What do hiring managers look for as they comb through a stack of resumes? Tech leaders may naturally look for a coding whiz while investment bankers will search for someone with a solid history in finance. The specific skills employers look for will vary according to the industry. But these are just the hard skills necessary for success, and it’s likely that many candidates will come with experience to support those talents.
When hiring for any position, be it an entry-level associate or a CFO, hiring managers often look far beyond the surface of a resume. This is because experience, though relevant and frequently necessary, is not the determining factor that most commonly pushes one candidate above another. Instead, managers look more to soft skills to help differentiate one qualified candidate from another.
Top Skills Employers Look For In Applicants
Much like top colleges that receive many more qualified applicants than they can accept, recruiters often find that they receive many qualified candidates with the hard skills necessary to do the job. So, what is it that sets one candidate apart from the others? Here are 11 specific skills employers look for when weighing their options.
1. Problem-Solving Skills
In a 2019 survey of more than 1,200 employers worldwide, problem-solving skills were ranked as the most important skill required for a job. As it turns out, 57% of employers ranked it as the most critical top skill, and another 30% rated it as the second most important skill.
But how do problem-solving skills show up on a resume or cover letter? Job seekers might give examples of past work they’ve done, including how they used critical thinking skills to come up with new solutions to relevant problems in the past. This topic might also be an interview question if there’s no evidence of problem-solving skills on the resume itself.
2. Unique Technical Skills
Of course, hard skills and soft skills aren’t the only ones that matter. A company can benefit from technical skills that no one else in the office possesses. This is often the case when hiring from a younger demographic. For example, candidates with expertise in social media or specific computer skills may come in handy, even if the company isn’t focused on these things at the moment. Some of these are transferable skills that can be useful later on, so it’s a good idea for applicants to include a comprehensive list of technical skills on a resume.
3. Communication Skills
There are very few industries in which communication is nonessential. The ability to communicate clearly — both in writing and verbally — might seem most important in the humanities. But even scientists and mathematicians need to communicate their findings.
A candidate with strong writing skills will clearly get a point across in emails, briefings, and reports. An articulate applicant can represent the company positively when interacting with clients, colleagues, or other businesses. Someone who listens carefully and speaks well will seldom misunderstand instructions and will provide a clear picture of progress or obstacles.
Communication skills are often easy to evaluate since communication is a natural part of the hiring process. Emails, phone conversations, and impressions from the interview also shed light on an applicant’s communication skills.
4. Time Management Skills
Time is a limited asset, so learning to manage it is essential for workplace success. Time management skills allow a worker to prioritize tasks, stay organized, and remain calm even when making important decisions.
A job seeker may exhibit time management skills in the interview process by arriving early, meeting deadlines, and replying to queries promptly. Employers may ask references about an applicant’s time management skills before making a final hiring decision.
5. Positive Attitude
Maintaining a positive work environment is essential not just for morale, but also for productivity. Even one negative employee can have an enormous impact on the overall company culture. In contrast, a worker with a positive attitude is more likely to rise to challenges and consistently put forth the best effort.
Attitude is a quality that comes across clearly during a job interview. While hiring managers may not ask the questions aloud, they are certainly thinking them: Is this someone who seems excited about the job? Does the candidate view challenges as obstacles or as opportunities? What is the applicant’s overall demeanor? A job seeker who is enthusiastic, thoughtful, and optimistic can leave a lasting positive impression.
There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, but a great colleague will toe the line with grace. Someone who goes into a job with a can-do attitude will naturally rub off on co-workers. This can be vital in customer-facing roles when a company needs to ensure that clients feel comfortable.
Confidence is another soft skill that often shines in interviews and other less formal means of communication. Recruiters might notice that a candidate seems knowledgeable about the industry and is more apt to connect prior knowledge within the current context. However, being an overly confident know-it-all is a no-no. The last thing any company wants is someone who thinks they know everything.
7. Team Player
A 2018 issue of American Psychologist titled “The Science of Teamwork” outlines the many ways that teamwork benefits a workplace and team functioning. Research shows that collaboration fosters greater levels of creative problem-solving, higher overall performance levels, and a more productive and engaging working environment.
Team players will often ask questions that highlight their understanding of their specific role within a more significant operation. Companies look for people whose experiences show they can both lead and follow, but they also listen for evidence that demonstrates an applicant values the opinions of others.
8. Leadership Skills
All teams need a leader, and sometimes a team member will need to step up unexpectedly and take the reins. This doesn’t mean that he or she isn’t a team player. It goes back to the bigger picture mentioned earlier — team players can both lead and follow.
Leadership skills are closely intertwined with many of the other areas on this list of the skills employers look for. Leaders are typically good communicators, confident workers, and strong problem solvers. Hiring managers look for examples of leadership on a resume such as experience being a club president, team captain, or similar roles.
9. Work Ethic
Work ethic refers to how willing someone is to keep going, even when the work is hard. This takes a lot of self-discipline but it will become an automatic response over time. Companies want to know: When confronted with an obstacle, is this employee likely to walk away, or will they more than likely rise to the occasion?
Sometimes a candidate’s work record is the best testament to his or her work ethic. For example, if an applicant has cycled through many jobs, lasting only a short time at each, an employer will want to know why. If there has been a lot of moving around, be clear about the circumstances surrounding these changes in employment to prevent any misgivings about work ethic.
10. Interpersonal Skills
Interpersonal skills encompass many smaller skills that are valuable in day-to-day interactions — both in and out of the workplace — such as conflict resolution, empathy, and active listening. A worker with strong interpersonal skills will make meaningful connections with colleagues, and these relationships will become more valuable in the workplace.
Interpersonal skills can be hard to gauge, but they’re often just a general feeling or vibe that a person gives off. Do you leave the interview feeling like you could have coffee with this person? If so, they probably have strong interpersonal skills that draw you in.
Is the Candidate a Good Fit?
Ultimately, a hiring decision will boil down to how well an applicant fits within the company. Different firms will prioritize the skills on this list in a variety of ways, even within the same industry. As such, some job candidates are bound to be better suited at one company more than another.
Thinking about company values and reflecting on company culture is a great way to prioritize the skills that recruiters look for in the hiring process. Pay attention to job descriptions, which will highlight a company’s mission and what they’re looking for in a candidate.
For young professionals looking to get a foot in the door and gain experience in the field, an internship may provide a clearer entry point for future employment. For more insight on the intern selection process, see the guides on how to get an internship and what to include on an internship resume to learn more.