial Skills
Being a self-starter can have a lot of benefits. New companies, in particular, often need people who have the ability and mindset to pursue opportunities with passion and uncommon commitment. But being skilled at entrepreneurship can also mean creating your own jobs. In fact, freelancing is becoming more widespread as a lot of organizations seek talented professionals for temporary and less structured work arrangements. Freelancers often enjoy much greater freedom and variety in the types of projects they work on.
Fortify Your Abilities
Any opportunity that allows you to develop and practice the job skills listed above is worth taking on, even if temporarily. The more of these skills you acquire, the easier it will be for you to stand out and secure the jobs you truly want. That's why it can also be wise to explore vocational programs. They often incorporate courses that help students attain both career-specific and transferrable skills.
Find a nearby program—or even one offered online—by using the following school finder right now. Just enter your current zip code to get started!
* Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, website last visited on April 1, 2016.
** Bentley University, Future-Proof Your Career: Why You Need Left and Right Brain Skills for Tomorrow's Jobs, website last visited on April 1, 2016.
*** Burning Glass Technologies, The Human Factor: The Hard Time Employers Have Finding Soft Skills, website last visited on April 1, 2016.
**** Hart Research Associates, Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success: Selected Findings from Online Surveys of Employers and College Students Conducted on Behalf of the Association of American Colleges & Universities, website last visited on April 1, 2016.