What Skills Do Employers Look for in 2021?

By Mike Simpson

Figuring out which skills employers look for is critical for every professional. It creates a crucial opportunity, letting you cultivate capabilities that today’s employers are genuinely after.

The problem is, how do you determine what skill employers are looking for? They couldn’t possibly all want the same things, right?

While it’s true that every company is going to be after something a bit different, that doesn’t mean they don’t have anything in common with other employers. If you’re wondering about the skills employers look for in 2021, here’s what you need to know.

What Are Skills?

Alright, let’s start with the basics by answering an essential question: what are skills?

Well, according to Merriam-Webster, a skill – in this context – is “a developed aptitude or ability.” If you look at the Cambridge Dictionary definition, it’s “an ability to do an activity or job well, especially because you have practiced it.”

When taken together, that’s pretty spot on. Essentially, your skills reflect your capacity to handle a particular task, responsibility, or interaction effectively and competently based on a capability you possess.

During a job search, you’re usually trying to accomplish two things. One, you want to find a job that aligns with your capabilities. Two, you want to be able to show the hiring manager that you have what it takes to excel in the role. In both of those cases, your skills come into play.

For the former, you need to analyze what you bring to the table. That way, you can pick opportunities that are a reasonably strong match, increasing your odds of succeeding in your job search and if you’re hired.

For the latter, it’s also about understanding your capabilities. When you do, it’s easier to demonstrate to the hiring manager that you can provide value to their company quickly.

But in both of those cases, knowing the skills employers look for helps. It lets you separate your in-demand capabilities from the rest, as well as know where to focus when talking about your abilities and traits.

Overall, the skills employers look for generally fall into one of two categories. First, there are hard skills. These cover your technical prowess. They usually relate to your capabilities with specific tools, equipment, systems, software, and formal processes, making them a specialized kind of expertise.

However, hard skills are also broadly considered teachable. You can learn them directly in a class, while on the job, or using other highly structured approaches.

Second, there are soft skills. These are your non-technical capabilities, attributes, and traits. In most cases, the abilities significantly impact how you interact with others and navigate a workplace. Often, your soft skills form the core of your workplace personality and mindset.

Now, you could technically argue that there’s a third category: transferable skills. However, transferable skills are just capabilities that you can bring from one job to another. They are skills with broad usefulness and appeal, making them incredibly portable, even if you change positions, careers, or industries.

Technically, all of the skill types above are relevant to your career. You need a mix of hard and soft skills to succeed professionally, not just one or the other. Together, they may you more well-rounded, ensuring you can handle your responsibilities, collaborate with others, and otherwise handle all of the tasks and situations that come with a role.

What Skills Do Employers Look for in 2021?

If you want to understand what employers are after, it’s wise to narrow the skills down by category. Each one serves a different purpose, so breaking them down makes them easier to digest.

In-Demand Soft Skills

As mentioned above, soft skills are incredibly valuable. They help professionals navigate workplace interactions effectively, as well as manage their responsibilities efficiently.

Here are some of the soft skills employers look for in 2021, broken down into categories:

Communication

Your communication skills impact how you exchange information with others. They are critical in essentially every job, as nearly all professionals have to interact with customers, colleagues, or other stakeholders. Here is a list of commonly needed communication skills:

    • Active listening
    • Empathy
    • Clarity
    • Confidence
    • Non-verbal communication
    • Verbal communication
    • Written communication
    • Negotiation
    • Patience
    • Persuasion
    • Public speaking

Leadership

Even if you aren’t in a leadership role, leadership skills are valuable. They help you step up when the need arises, ensuring you can handle your responsibilities. Here are some in-demand leadership skills:

    • Agility
    • Authenticity
    • Coaching
    • Conflict resolution
    • Delegation
    • Diplomacy
    • Decision-making
    • Emotional intelligence
    • Feedback
    • Goal-setting
    • Humility
    • Mentoring
    • Motivation
    • Team-building
    • Strategic-thinking

Organization

Organization is always important. It helps you stay on target and meet deadlines. Here are some organizational skills hiring managers want candidates to have:

    • Planning
    • Scheduling
    • Task-tracking
    • Time management

Problem-Solving

Every job on the planet involves some problem-solving. You need to be able to navigate obstacles and overcome challenges, ensuring you can complete your tasks. Here are some of the most widely-sought problem-solving skills:

    • Analytical-thinking
    • Brainstorming
    • Creativity
    • Curiosity
    • Deductive reasoning
    • Diligence
    • Insight
    • Troubleshooting
    • Observation
    • Persistence

Teamwork

In the world of work, practically no one is an island. Instead, working as part of a group is far more common, so you need to be able to do it effectively. Here are some teamwork-related skills that employers want to find:

    • Adaptability
    • Collaboration
    • Cooperative
    • Coordination
    • Helpfulness
    • Supportiveness

Work Ethic

Hiring managers want to know that they can count on you. If you want to showcase your work ethic, here are some skills you want to develop and highlight:

    • Attention-to-detail
    • Accountability
    • Dependable
    • Disciplined
    • Ethical
    • Open-minded
    • Reliable
    • Punctual
    • Resilience
    • Self-aware
    • Self-motivated
    • Willing to learn

Popular Hard Skills

Many hard skills relate strongly to a particular job or industry. However, some are more broadly useful, applying to nearly every industry, company, and even role.

Here are some of the popular hard skills employers look for in 2021:

    • Budgeting
    • Business communications
    • Communication tools
    • Documentation
    • Foreign languages (bilingual or multilingual)
    • Mathematics
    • Presentations
    • Project management
    • Reporting
    • Research
    • Tech-savviness
    • Spreadsheets
    • Typing

Job-Specific Hard Skills

Job-specific skills employers look for in 2021 are a bit harder to nail down. Usually, they vary drastically between roles, even among jobs in the same industry.

Still, understanding what kinds of skills can fall in this category can be helpful. It lets you see what you may need to learn if you want to take your career in a particular direction. So, with that in mind, here are some lists of job-specific hard skills, separated by industry or field:

Accounting / Finance

Whether you want to work in accounting or finance or simply want to be ready for roles that involve money or budget management, certain skills help. Here are some of the most widely used hard skills in this category:

    • Account auditing
    • Bookkeeping
    • Reconciliation
    • Predictive modeling
    • Profit forecasting
    • Statistics

Construction

The world of construction is incredibly technical, and with good reason. There are a lot of safety issues in play, requiring a high level of precision and know-how. If you want to advance in the construction field, here are some of the skills hiring managers want you to have:

    • Blueprint reading
    • Carpentry
    • Electrical
    • Engineering
    • Hand tools
    • Heavy equipment
    • Plumbing

Healthcare

Since healthcare can be so incredibly varied, listing every potential hard skill you may need here isn’t practical. Here are a few examples, giving you a general idea of what you’ll need to be able to do:

    • Counseling
    • HIPAA Standards
    • Medical coding
    • Medical billing
    • Nutrition
    • Patient histories
    • Patient records
    • Patient vitals
    • Phlebotomy
    • Radiology
    • Surgery

Human Resources

The world of personnel management is surprisingly complex. Here is a list of in-demand hard skills for human resources professionals:

    • Disciplinary action
    • Hiring
    • Interviewing
    • Scheduling
    • Performance management
    • Policy creation
    • Training and skill development

Manufacturing

Creating, packaging, and shipping parts and products requires specific skills. Here are some of the most common capabilities candidates need in industrial roles:

    • Assembly
    • Automation
    • Equipment maintenance
    • Forklift driving
    • Inventory management
    • Machine operation
    • Packaging
    • Picking and packing

Marketing / Advertising

While marketing and advertising can be creative professions, technical prowess also plays a role in success. The jobs can be highly analytical, requiring a wide range of hard skills to pull off, including those below:

    • A/B testing
    • AdWords
    • Campaign management
    • Copywriting
    • Email automation
    • Google analytics
    • Market analysis
    • PPC
    • Sales funnel management
    • Search engine optimization (SEO)
    • Social media advertising

Office Administration

If you’re interested in the world of administrative support, here are some specialized skills you might need to have:

    • Data entry
    • Event or meeting planning
    • Filing
    • Minute taking
    • Notetaking
    • Travel Arrangements

Sales

Convincing customers to make a purchase isn’t easy. You need a broad skill set to ensure you’re targeting the right potential buyers, moving them through the funnel, and supporting them to the right level. Here are some of the skills sales pros usually need to have:

    • Contracting
    • CRM platforms
    • Demos
    • Lead generation
    • Lead qualification
    • Product knowledge
    • Revenue cycles
    • Sales pitches
    • Territory management

Technology

The world of technology is vast, with each specialty usually needing unique skills. Which ones are worth acquiring may depend on your exact field. Still, here is an overview of some commonly sought-after technology skills:

    • Agile
    • CAD
    • Data analysis
    • Data mining
    • Data visualization
    • DevOps
    • Diagnostics
    • HTML/CSS
    • IT security
    • Programming languages
    • Systems analysis
    • Testing
    • Troubleshooting
    • UX design
    • VPN

How to Highlight Skills

While having relevant skills is critical for any job search, if you don’t know how to highlight them, you may struggle to land the job. Luckily, one simple strategy can make it a lot easier. Say hello to the Tailoring Method.

With the Tailoring Method, you focus on relevancy. It helps you figure out which skills a particular hiring manager wants to find, giving you a chance to address their priorities directly.

Plus, the Tailoring Method works for resumes, cover letters, and interviews. You can use it to target the right skills when you list achievements on your application, as well as decide what you should discuss when you meet with the hiring manager. Yes, it really is that versatile.

How to Develop Skills If You Don’t Have Them

If you’ve got your eye on a particular job or career, but you don’t have the right skills to land the job, don’t panic. In many cases, you can develop those skills in fairly short order, especially if you use the right approach.

Exactly which options will work best for you may depend on two things. First, the skill area matters. Some strategies work better for hard skills than for soft skills, and vice versa. As a result, you may need to factor that into the equation.

Second, what you can commit to the process plays a role. Each option takes different amounts of time and energy. Some are more rigid, while others are more flexible. They can also come with drastically different price tags.

Still, it’s wise to review all of your available options. That way, you can pick an approach that works best for you.

Take a Class

When it comes to skill development, taking a formal class is usually the most straightforward approach. The coursework will have a clear structure and well-defined goals, making it easier to choose one that’s right for you.

Plus, classes are highly accessible today. You may find options at your local college, university, or trade school, as well as online.

There is also a slew of formats. Some rely on specific class times, gathering all students together. Many online courses are asynchronous, giving you a bit more flexibility. And, in some cases, you can find versions that are fully independent, allowing you to progress at your own pace.

MIKE'S TIP: If you’re looking to add some technical skills to your repertoire, you may want to try a bootcamp instead of a single class. These intense courses focus on preparing you for a specific kind of career, so they cover several skill areas along the way. That can make the approach more efficient, especially if you’re trying to acquire the right capabilities to launch your first career or head in a completely new direction.

Embrace Self-Study

Self-study involves taking deep dives into a skill area on your own. It’s a research-heavy, independent approach, putting the entire experience in your hands.

Since so much information is available online, this approach is very plausible. It does require a significant amount of discipline, however, so if self-motivation isn’t your strong suit, it may not be the best fit.

Volunteer

If you need to build soft skills or want to get some hands-on experience, volunteering could be a great option. Not only will you help out a local cause you care about, but you’ll get to interact with other people, learn new skills, and put your capabilities to work.

Become an Intern

Internships involve a lot of on-the-job learning. The best part is that companies that hire interns know you don’t have a complete skill set. Your manager will understand that instruction is a needed part of the equation, so you will usually receive quite a bit of guidance along the way.

Plus, internships can be excellent for building soft skills. You’ll be in a regular work environment, giving you a chance to experience common interactions first-hand.

Try a Temp Job

Many companies that hire temps are more flexible when it comes to skill requirements. As a result, they can be great options if you’re looking for your first job in a particular field, as they may be more open to giving you a chance.

Additionally, you’ll get to hone your soft skills along the way. So, no matter what, you’ll get something valuable out of the experience.

Take on a Personal Project

Personal projects can be exceptional learning opportunities. Since you’re only doing the work for yourself, you can take your time. If you run into a hiccup, you can pause, do a bit of research, and figure out how you should proceed.

Along the way, your skill set will grow. Plus, if a project is relevant to your career, you’ll likely be able to add it to your resume or portfolio when you’re done.

Putting It All Together

If you have questions about the kinds of skills employers look for, you should have some solid answers now. Whether you’re planning a career path or seeking out advancement opportunities, use the information above to give you an edge. That way, you can stand out from the competition and impress the hiring manager, increasing the odds that you’ll keep moving forward.

Good luck!

About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.