Most jobs have specific requirements. But beyond technical skills, employees also need more general soft skills to get the job done. According to the Job Outlook 2018 Survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, problem-solving skills and the ability to work in a team are the top two soft skills that employers seek in job candidates, followed by written communication and leadership skills.

Why do companies rank these skills so highly? Let’s take a closer look at the most important soft skills.

Problem-Solving

We hire people to solve problems, so it’s no surprise that problem-solving is at the top of the most-wanted skills list. Problem-solving involves critical thinking — the ability to ask the right questions to define the problem, then examine the evidence and analyze various solutions to choose the right course of action.

Millennials are the largest generation in the workforce, but according to a recent study by MindEdge, a Waltham, Mass.-based learning company founded in 1998 by Harvard and MIT educators, many millennials lack critical thinking skills.

“It is no longer enough to have a specific set of technical or discipline-specific skills, but rather we must foster broader critical thinking to address the challenges that lie ahead for all of us,” according to Dr. Jennifer L. Schneider, the Eugene H. Fram Chair in Applied Critical Thinking at Rochester Institute of Technology.

But like muscles, critical thinking can be developed. “Critical thinking is a skill that can be learned through practice of the fundamentals — for example, information literacy, integrative problem solving, design and innovation.” Learning how to read and analyze information, then taking a creative approach to solving problems will often result in better solutions.
However, she says, it’s important for employers to allow workers to ask questions and give them room to make mistakes.

Teamwork

Teamwork is an umbrella term that includes trust, active listening, asking for and giving help when needed, shared responsibility, accepting the strengths and weaknesses of others, resolving conflicts and constructive criticism.

As work becomes more collaborative, employees must be able to embrace a variety of opinions and viewpoints. And as the workplace itself becomes more diverse and inclusive, employees’ ability to work well with others is crucial to an organization’s success.

Gone are the days of the superstar, and companies are learning that workplace silos and turf wars are detrimental to employee engagement levels and the company’s bottom line.

Written Communication

Employees at every level need written communication skills. From sending and responding to emails to writing reports and other documents, the ability to write effectively — and also to understand what has been written — is a necessary skill.

Employees must communicate with co-workers, bosses and subordinates in addition to clients and customers, and even the public at large. And before an employee even secures a job, they need to submit a polished resume and application letter.

Employees are brand ambassadors for their companies, and their written communication is a reflection of the organization. Grammar, spelling and punctuation errors reflect badly on the company.

Leadership

Companies need more than just workers. They also need people in the succession pipeline: future leaders. Potential leaders need to possess all of the skills listed above, but they must also be able to motivate others, delegate tasks, manage conflicts and exhibit emotional intelligence.

“The numbers on a balance sheet will change, the stock price will fluctuate, but an emotional connection will resonate long after the statistics fade,” says Susan Kuczmarski, head of the Kuczmarski Innovation consulting firm and co-author of “Apples Are Square: Thinking Differently About Leadership.” “Contrary to popular belief, it is not financial reward that inspires greatness — leaders find a way to connect with others and inspire the ability each of us has.”

In the past, she says that leaders who expressed themselves emotionally were considered weak. “However, the new leadership paradigm asks you to contribute your total self, express yourself emotionally, show enthusiasm and concern about others — to express you really care.”

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