What Employers Want: 20 Most In-Demand Employability Skills

The world keeps on changing and, with it, so does the modern workplace. As new technologies emerge, and as people continually redefine what matters, businesses need to stay up to speed in order to maximize efficiency, and keep their workers — and customers — happy.

Anyone who’s looking to kick-start their career, change career paths or progress to a more senior role in 2024 must, therefore, be aware of these shifts and familiarize themselves with what employers are looking for.

So, let’s not waste any time: here are the 20 most in-demand skills that can help candidates stand out from the crowd and make a positive impression during the hiring process.

Problem-solving skills are among the most important soft skills an employee can have. Let’s face it: so long as we’re working, we will never run out of challenges to face and issues to solve. And, as everyone around us is equally busy solving their own brain teasers, it’s good to be able to rely on ourselves as much as possible to come up with solutions.

To sharpen up this ability, ensure you’re resting enough, and eating and sleeping well. In addition, picking up a new hobby, such as learning chess, playing board games or learning to code, can strengthen this skill.

2. Analytics

Geoffrey Moore, an organizational theorist and management consultant, once said: “Without big data analytics, companies are blind and deaf, wandering out onto the Web like deer on a freeway.”

It’s true: looking at numbers can help companies understand their audiences better, optimize their content, products and workflows, and overall increase efficiency and productivity.

If you’re new to data analysis, fear not: there are many online courses you can take, such Google’s own Analytics Academy, as well as countless resources you can access for free.

3. Sales

The term “sales skills” is an umbrella term that encompasses various soft skills. These include product expertise, computer skills, as well as interpersonal skills like empathy and active listening.

As the term is quite broad, it’s essential to identify individual skills that fall under this category in order to find which ones you could benefit from working on. You may naturally be good at empathizing with people, for example, but find it difficult to converse with total strangers. In this scenario, a public speaking course (though sort of terrifying) could benefit you greatly.

In an ever-evolving and unpredictable world, where clairvoyance has still not been mastered by anyone (as far as we know), being able to respond effectively to change and not merely react to it is essential in the workplace and outside it.

A great way to become more adaptable in the workplace is to adopt what’s known as a growth mindset. This is a way of thinking that accepts unexpected changes (and mistakes) as inevitable, and defines them as excellent opportunities to learn and improve.

Indeed, the less we fear and resist such occurrences, the more energy we can dedicate to devising solutions.

According to the American Institute of Stress, work-related stress affects 83% of all workers, which results in 1 million Americans missing work every day. This, as you can imagine, gets very costly for employers.

While companies should be doing their best to promote employee wellbeing through fair remuneration and personalized benefits, each of us can still take steps to safeguard our own mental health in the office.

Some ways you can do this include prioritizing your work–life balance, spending time with loved ones, volunteering, and exercising frequently.

It’s not just managers and C-level executives that are expected to demonstrate leadership skills. Problem solving, decision making, accountability and adaptability are just some of the soft skills that belong under the leadership skills category, and, as you can imagine, even the most junior member of the team can benefit from having them.

Taking initiative, asking for more responsibility and holding yourself accountable (all great ways of demonstrating leadership ability) require you to feel confident. Embracing a growth mindset, investing in your ongoing learning and dealing effectively with mistakes can all boost your self-esteem in the workplace.

7. Coding

Although many of the skills on this list are soft skills, certain technical skills are also in high demand.

As our dependency on technology continues to grow in multiple ways, companies are always on the lookout for skilled coders who can help improve their product, service or way of working with their know-how.

Luckily, the internet is full of free and affordable resources, such as courses and tutorials, that can help you improve your coding skills or learn a new programming language.

8. Emotional intelligence

In the words of Alan Price, CEO of BrightHR, “emotionally intelligent employees have a strong ability to empathize, self-regulate and outperform”.

Indeed: the more aware and in control you are of your emotions, and the more in tune with the emotional worlds of those around you, the better you can communicate, collaborate and keep misunderstandings from escalating. This, of course, is highly desirable for companies that end up losing billions each year due to poor communication and workplace conflict!

To boost this vital soft skill, start by reading a few self-help or psychology books, and consider enrolling in a relevant online course.

9. Prioritization

Have you ever noticed how your to-do list has the tendency to behave like the Lernaean Hydra? For those unfamiliar with Greek mythology (or Disney’s Hercules), that’s a reference to the legendary, multi-headed monster said to have had the ability to grow two heads in place of a severed one.

With your to-dos multiplying infinitely in a similar fashion, knowing how to prioritize them successfully is essential to doing a good job.

Utilize tools such as Kanban boards, reminders and time trackers to keep track of what needs to be done when, and how long certain types of projects tend to take you!

10. Management

Conflict resolution, delegation, decision making and proactivity are all soft skills that enhance people’s management ability. Aspiring managers, in particular, need to develop these skills to show that, in the future, they’ll be able to interact effectively with their team members, motivating others to work smarter and collaborative better.

Reading introductory books on how to manage teams and enrolling in a course (such as Harvard’s “Management Essentials” online course) can help you quickly get started.

Communication can be split into three main categories: verbal, written and non-verbal. The latter refers to the information we convey through our actions and body language.

In the workplace, what we say (and show) to others matters. If you’re looking to improve your communication ability, we recommend starting by giving up making assumptions. If something is unclear, ask. If someone says something that bothers you, bring it up (nicely), and see what their intention was.

Also, make a mental note to let people finish before you start speaking, no matter how eager you may be to share an idea! The more self-aware you are, the better you become at communicating.

As Steve Jobs once said, “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”

To demonstrate great teamwork ability, team members must be able to listen to others without interrupting, communicate respectfully, and manage their own time well so as not to slow down the whole team — to name a few things.

To boost your teamwork skills, therefore, try to identify where there’s room for improvement, and always stay mindful of your tone. What you consider a well-intentioned “nudge” may come across as a condescending remark to one of your colleagues.

13. AI skills

The World Economic Forum reports that up to 40% of workers are going to need to be reskilled over the next three years if companies are to thrive in the ongoing AI revolution and successfully implement these technologies in the workplace. As such, hiring managers look favorably upon candidates who already possess some know-how!

If you’ve never used an AI tool such as ChatGPT, you may want to consider becoming acquainted sooner rather than later. You might be surprised by how easy it is to use, and just how useful! (Hint: it can even help you ace that upcoming interview.)

Various top firms and universities are also offering free AI classes you can take online.

Creativity is an essential component to crafting innovative products and coming up with something original to say… Or, at least, coming up with an original way to present conventional wisdom!

In today’s interconnected world, where companies and brands are often competing with rivals from halfway across the globe, creativity is necessary to stand out, establish a loyal fanbase and push boundaries.

If you work in a creative industry especially, boosting your creative thinking skills can help you advance your career. This can be done by consuming various types of content (including ones you normally wouldn’t), writing down ideas on the go in a journal, switching up your work environment where possible, and bouncing ideas off of friends and colleagues.

Most of us have felt, at one point or another, that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to complete the tasks our boss expects us to. However, it’s still up to us to find ways to make the most of our working hours.

Developing soft skills such as time management takes practice. By working on forming good habits, such as writing neat to-do lists for individual days as well as whole weeks, you can eliminate the possibility of forgetting something and rushing to get it done at the last minute. Using a generative AI tool such as ChatGPT to draft emails and come up with ideas can also save you time.

16. Project management

In an article by the Forbes Technology Council panel, project managers’ duties have been likened to the act of “constantly keeping multiple balls in the air”. Should a project manager drop one, the whole project risks quickly getting derailed.

As project management roles are crucial, we recommend investing plenty of time to developing all the necessary skills, from communication and problem solving to emotional intelligence.

Reading a book on project management, such as Scott Berkun’s Making Things Happen, is a good place to start. The same goes for acquiring certification, such as Google’s Project Management Certificate, which can also look great on your résumé.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, about half of US workers are highly satisfied with their jobs. Among respondents, those with the highest incomes plus those belonging to older age groups — two demographics that tend to overlap — report the highest levels of job satisfaction.

But what happens when you wake up every day and dread the moment you have to step into the office? The answer is that your motivation takes a blow — and that can cause your manager to become reluctant to give you more responsibilities or opportunities.

Some ways to stay motivated include setting your own (both short- and long-term) goals, investing in lifelong learning, and practicing mindfulness.

18. Organization

Have you ever come across a job description that says “disorganized individual wanted”? No, right? Because that would only result in chaos, slowing teams down and causing all sorts of problems and arguments.

Still, organization isn’t an innate ability to everyone. To strengthen your organizational “muscles”, try to get into the habit of clearly naming and neatly filing your documents (digital or not), creating lists, taking detailed notes, and taking regular breaks. Yes, breaks; you can’t expect your mind to recall everything swiftly if it’s lagging harder than your company-loaned laptop.

19. Customer service

Although AI is transforming customer service roles, it hasn’t replaced them — and possibly won’t any time soon. Still, providing customer support can be particularly stressful and exhausting, leaving people susceptible to suffering from burnout.

If you want to do a good job in this line of work, therefore, it’s vital that you work on building your resilience as well as your people skills. Taking care of your emotional and physical wellbeing, interacting with people of various ages and backgrounds, and developing your negotiation ability can all come in handy.

20. Research

Research skills don’t just make academics’ lives easier! They can still come in handy in a number of professions, from natural and social science jobs to creative roles.

Increasing your knowledge around a subject, generating clever (and viable) ideas, and uncovering and validating information are all great benefits that come through honing your research ability.

Much like the term “communication skills”, which encompasses various soft skills, “research skills” is a broad term referring to abilities like critical thinking, problem solving and attention to detail. Wide reading, joining a debate club and getting into the habit of neatly organizing your files can all help on this front.

Final thoughts

Soft skills such as teamwork, adaptability and strong communication skills are vital in carrying out your job, no matter what industry you work in. Employers know this — that’s why, in recent years, skills-based hiring has become more and more popular.

Though this isn’t to say that the résumé is completely dead, most employers care about your skill set as much as they care about your experience and qualifications. After all, many of these soft skills allow you to demonstrate excellent work ethic, which tells hiring managers you could contribute to their company’s success in the long term.

So, there we have it: the top 20 employability skills in today’s job market. Can you think of any more to add to our list? Let us know in a comment!

This article is a complete update of an earlier version originally published on January 18, 2018.

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