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The TOP Seven Skills Expected of a 21st Century Job Hunters

Posted on Nov 6, 2016 by Ulrich Schild

If employers could design their ideal new employee hire, what would that person look like? What essential skills and knowledge are the MUST HAVEs to be considered for jobs in 2016 and beyond?

Every job in every industry or discipline requires a variety of competencies: a combination of some narrower skills and knowledge specific to the job in question (so-called technical skills) as well as some more general skills (like teamwork or communication) that are useful across a broad range of jobs, which I’ll call general or fundamental skills. There are seven MUST HAVE SKILLS that apply to almost any job. Check your skillset and if you lack one or more of these skills don’t be surprised if you don’t hear back from the hiring manager or recruiter.


I have excluded attributes that are either less ‘trainable’ or very difficult to demonstrate through any sort of standardised assessment. The remaining skills and knowledge that appear repeatedly in today’s job ads seem to me to fall into seven categories of related skills that I call the seven MUST HAVE SKILLS.  So, without any further ado, let me introduce them.

1. Teamwork

This one’s pretty self-explanatory.  It is hard to find a job ad or job description about desired skills where “ability to work effectively as part of a team” does not appear somewhere near the top of the list.  Some of the more 21st century job ad listings will add the twist of being able to “demonstrate presence as part of a virtual team.”  Never heard of that one? Guess you better skill up! But whether real or virtual, teamwork is ever present in job ads.

2. 21st century communication skills

Some job ads and job descriptions distinguish between oral communication and written communication skills, or even – demonstrating that 21st century flavour again – “new media literacy” in reference to social media and basic 21st century communication tools.  However one cuts it, a new hire’s ability to use language and current tools (and I am not talking about the office keyboard/email tigers) to express him or herself effectively inside and outside the organisation is important to employers (and a skill that they often find deficient in their employees).

3. Quantitative and analytical skills/critical thinking

This skill represents a range of requirements and knowledge related to numeracy (that is the ability to work with numbers and statistics and, at higher skill levels, to use them to analyse situations).  But, I also include here skills that encompass a more ‘analytical’ approach to the world, such as critical thinking.  Another relatively common newcomer in today’s management job ads is the ability to understand and use data effectively or the “ability to translate large amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning.”  This may include the skill to even translate it back to other business stakeholders in layman’s terms. Given the growing importance and ever presence of ‘big data’ in many occupations, including teaching, the demonstrable ability to understand and translate or interpret data effectively can make or break your job application.

4. Real world creativity and problem solving

Another set of skills that employers expect or value, based on how often they appear in job ads, is creativity, innovation, and the ability to solve problems that the individual has not encountered previously.  This latter aspect of being able to apply knowledge and expertise to ‘real world’ settings is something you will need to demonstrate in your application documents. But be warned, don’t do this with fluffy and elaborate sentences and jargon.  Instead do this with tangible proof and examples.

5. Proof that you are keeping up with the rapidly changing world…

In older job ads this often appeared simply as “computer skills” but now, given the rapid changes in a wide variety of technologies, I have seen it expressed as “the ability to stay current with changing technologies and their applications to the workplace.”  How many of you could competently operate Skype, Google hangout, Trello, Basecamp or basic tools like Dropbox or basic social media tools in your workplace without the help of someone under the age of 35? (be honest now…)  Given the ways in which the online and mobile world have transformed our lives, I also include here the “ability to locate, organise, evaluate and share information from multiple sources” since the world of online and mobile apps has both made it easier for us to find those multiple sources and given us many solutions with which to work effectively without the need to be a skilled IT guru.

6. ….While staying organised and prioritising

Given the firehose of data, information, new technology and all the general change that many workers increasingly face in their jobs, another skill listed on many common 21st century job ads has to do with being organised and having the ability to prioritise what is important and what is less so. And, this is now often done with collaborative 21st century tools, not “Joe is my name, delegation is my game.” Enough said.

7. Diversity + cultural awareness and tolerance

Last, but not least, among the Big Seven is the skills and knowledge and the demonstrated value set of being able to work effectively in companies and organisations that are increasingly global, diverse and accepting.  This spans the range of “awareness and experience of” diverse cultures (either inside or outside Australia), to the ability to work with and get along with others from diverse cultures, social backgrounds and sexual orientations, to the ability to “operate” in different cultural settings. I always suggest to my clients to check this one two times before they submit their applications.

So, that’s seven 21st century skills that modern employers are often seeking and that are of value across a broad range of jobs.  You may disagree with my selection of must have skills or whether these skills are important for you but, ultimately, the number of must have skills or where exactly a skill fits is not what’s most important. What matters is the fact that you should do all you can to be ‘current’.

Fail at this and you will likely be searching for a long time. So please, double check your applications and remember to hunt wisely!


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