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Featured Article: Skills Most Sought by Employers

Ken Barnesby Ken Barnes

As internship and career specialists, we’re trained to prepare you for your job search (finding, applying, and interviewing, for opportunities.); but we are also charged with preparing you for the actual job. In doing so, it is helpful to identify not only the characteristics and traits employers look for in hiring, but also the characteristics and traits that will help you advance throughout your position and career.

Below are the skills and traits employers have identified that will significantly help you throughout your career. If you haven’t already started developing these skills, talk to us and we’ll help you assess the best way to develop them for your dream job.

Communications Skills
(Verbal, Written, Listening)
The one skill most often sought by employers is the ability to communicate well – to listen, write, and speak effectively. This particular skill crosses all industries and professions, so developing it will significantly help you in your job search as well as in advancement throughout your career. Taking a few Rhetoric and Communications courses will do a lot in developing the verbal side of this skill set. Writing courses will help you with the written side.

Liberal arts students develop communication skills through their normal day-to-day actions but don’t necessarily know how to describe them on their resume. Talk to a career services specialist and tell them about your activities and ask if there is an effective way of describing your communication skills.
Analytical/Research Skills
The ability to assess a situation, seek multiple perspectives, gather information, and identify key issues that need to be addressed can help you in any position. Learning methods to analyze and research issues will help you develop this skill.

Also related to this is the above skill set – communication. You can have excellent analytical/research skills, but if you cannot communicate well enough, your skills are of no benefit to you. The ability to summarize your findings on a particular issue in an effective way can really help you advance through your career or shine in an interview.
Computer/Technical Skills
Most jobs require basic understanding of computer hardware and software; especially email, word processing and spreadsheets (PowerPoint is also very popular). Expect to already have these skills for most positions.

Acquiring skills beyond these can be extremely beneficial. Learning desktop publishing, internet publishing (blogs, etc.), internet commerce, and the ability to keep up with mainstream technology (software and hardware) will help you remain competitive in the job market and might give you an edge over other candidates.
Flexibility and Adaptability
This characteristic is essential if you work in a fast-paced quick-changing environment like politics. Of course the political arena isn’t the only fast-paced arena that requires flexibility and adaptability, so take a close look at the industry or profession you are considering and see if it requires this characteristic. Chances are it will, so developing or showing fluency in this would be to your advantage.
Multitasking or Managing Multiple Priorities
The ability to manage multiple assignments and tasks, set priorities and complete projects in a timely manner is crucial in many industries. If you have this skill, be able to explain it in great detail: how you set your priorities, how you maintain a schedule, how you delegate, etc.

If you think you don’t have this skill, think about your class schedule and how you complete assignments and projects for different courses. Successful students are inherently good at multitasking, so take that skill and further develop it or explain it in a way an employer would understand and appreciate.
Interpersonal Skills
Relating to co-workers, inspiring others to participate, and mitigating conflict with co-workers can be vital. Employers like team-players; and the ability to create a cohesive environment will make you stand out as a team player and as someone who improves the work environment.

This skill can easily be developed in a class setting and refined through internships, part-time jobs, clubs and other activities.
Leadership/Management Skills
This goes without say. The ability to lead is probably the quickest way to advance in any profession.

Taking control in the absence of leadership or key members, volunteering to take on new assignments, and taking charge or showing initiative by developing your own projects gets noticed very quickly.
Multicultural Sensitivity/Awareness
There is no bigger issue in the workplace than diversity, and job-seekers must clearly demonstrate a sensitivity and awareness to other people, cultures and sexual orientations.

This also plays a large role in advancement. Without a good understanding of diversity, you won’t be expected to lead or supervise a group. With it, you may stand out as a valuable resource for the company/organization or for clients and customers.

Unfortunately, saying you are open-minded doesn’t quite cut it. Consider participating in the Diversity Leadership Development Program. Other options: go to programs offered by diversity-related clubs and organizations, attend cultural events, and take ethnic study courses. This will broaden your understanding of diversity.
The ability to design, plan, organize, and implement projects and tasks within an allotted timeframe can be very important. This is similar to multitasking, but also involves goal setting and achieving.
Problem-Solving, Reasoning, and Creativity
The ability to find solutions to problems using creativity, reasoning, past experiences, available information and resources can indicate how well you will lead when you are put in charge. It can also be a good indicator of how well you think on your feet or how innovative you will be for the company/organization.
The ability to work with others in a professional manner while achieving a common goal or goals has become increasingly important in today’s work environment.

Surprisingly, this is not highlighted on many resumes. Working on group class projects, participating in team sports, and participating in clubs and organizations re things that many students have already done that show how well they work on a team. These experiences just need to be highlighted in a way that interests employers.

Personal Values Employers Seek in Employees
Here is a list of the most important personal characteristics and values employers seek. Some are repeats of the skills listed above, so pay close attention - the repeats are especially important.

  • Honesty, Integrity and Morality
  • Adaptability and Flexibility - Being open to new ideas and concepts
  • Dedication, Work Ethic and Tenacity
  • Dependability, Reliability, and Responsibility
  • Loyalty
  • Positive Attitude, Motivation and Passion
  • Professionalism
  • Self-Confidence
  • Self-Motivated 
  • Ability to Work with Little or No Supervision
  • Willingness to Learn
  • Enthusiasm
  • Empathy for other people
  • Creativity
Skills by industry/profession:
Below is a list of popular professions and the desired skills for successful navigation. Take a look at how many professions seek and require good communication skills.

Math, active listening, critical thinking, monitoring and active learning
Advertising Executives
Communication (listening, verbal, written), critical thinking and active listening
Advertising Sales Agents
Communication (listening and verbal), math, active learning, and reading comprehension
Communication (listening, verbal, written), reading comprehension, creative thinking
Broadcast Media
Communication (listening, verbal, written)
Criminal Investigators and Special Agents
Communication (listening, verbal, written), reading comprehension, learning strategies
Mathematics, Communication (listening, verbal, written), reading comprehension, active learning
Communication (listening, verbal, written), critical thinking and active learning
Education Administrators
Communication (listening, verbal, written), reading comprehension, monitoring, learning strategies
Communication (listening, verbal, written), critical thinking, learning strategies and monitoring
Financial Analysts
Math, reading comprehension, communication, critical thinking, active learning
Fire Fighters
Communication (listening, verbal, written), critical thinking, and active learning
Human Resource Managers
Communication (listening, verbal, written), reading comprehension, monitoring
Law Clerks
Communication (listening, verbal, written)
Managerial Positions
Communication (listening, verbal, written) and active learning
Marketing Managers
Communication (listening, verbal, written), critical thinking, active learning, reading comprehension
Police/Patrol Officers
Communication (listening, verbal, written), critical thinking, reading comprehension
Purchasing Agents
Communication (listening, verbal, written), active learning, critical thinking, reading comprehension
Real Estate Agents
Communication (listening, verbal, written), math, and reading comprehension
Sales Managers
Communication (listening, verbal, written), math, reading comprehension, monitoring
Social and Community Service Managers
Communication (listening, verbal, written), reading comprehension, active learning

Communication (listening, verbal, written), critical thinking, reading comprehension, science

Treasurers and Controllers
Math, reading comprehension, critical thinking, Communication (listening, written)

Things your supervisor would like you to know (but probably won't tell you):
Would you like to know what makes a candidate shine? Most supervisors won't tell you this, but here is a list of things you should know in order to stand out when starting your job.

  • Go the extra mile. If you want to stand out, there's nothing better than going the extra mile and doing more than what's expected. Not only will this distinguish you from others, it also makes you stand out for promotions, advancements, special projects, and in tough economic times, more indispensible.
  • Get the job done on-time instead of making it perfect. Many new employees get stuck on making a project or assignment perfect instead of getting it done on time. Most employers will be much more pleased with on-time "B-quality" work instead of late "A-quality" work.
  • Choose your battles carefully. Inevitably you will disagree with someone. Using discretion and choosing your battles carefully will make you stand out. If you disagree with someone, ask yourself "Is this a hill I'm willing to die on?" If so, then fight for it (but do your homework and present a well-supported argument). If not, put it behind you and move on.
  • Pay attention to company business and learn about what others are doing. Staying informed about company goals and knowing how your duties contribute to them are significant. They will help you keep the big picture in mind. Also, learning different aspects of your colleague's responsibilities will enable you to contribute or take the lead during absences.
  • Read your boss' mind. A good supervisor always remains professional but doesn't always tell you what's on their mind. Know what certain phrases mean. Phrases like "When you get a chance," "If you aren't too busy," or "If it's not too much trouble" all mean "Do it, and do it now." Most suggestions are polite orders, not optional requests, and "I don't think that's the way..." means "no."
  • Know your profession. Nothing makes you stand out more than knowing your profession. Read industry publications, attend webinars, and keep up-to-date on as much information as possible. This may make you the "go to" person of the company.

Last but not least, I thought I would include the 14 leadership traits of the U.S. Marine Corps. Why? Because these traits can be used to help anyone advance through any industry or profession. They also have quite a bit in common with many of the other aspects of advancement written in this article. Click here to read them.

Hopefully this article has given you something to think about. Chances are, the skills and values mentioned have already been integrated in many of the organizations you have either worked/interned for or would like to. A good way to find out is by asking for a mentor. Setting up regular meetings with a mentor (someone successful in the organization) can be very beneficial to your career.

Ken Barnes, Program Coordinator
Internship and Career Center

Articles by Ken Barnes
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