When you first start applying to jobs, it can be overwhelming to try and figure out what employers are looking for. There’s such a wide variety of different companies, industries, and job functions, that there’s no way to please everyone — the best programmer in the world won’t necessarily make a good salesperson, for example.
But no matter what kind of position or employer you’re looking for, there are a handful of skills — both soft and hard — that can boost your application almost anywhere. We got the inside scoop from career coaches, recruiters, HR professionals, and business owners on which traits and abilities they look for the most. Add these to your resume, and get ready to take your application to the next level.
By far the most common skill mentioned by the HR and career experts we reached out to was the ability to communicate.
“Communication, both verbal and non-verbal, affects every aspect of your professional life. From how your ideas are viewed to your relationship with co-workers, communication skills are essential,” says Michele Mavi, Resident Career Expert at Atrium Staffing.
“The best way to achieve these skills is to gain awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses, ask for feedback, observe and listen to those who have an exemplary rapport with others, and practice the skill development in all relationships,” says Katherine Daniel, Director of HR & Marketing for N2 Publishing, Inc.
Never been in an office setting before? Mikaela Kiner, Founder/CEO of UniquelyHR, says that “first time professionals may also seek training in topics around workplace etiquette to help them get familiar with what’s expected in a work environment,” while Devay Campbell, Career Coach at Career 2 Cents, believes that “taking a public speaking course or joining Toastmasters is helpful to develop oral communication skills” and taking a creative writing course and reading often can help with written communication.
2. Microsoft Office
Microsoft Office and equivalent programs such as G Suite and iWork have become absolutely critical to a functioning workplace, and as such, employers expect entry-level employees to have a mastery of them — especially when it comes to basic programs like Word and Powerpoint. One program that can serve as more of a differentiator, however, is Excel. “If you are a power user and show examples of sophisticated, multi-page spreadsheets you have created, it is a bonus,” says Henry Goldbeck, President of Goldbeck Recruiting.
If you need to brush up on your Excel skills, “[there] are several online courses you can buy to learn more, but if funds are low, there are several tutorials available on YouTube for free,” says Career Strategist Mary Grace.
3. Prior Experience and Knowledge
These days, many employers will require even entry-level employees to have professional experience, such as internships, externships, part-time jobs, etc. To set yourself apart from other candidates, you can also “focus on projects, volunteer work, and get involved in leadership,” says Wendi Weiner, Resume Writer & Career Transition Coach.
But don’t discount relevant coursework, either — “It’s a lot easier to say ‘I have an interest in being a financial adviser as shown by my relevant coursework in my finance program at X school’ as opposed to saying you have an interest in being a financial adviser but do not have any factual support to back up that interest,” Weiner says.
Once upon a time, a working knowledge in analytics was only required in the most deeply technical roles. But in the Age of Information, everyone from data science to marketing and even human resources is expected to have an idea of how data impacts their organization.
“When I interview people who say they are in those fields, but they don’t understand something like a conversion rate or click-through rate or the analytical tools that go with their job — companies get turned off since it shows a lack of depth of knowledge,” says Christy Hopkins, Human Resources Consultant and Staff Writer at Fit Small Business.
A quick Google search will help give you an idea of what metrics and analytics platforms will be most valuable to your field. From there, courses specific to those areas can be easily found online.
5. Ability to Learn Quickly
Technical knowledge is great, but as Career Counselor and Executive Coach Roy Cohen points out, “technology is a moving target. Companies need to be reassured that job candidates are versatile; should the technology change you will roll with the punches… Being able to demonstrate that you can easily come up to speed is often more valuable than just being an expert in a single application,” Cohen says.
And hand-in-hand with the ability to learn quickly needs to be “a willingness to ask and ask and ask questions (e.g. intellectual curiosity), and not mistakenly think it shows [a] lack of knowledge,” says Debra Benton, Executive Coach and author of the upcoming book The Leadership Mind Switch: Rethinking how we lead in the new world of work.
Coding may not be a necessity for every job, but it’s increasingly important — and required for more positions than you may realize.
“HTML and CSS are now expected for graphic designers and digital marketing positions,” Hopkins says, so anyone applying to those roles should have some experience in programming. But even if it’s not listed as a job requirement, HTML and CSS “gives you a huge edge if you do have them,” and “you can easily take reasonably priced courses online through various companies on the basics.”
You may have gotten used to being an MVP in school, but at work, it’s all about being a team player.
“Teams and groups of workers are becoming increasingly common… workers need to be able to get along with others and be productive and supportive,” says Laura MacLeod, From The Inside Out Project®. “These skills are best learned by watching and learning from role models. Think about people you know who do this well and watch how they navigate relationships and group dynamics… Work on improving current relationships, being more collaborative in your group of friends or family, meeting people and forming new groups and relationships.”
8. Organizational Skills
In school, it’s not uncommon for particularly bright people to skate by on their intelligence, even if their organization skills leave something to be desired. But in the workplace, organization is an absolute must. Things like frequently updating and prioritizing your to-do list, organizing your inbox, keeping track of important documents, and project management are all essential for workplace success — so if you need to hone these skills, the time to start is now.
Again, not all jobs will require a knowledge of Photoshop, but you might be surprised at the positions in which it’s useful, even if it’s not related to art or design.
“You won’t be expected to create a masterpiece, but if you have the skills to enhance or modify a photo, or add visual graphics to a report on PowerPoint, you can build from there,” Mavi says. “This is something that entry-level candidates can teach themselves via YouTube tutorials so there really is no excuse to not have at least a basic knowledge.”
And don’t be intimidated by the price tag on the software itself — check if you have access to it for free through your current employer or school. If nothing else, active students (and teachers, for that matter) are eligible for discounts.
“I know it sounds trite,” acknowledges Jeffrey Moss, Founder/CEO of Parker Dewey, but “from the work we have done, and feedback we have received from companies following the completion of the projects, the number one ‘skill’ is the drive to get the work done.”
This is important, Moss says, because “it includes so many of the other hard and soft skills.”
“The career launchers who have consistently [done] the best job are those that have the intrinsic motivation to get it done, and leverage everything at their disposal to accomplish it. They also look beyond the immediate tactical aspects and appreciate the larger implications and benefits to them,” Moss says.
11. Social Media
With most people applying to entry-level roles being Millennials, many employers assume that a strong knowledge of social media is a given. “Entry-level employees are expected to be adept at research on the major platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) as well as using them to communicate,” Mavi says.
“Not only is it important to be aware of current events that show up on the feed,” adds Grace “You can also utilize these skills on behalf of the company.”
Whether you’re a self-professed social media expert or not, you may, simply by virtue of being a digital native, be asked to chip in on a company’s social media strategy — so come prepared with a good understanding of industry best practices and social analytics.
Know how annoying it is when your friend shows up 30 minutes late to dinner over and over again? Yeah, employers aren’t a fan of that either. They want “employees who will always arrive at work on time and get to meetings and appointments early,” says Timothy G. Wiedman, a retired Associate Professor of Management & Human Resources.
And punctuality extends to timeliness of work as well — “meet all deadlines and get an early start on projects,” Wiedman advises.
13. Customer Service
Many entry-level jobs are client-facing, so customer service skills are a great thing to list on your resume.
“Thinking on your toes and a keen focus on delivering exceptional service, to both your co-workers and customers, is immediately noticed and valued by hiring managers,” Grace says. “This skill is best honed via practice. As you talk to friends and colleagues, practice being helpful and offering solutions to their problems.”
But don’t be afraid to take a page out of the books of well-known companies either.
“There are also great blogs and articles that detail what great customer service looks like,” Grace adds. “Reading articles on Disney and Nordstrom‘s customer service approach is a great place to start.”
14. Positive Attitude
“Skills are one thing,” Benton says, but “attitude is the tie-breaker between you getting the job and another young person with comparable skills getting it.” This includes, among other things, “a cheerfulness; not being dour (you don’t have to be full of jokes but you should be full of good cheer),” “honesty: do what you say you’ll do no matter what; no shading the truth,” and “confidence… (even if you don’t exactly feel it). No one feels confident always, they are just good at camouflaging their insecurities — you should too,” according to Benton.