Study: The most sought-after skill by employers in 2016 (and how to demonstrate it in 12 words)

A new employer survey reveals what the most sought-after skills are by companies this year. Here is what they are looking for – and some strategies for demonstrating that you have the single most highly-ranked competency.

Finding a job can be tough at the best of times. The Canadian economy has had a bit of a rocky ride over the past couple of years – and the job market has been soft since the 2009 recession. Knowing specifically what skills are in-demand by top companies can help you craft a resume that highlights these essentials – or choose what abilities to acquire for the evolving market conditions.

Just south of the border, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) asked hundreds of employers to rate the importance of a host of core skills and qualities in new hires.

The results show that having a variety of soft and technical skills can be the key to getting hired. “Verbal Communications” topped the list, with “problem solving” and “teamwork” also highly valued. However, the ability to analyze data, prepare reports, use computer software programs, and to sell are also greatly in demand. Here’s the top ten competencies in order of importance.

Employers rate the importance of candidate skills/qualities

Skill/Quality Weighted Average Rating*
Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization 4.63
Ability to work in a team structure 4.62
Ability to make decisions and solve problems 4.49
Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work 4.41
Ability to obtain and process information 4.34
Ability to analyze quantitative data 4.21
Technical knowledge related to the job 3.99
Proficiency with computer software programs 3.86
Ability to create and/or edit written reports 3.60
Ability to sell or influence others 3.55

Source: Job Outlook 2016, National Association of Colleges and Employers

*5-point scale, where 1=Not at all important; 2=Not very important; 3=Somewhat important; 4=Very important; and 5=Extremely important

How to demonstrate the most sought-after skill by employers

Want to demonstrate that most in-demand skill, “verbal communications” right off the bat to potential employers? It starts before you even know that the job interview has begun. When you first meet your interviewer in the lobby or the reception area, you’ll shake hands and make some pleasant small talk on the way to the room where the formal interview will take place.

Many people are so concerned with rehearsing their answers to “where do you see yourself in five years” and “what’s your greatest weakness” in their heads that they coast through the small talk on autopilot. That’s a mistake.

Even before you sit down and start discussing your credentials, the employer is forming their crucial first impression of you. Do you seem stiff and robotic? Friendly and confident? Are you able to chat easily with someone you’ve just met? Can you tell a story? Are you funny, charming, likeable?

That’s why experts say that the small talk between the lobby and the office can be the most important 12 words in any job interview. “How are you?” and “How was your weekend?” aren’t just filler as you walk down the hall.

They’re job interview questions.

Take the opportunity to demonstrate your verbal communication skills. Tell an anecdote about your commute, share an observation about something in the news, compliment the office or work location.

Keep it positive and upbeat. You want the employer to think that you are someone they wouldn’t mind interacting with on a daily basis and who could also represent their brand well to potential partners and customers.