thinking beyond

Top skills employers demand in the workplace

Are you a job-seeker?  Do you wish you could unlock that unique combination of skills employers are looking for in new employees?  With a little preparation and by using the correct words, it is possible.  Remember, every employer requires a specific set of skills for a particular job (the so-called “hard skills”), but there are certain generic or “soft skills” that are universally sought by employers.

The soft skills can be grouped into four broad categories, namely:

  • Basic skills
  • Thinking skills
  • People skills
  • Personal qualities

Familiarise yourself with the following skills, and identify those skills you can improve through extra training, development and mentoring.

These skills form the foundation of your career’s building blocks.

Basic literacy and numeracy (communication skills) are defined as employees’ ability to read with understanding; write; listen; and speak, and to solve various kinds of problems.  Think about reports, memos, e-mails, calculations and safety requirements that are part of the day-to-day functions of the job.  Successful communication is critical in business.

Technology skills will help you not only in the workplace, but also in all your daily activities.  Think about the ATM, the self-check-in kiosk at the airport, your cell phone, the internet, social media, e-mails, word processing and spreadsheets.

Creative and innovative thinking refers to the ability to use your imagination, to combine ideas and information in new ways, and to make connections.

Critical thinking is important in problem solving and when making informed decisions and using digital tools and resources.

Planning and organising skills address your ability to design, plan, organise and implement projects and tasks within an allotted timeframe, and also involves goal setting.

Analytical and research skills entail your ability to assess a situation, seek multiple perspectives, gather more information and identify key issues that need to be addressed.

Interpersonal skills refer to the ability to manage your own behaviour, emotions and motivation in order to foster positive interaction with others.

Cultural diversity in the workplace is crucial, and job-seekers should be able to demonstrate a sensitivity and awareness to other people and cultures.

Teamwork refers to those situations where you must have the ability to work with others in a professional manner to reach a common goal.

Leadership: Employees need to demonstrate the ability to lead and manage others, based on their competence, honesty and expertise.

The following personal qualities are important, and will help you to be hired:

Responsibility:  Employees who take responsibility for their tasks and actions will not blame others, and will work hard to reach goals, perform quality work and display high standards of attendance, honesty and integrity.  Demonstrate that you can work without supervision, and fulfill your commitments.

Flexibility/adaptability refers to your openness to new ideas and your ability to manage multiple tasks while setting priorities and adapting to changing conditions.

Positive attitude/passion: Job-seekers with drive and passion are the ones who get hired and promoted, as they demonstrate enthusiasm through positive words and actions.

Self-awareness is about understanding your personal characteristics and how it affects yourself and others.  Show confidence in yourself, be motivated, take initiative and show your willingness to learn.

Showcase your skills.  Look for ways to display the skills that employers want through every step of your job search, and especially in the job interview.  Refer to the soft skills you have, and convince the employer that you are the best candidate whenever an employer asks you:

  • which qualities you have;
  • what you can bring to the company; and/or
  • to tell him/her more about yourself.

Improving these skills is never-ending, so continue building on them once you start your new job opportunity.


  6. Developing Student Graduateness and Employability.  Melinde Coetzee, Jo-Ann Botha, Neil Eccles, Hester Nienaber, Natasja Hotzhausen and the University of South Africa (UNISA).  2012. Knowres Publishing (Pty.) Ltd.
Uploaded: 17 March 2020
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