The days of hiring generalists are gone. Today, employers are seeking hires who possess particular skills, be them technical--like computer skills, for instance--or analytical--like problem solving. In some cases, these skills are specialized and specific to particular types of jobs.
Other skills are coveted across a variety of professions. According to career experts and various sources, these are the top seven skills employers are seeking in job candidates:
Project management. The Project Management Institute (PMI) recently released a forecast predicting that between 2010 and 2020, there will be 15.7 million project-management positions created globally across seven project-intensive industries: business services, construction, finance and insurance, information systems, manufacturing, oil and gas, and utilities. In the United States, demand for project-management professionals should translate to 6.2 million jobs by this decade's close.
If you're hoping to snag one of these positions, you should provide concrete evidence of your capabilities as a project manager and also obtain the proper certification. PMI reports that those with a Project Management Professional credential earn approximately 16 percent more than those without it. During the hiring process, be sure to emphasize your distinctive strengths, keeping in mind certain components of the job. Mark Langley, president and CEO of PMI, says some of those skills include schedule and budget management, strong leadership, strategic and business-management skills, plus organizational expertise.
SEO, SEM, and social media savvy. The jobs marketplace HireArt (hireart.com) matches employers with the best hires through automated interviews and online tasks that exhibit an applicant's specific skills. HireArt's vetting process found that companies are seeking employees with social media know-how. But getting a job in social media is about more than following your favorite celebs on Twitter and trolling Facebook for the funniest statuses. There's strategy involved in using a social network to promote, and employers are specifically seeking those with search engine optimization and search engine marketing skills. But "it's hard to get a job [in this field] if you've never done it before," says Elli Sharef, co-founder of HireArt.
If you have no experience actually working in social media, you might be able to use a guerilla approach to prove your worth. "Employers are open to a new type of proof," Sharef says. "If you're able to generate a large following on Twitter, that's proof that you could do the same for your target company as well. If you're a candidate who wants to break into this field, the best way is to just start doing it on your own."
Proving you're flexible could also give you a leg up. "In the beginning, if you wanted to be a social media manager, you just needed to know Facebook," Sharef says. "Now you need to know Twitter, Snapchat, and more."
Lastly, job seekers in this field should turn to the Web for courses in analytics, SEO, and SEM. Free online courses may illuminate some of the rudimentary skills, but advanced seminars are also available.
Critical thinking and data analysis. One of the more abstract in-demand skills employers desire to find in candidates is the ability to assess and analyze information, then use that information to make prognoses, recommendations, and plan projects. But your approach to prove dexterity as a critical thinker is similar to how you'd discuss other "soft skills:" Relate and emphasize both professional and pertinent real-life instances where you've utilized these skills and achieved positive results.
Sales experience. A few implied skills go along with mastering the art of the sell. Being articulate to relate the qualities of the product you're selling. Practicing the patience required to wait on customers to determine that the product is something they're interested in. Having a talent for relating to a variety of people and adjusting your pitch according to their personalities. Possessing the stamina to handle the workload and the drive to meet quotas. When a young job seeker dissects "sales experience" according to these qualifiers, it might be easier for them to see some of the advantages of the profession--particularly for companies hiring today. There are other important qualities an effective salesperson must show. "It takes a gregariousness, charm, and extroversion, and on top of that you have to be very tech-savvy," Sharef says.
If you don't have as much experience as the job description outlines, don't underestimate how much your ability to effectively sell yourself could help you in an interview.
Writing. Nearly every job description includes a line about seeking a candidate with "strong communication skills." Before you shrug it off, consider why this seemingly minimal requirement hasn't yet become a job-listing given.
Many candidates are proving to hiring managers that they lack basic writing ability by submitting grammatically tragic cover letters and poorly constructed resumes. Although it varies from manager to manager, something as innocuous as the wrong "their" could keep you out of the running for a dream position. This is particularly true if you're looking to enter a communications field.
Those entering other lines of work don't need to be Hemingway, but they do need to elevate their written communication several notches above LOLspeak. According to Sharef, one of the main reasons young job candidates haven't conquered spelling, subject-verb agreement, and proper tense is because they live in a mobile-phone culture. "We do a writing test at HireArt and that's one of the biggest ways that people fail," she says.
Also keep in mind the way you write on social networks and in other easy-to-Google forums. A sleuthing recruiter could quickly and easily stumble across your poorly worded opinions elsewhere.
These obviously aren't fake-it-until-you-make-it skill sets. Only those with the chops will even be considered for tech positions. There are minor things you could do to stay more relevant in the industry, however. Building mobile-phone applications is currently a blossoming subsector, so you should be deft with all the operating systems. "If you're an iPhone user, borrow your friend's Android phone for two days. Learn more about how they work," Sharef says.
[See: The Best Technology Jobs.]
Problem solving. According to sites like Mashable.com, the ability to identify a problem and make intelligent plans for a successful solution is another, less-quantifiable trait that employers are eager to find in job seekers today. And similar to having social media skills, this is one where previous professional experience helps, but isn't always necessary if you have relatable real-life experience that can show your metal to the hiring manager.
Casually mentioning your expertise in this arena won't do the trick. (Other than effectively showing that you don't actually have enough problem-solving skills to solve the problem of landing a job.) The best evidence would be specific and detailed examples on your resume, cover letter, and during an interview of how you've worked to overcome obstacles and achieve success.
More From US News & World Report