Every job requires different technical knowledge and abilities, but beyond that, there is a set of essential job skills and competencies that will increase your value with just about any employer.
We have compiled a list of the 10 most universally valued job skills based on our extensive experience working with recruiters, hiring managers, and candidates. Our findings are also backed up by numerous surveys of employers, including those conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).
We’re diving deep into each one so we’ll do it in 3 parts, starting with the top 3 (and stay tuned for the next installments so you can weigh in on where you agree and disagree on the rankings).
These are the competencies that are prized in both entry-level roles and senior-level positions, in industries from technology to medicine to finance.
So naturally, these are also the skill sets to highlight in your resume, cover letter, and interview talking points. And if you’re lacking in any of these areas, we’ve got suggestions to help you develop and become a stronger candidate.
I recommend reading through the list and rating yourself (on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being perfection) in each category. This will give you a pretty clear idea of which strengths you should be “selling” (and it’s amazing to me how many naturally modest candidates shy away from properly demonstrating their strengths in interviews) — and which are areas for development (or maybe even your “greatest weakness”).
Most Valuable Job Skill #1: Communication Skills
Employers want to hire people who are able to communicate effectively with those inside and outside of the organization.
The communication skills category includes both verbal and written communication skills. That means being able to get your point across in discussions both in-person and virtual.
It’s not enough to be well-spoken. Writing skills are now critical for almost every job because email has become such an important means of communication (and an email is often your first or only impression on a colleague, client, or partner).
In most roles, you must be able to tailor your communications for different audiences. You have to be able to provide the big picture to senior executives and then get down into the detailed instructions for the technical experts. You may be writing directly to customers while simultaneously speaking the right lingo with your coworkers in different departments.
As an employee, you may also be called upon to write reports, newsletters, blog posts and articles, summations, employee reviews, and more. Without adequate (or stellar) written communication skills, your career could suffer.
Why Are Communication Skills So Highly Prized by Employers?
Strong communication skills make you more productive and more effective. When you communicate well the first time, you save a lot of time that would otherwise be wasted on clarifying, answering questions, correcting wrong perceptions, chasing people down, and fixing mistakes.
Great communication skills can set an employee apart. At the very least, they can mean the difference between the potential for advancement and a stagnant career.
Communication skills are also key to getting hired in the first place. After all, the way you communicate your strengths and what you bring to the employer’s table in your resume and during your interview plays a huge role in whether you get hired — or not.
I have seen many well-qualified candidates get passed over due to communication skills. That’s when they come to me for coaching and see the dramatic difference they can achieve with a little preparation.
Once you’re in the job, your ability to communicate reflects, for good or ill, upon the entire organization.
Many times, poor performance can be traced back to poor communication skills.
Effective communication may be one of your strengths if you:
- Served as the spokesperson for your group in college classes (and got A’s on all of your papers)
- Shine when making presentations at work
- Receive positive feedback on written reports
- Handle unhappy customers (or colleagues) with ease
- Facilitate discussions and bring people to agreement
Be sure to mention examples like this on your resume and in your interview as they serve as indicators that you are, in fact, an outstanding communicator.
What can you expect your interviewer to ask you regarding your communication skills? Here are a few examples:
Sample Communication Skills Interview Questions:
- “Tell me about a difficult client/manager/teammate you had to deal with.”
- “Describe a time when you were asked to make a speech or presentation at the last minute.”
- “Tell me about a time when you had to be very careful in communicating sensitive or delicate information.”
- “Give me an example when you had to present complex information in a simplified way to explain it to a superior.”
Tips to Develop Stronger Communication Skills
If communication, verbal or written, is an area of weakness for you, there are things you can do that will help. The good news is that communication skills can be developed — natural talent helps, but anyone can learn best practices.
Consider any of these development options:
- Take a business communication class. You’ll find classes on presentation skills, business writing, and general communications at local colleges, continuing educations providers, and corporate training companies like the American Management Association or Dale Carnegie.
- Sign up for an improv workshop. This is also a great option for those who want to learn how to think on their feet — or just need an adrenaline boost.
- Join your local Toastmasters group. Toastmasters is an awesome organization. You get to practice your speaking and presentation skills and can also meet interesting people from different industries.
- Make a commitment to scrupulously edit and proofread all written work. Don’t over-rely on spell check, but use it and other tools like Grammar.ly if you’re rusty on Composition 101 topics.
- Recruit an editing buddy. Find someone at work who can serve as a second set of eyes on important documents. You can play the same role for him or her. We often miss things in our own work and an objective reader can be very valuable.
- Volunteer for assignments that stretch your communications skills. Ask if you can lead a meeting or take on managing this month’s internal newsletter. This also shows initiative and a commitment to your work.
- Read up on communications best practices. Try classic writing books like “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White (short but enlightening), bookmark Grammar Girl for your grammar questions, read “Crucial Conversations” for advice on navigating tricky communication issues at work or “Getting to Yes” for advice on negotiation.
Take one of our development suggestions (for any of the skills listed in these articles) and highlight it in your annual review to show your commitment to continuous improvement.
Most Valuable Job Skill #2: Teamwork/Ability to Work Collaboratively
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook 2015 Survey “the ability to work in a team structure” tied with leadership skills as the #1 most attractive job skill for prospective employers, with 77.8% seeking both of these qualities.
Yes, calling yourself a “team player” is a big cliche, but it has become a big cliche or a reason. Hiring managers want to hear that you can get along with others in a professional setting.
Working well as a member of a team requires a combination of qualities — communication skills (see above), being open to collaboration, a generally positive attitude, and the ability to deal with different personalities (especially the “demanding” ones).
Why is Teamwork so Important for Today’s Employers?
Almost every job requires employees to collaborate, or at least get along, with a diverse group of humans. This makes the ability to work with others a highly-valued trait for employers.
We’ve all worked with people who didn’t “play well with others”— and it can really have a negative effect on both productivity and morale.
A team player is able to work with different personalities, can work through disagreements productively, and makes his or her individual preferences secondary to achieving the goals of the team.
Employers like to see evidence of your ability to work in teams when reading through your resume and cover letter or listening to your answers in interviews. For a new graduate or junior-level candidate, it’s important to show that you’ll be able to get along in the office environment.
If you haven’t yet had much opportunity to work on a team in a work setting, be prepared to talk about academic group projects or extracurricular team experiences. You want to show that you can jump right in and get along with your coworkers and clients.
What Makes a Good Team Player?
Here are a few qualities that make someone easy to work with as a member of a group:
- Focus on results, not who gets credit
- Ability to listen
- Respect for all group members
- Appreciation of the perspectives of others
- Communication skills (see above)
- Ability to take constructive feedback
- Reliability and work ethic
Teamwork may be one of your strengths if:
- Coworkers are constantly asking to run ideas by you
- People frequently ask you to join their projects
- You’re often invited to lunch with coworkers to talk shop
- You are regularly called upon to provide an objective opinion or mediate disagreements
- You can find a way to connect with just about anybody
Sample Teamwork Interview Questions:
- Tell me about a time when you worked as part of a team.
- Tell me about a time you had to work with a difficult person.
- Share an example of a group you’ve worked well with (or not so well with).
- Have you ever had a conflict with a coworker?
- Tell me about constructive feedback you’ve received.
Note: For more information on answering teamwork interview questions, be sure to check out Big Interview’s Answering Behavioral Interview Questions: Teamwork guide and Big Interview’s Answering Behavioral Interview Questions: Handling Conflict guide.
How to Become a Better Team Player
If you have limited experience working collaboratively or feel it is a weakness, there are ways to improve.
Consider these development options:
1) Volunteer for more team projects. Look or opportunities at work, in class, or in your extracurricular or volunteer activities. For new grads, it’s all about gaining more experience that you can describe in your interviews — and looking for openings to work with different people in different environments to increase your versatility.
2) Find a teamwork mentor. Look around for role models who handle collaboration particularly well. You can learn a lot just by observing and emulating. Who do you enjoy working with most? Who is particularly good at neutralizing touchy situations? If you start observing more carefully, you’ll notice people have different teamwork strengths — for example, one person is the motivator and someone else is the hard worker who always finds a way to get things done.
3) Deepen your understanding of group dynamics. Try an assessment like the DISC profile or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). These personality assessments can be useful in understanding your own preferences and those of others. For example, if your boss is a details guy and you’re a big-picture thinker, it can help to know that and tailor your communications to persuade him in his own language.
4) Learn how to troubleshoot teamwork challenges. Read a book like Working with Difficult People to learn strategies for dealing with bullies, tyrants, connivers, and kiss-ups.
Most Valuable Job Skill #3: Initiative
Victor Hugo said it best: “Initiative is doing the right thing without being told.”
Employers consistently rank initiative as highly important (a 4.4 on a five-point importance scale in this representative survey) across roles and industries, making it a key quality to demonstrate if you want to get hired.
Employers want self-starters who are constantly looking for ways to contribute instead of sitting around waiting for assignments. The goal is to have employees who proactively seek out ways to propel the business forward.
Many employers also see initiative as the ability to take ideas and run with them, to persist in the face of difficulty and inertia, and see a project through to completion.
Why is Initiative Important to Employers?
In today’s competitive and fast-moving business environment, companies are always looking for an edge on the competition. To position yourself as an ideal hire, you need to show you will go above and beyond the job description and really contribute.
Initiative is attractive in any candidate, but it’s particularly desirable for certain types of positions. For example, startups typically look for people who can wear multiple hats. Many teams within larger organizations also find themselves tasked with “doing more with less” and greatly appreciate a candidate who can contribute beyond their formal job description.
For employers, it’s hard to know if a candidate has initiative through their resume alone. Smart hiring managers will use behavioral questions (“Tell me about a time…”) to get a sense of how the candidate has approached work in the past and if he or she has a history of taking initiative on the job.
Initiative may be one of your strengths if you:
- Prefer to start projects early to ensure you’ll have time to do a fantastic job
- Seek out new assignments, especially those outside your comfort zone
- Never say, “That’s not my job.”
- Rarely say, “What else do you need me to do?”
- Are known as someone who gets things done, even in the face of obstacles
- Volunteer for committees or special projects
- Look for training opportunities to help you contribute more
- Read up on industry trends in your spare time
Sample Initiative Interview Questions:
- “Tell me about a time when you took the initiative on a project without being asked.”
- “Tell me about a time you improved a process or procedure at work.”
- “Give me an example of a time you went above and beyond your job description.”
- “Describe a major obstacle that you had to overcome.”
- “What is your greatest accomplishment?”
Tips to Develop/Show Initiative
If you’re not someone known for showing initiative, the good news is that you can change that perception pretty quickly. “Initiative” is less about having some innate ability and more about looking for opportunities and putting yourself out there.
Here are some ways to show more initiative in your workplace.
- Think Differently. Make time for brainstorming new ideas that could benefit your team or company. Schedule an hour into your week or set a quota of x new ideas per month to research. Not all of these ideas will be winners, but you’re certain to find a few gems along the way. This process also trains you to look for new ways to improve and contribute on a regular basis.
- Be Your Best. Take full advantage of all of the training options available to you. You have to be proactive because if you wait until you “have time for training,” that time may never come. First, explore the training opportunities available to you through your job (whether company-provided or company-reimbursed). However, don’t limit yourself to the obvious options. Look at free courses available through organizations like Coursera and EdX. Even if you have to pay your own way (some companies are unfortunately stingy with training), seek out ways to develop your skills and knowledge. This can help you show initiative in your current job and will also make you more marketable for future opportunities.
- Ask for Input. If you’re having trouble finding ways to take initiative, talk to your manager about where you can add the most value for the group. Ask how you could make his or her job easier. This can help you identify new ways to contribute — and just asking the question demonstrates initiative.
- Act on Constructive Feedback. If your manager or a colleague gives you constructive feedback, act on it and let them know that you acted on it. For example, if your boss mentions that your writing could be more concise, sign up for a writing class or pick up a book on writing skills, then make a point of thanking your manager for the advice and mentioning how much the class/book has helped you.
Coming Up Next
There you have it: Part 1 of our in-depth guide to the Top 10 most desirable job skills that every star candidate should be able to demonstrate.
How do you rank in each of these Top 3? Where could you make improvements? How could you do a better job of demonstrating these attractive qualities in your resume and job interviews? (Hint: Work on those STAR stories that demonstrate your key competencies. We have a tool for doing this inside Big Interview, our complete job interview training and practice software.)
Stay tuned for our next installment as we continue with the Top 10 Most Valued Job Skills.