Skills Employers Seek

One of the many important purposes and outcomes of your college experience is the acquisition of a combination of knowledge and skills. Two types of skills are essential to employment and to life: content skills and transferable skills.

Content Skills

Often referred to as cognitive, intellectual, or “hard” skills, content skills are acquired as you gain mastery in your academic field. They include writing proficiency, computer literacy, and foreign language skills. Computing knowledge and ability are now perceived as core skills that are equal in importance to reading, writing, and mathematics. In fact, employers’ expectations regarding computer knowledge and application—particularly related specifically to your industry—continue to rise.

Content skills include specific types of information, facts, principles, and rules. For instance, perhaps you have knowledge of civil engineering related to dam construction or have extensive experience working with telescopes. Maybe you have worked in a library and have been trained in accessing several library databases, or maybe you know the most common clinical diagnoses in psychology. We often forget some of the preparation we have gained that augments our mastery of specific academic material, especially statistics, research methods, foreign language aptitude, and computer literacy. You can apply all this specific knowledge to jobs in a particular field or occupation.

Certain types of employers will expect extensive knowledge in your academic major before they will consider hiring you; for example, to get a job in accounting, you must demonstrate knowledge of Quickbooks or advanced Microsoft Excel proficiency. Employers will not train you in basic applications or knowledge related to your field, so remember to be prepared to speak of your qualifications during the interview process.

For most college students it’s sufficient to have some fundamental knowledge. You will learn more on the job as you move from entry-level work to more advanced positions.

Transferable Skills

content skills Cognitive, intellectual, or “hard” skills acquired as one gains mastery in an academic field. They include writing proficiency, computer literacy, and foreign language skills.

Transferable skills are skills that are general and apply to or transfer to a variety of settings. By category, these transferable skills are as follows:

  • Communication skills that demonstrate solid oral and listening abilities in addition to a good foundation in the basic content skill of writing

  • Presentation skills, including the ability to justify and persuade as well as the ability to respond to questions and serious critiques of your presentation material

  • Leadership skills, or the ability to take charge or relinquish control according to the needs of the organization

  • Team skills, or the ability to work collaboratively with different people while maintaining autonomous control over some assignments

  • Interpersonal skills, or the ability to relate to others, inspire others to participate, or ease conflict between coworkers

  • Personal traits, including showing initiative and motivation, being adaptable to change, having a work ethic, being reliable and honest, possessing integrity, knowing how to plan and organize multiple tasks, and being able to respond positively to customer concerns

  • Critical thinking and problem solving, or the ability to identify problems and their solutions by integrating information from a variety of sources and effectively weighing alternatives

Transferable skills are valuable to many kinds of employers and professions. They give you flexibility in your career planning because you gain transferable skills through a variety of activities. For example, volunteer work, study abroad, involvement in a student professional organization or club, and the pursuit of hobbies or interests can all build teamwork, leadership, interpersonal awareness, and effective communication abilities. Internships and career-related work are also valuable opportunities to practice these skills in the real world.

Key Competencies

Although employers expect skills and related work experience from today’s college graduates, they also have begun to focus on additional key competencies that are critical for success in today’s economy:

  • Integrity. Your employment will depend on your ability to act in an ethical manner at work and in the community.

  • Innovation. You should be able to evaluate, synthesize, and create knowledge that will lead to new products and services. Employers seek individuals who are willing to take some risks and explore innovative and better ways to deliver products and services.

  • Initiative. A great employee is able to recognize the need to take action, such as helping a team member, approaching a new client, or taking on assignments without being asked. Employers don’t want employees who will wait passively for a supervisor to provide work assignments; they want people who will see what has to be done and do it.

  • Commitment. Both employers and graduate schools look for a candidate’s commitment to lifelong learning. They want you to express what you really love to study and are willing to learn on your own initiative. The best foundation for this competency is to be engaged in an academic program in which you wake up every morning eager to go to class.

transferable skills General skills that apply to or transfer to a variety of settings. Examples include solid oral and listening abilities, leadership skills, critical thinking, and problem solving.

Top Ten Skills And Qualities That Employers Look For In Candidates

  • Ability to communicate verbally with persons inside and outside the organization

  • Ability to work in a team structure

  • Ability to make decisions and solve problems

  • Ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work

  • Ability to obtain and process information

  • Ability to analyze quantitative data

  • Technical knowledge related to the job

  • Proficiency with computer software programs

  • Ability to create or edit written reports

  • Ability to sell or influence others

The ideal candidate is, therefore, a good communicator who can make decisions and solve problems while working effectively in a team.

Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers. Job Outlook 2012. Bethlehem, PA: National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2012.