Students often ask about the skills most critical for success. While there are certainly unique factors for specific jobs and companies, I hear very consistent themes from employers on this topic. The following five skills are critical for success in today’s job market.
- Ability to Communicate – To succeed in most jobs the employee must be able to communicate effectively both orally and in writing. You can be very smart, you can have great ideas but if you can’t communicate, you risk being passed over for the next exciting project. Professional, business communication skills are still the expectation. Employers expect employees to write a clear, concise email or executive summary. Grammar, punctuation and spelling do matter. Increasingly employers are seeking candidates who can analyze large amounts of data and then share a concise, actionable summary with senior management.
- Work Effectively on a Team – The ability to effectively work as part of a team is critical to success in most organizations. That means sometimes being a leader, sometimes being a good follower, monitoring the progress, meeting deadlines and working with other across the organization to achieve a common goal. Employers want employees who can effectively work as part of a team, not as a lone contributor.
- Ability and Willingness to Learn – The world is changing, business is changing and the pace of change continues to accelerate. To succeed in most organizations you need to have a passion for learning and the ability to continue to grow and stretch your skills to adapt to the changing needs of the organization. Little demand for dinosaurs these days. Demonstrate your curiosity by learning more about the organization and how your work impacts other groups.
- Ability to Influence, Persuade and Negotiate – There are few jobs you can do in a vacuum. In most roles you need other people to do things so you can do your job. There are steps in the process before your area of responsibility and often steps after you do your part. Usually you do not have authority over those people. You need to have the skill to develop mutually beneficial relationships in the organization so you can influence and persuade people to do what you need them to do in turn ensuring you are delivering what they need. You need to be able to negotiate win-win solutions to serve the best interests of the company and the individuals involved. There is no room for the “blame game.”
- Ability to Analyze the Data – With increased computer skills, many employees can build spreadsheets and manipulate the data in various ways. What elevates an employee above the crowd is the ability to analyze the data. Don’t just total the columns, calculate an average and sort the data. What story does the data tell? What questions does it raise? Are there different ways to interpret the data? Instead of handing your boss a spreadsheet, give them a business summary and highlight the key areas for attention. Suggest possible next steps. Using the data to manage business decisions is a critical differentiator. These days there are times when there is too much data and knowing what is important and relevant data is a key skill. Employers have described what they are looking for as candidates who can go from “mining to meaning” and who are “analysts not reporters.”
These skills alone may not put you on a direct track to the corner office but, employees with these skills will definitely be more successful in their careers.