The Top Skills Employers Want (and How to Learn Them)

Employability. The one goal we all have in common. No matter your college, major, or interests, everyone wants to be employed in a career that they enjoy.

So, what are employers looking for in qualified candidates? While desired characteristics may change depending on the industry, there are some career skills that are universally sought after and guaranteed to make you stand out from the crowd. NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) surveys American employers each year to determine which attributes, besides GPA, they are most looking to see on a graduate’s resume.

For 2019, the majority of the top 5 sought-after attributes were considered “soft skills.” These types of skills are not specifically related to acquired knowledge but are associated with behavior and how an employee will interact with peers and co-workers. Examples of soft skills include teamwork, communication, adaptability, time-management, etc.

Unlike soft skills, “hard skills” are technical in nature, job-specific, and are usually learned through formal education or training. Examples include foreign language skills, Adobe software, cloud computing, Microsoft Office, etc.

So, what are the career skills that employers are looking for? Drumroll please…

According to NACE, the top 5 are…

Attribute Percent of Respondents
Communication skills (written) 82.0%
Problem-Solving Skills 80.9%
Ability to work in a team 78.7%
Initiative 74.2%
Analytical/quantitative skills 71.9%

Source: Job Outlook 2019, National Association of Colleges and Employers

How to Develop Your Career Skills

Now that we know what employers want, how do we learn these skills? And since soft skills are about behavior, how do we highlight these on a resume? There is no tangible way to measure teamwork, so how can you prove to employers that you possess the ability to work effectively on a team?

It is said the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. In that case, the best way to prove your career skills to a future employer is to provide concrete examples of how you applied these skills in previous work or other experiences.

This is a chance for you to think through all of your past experiences. Get creative and don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. Even if you have never had a job before, there are plenty of ways to highlight your skill sets. Think about group projects you have been a part of, community service, clubs, athletic teams, professional development opportunities – the list is endless! As you think through each experience, try to come up with concrete examples of how you showcased the career skills above. Relate your experiences back to the key attributes that you know employers are looking for.

As you start to go through your list of past experiences, start to identify gaps or holes in your skill sets. You might be a Finance major with ample practice in performing quantitative analysis, but you are struggling to find examples of where you used your written communication skills. Or you might have been a member of the school’s basketball team for years honing your teamwork skills but are struggling to highlight your problem-solving abilities. 


A fundamental way to ensure you develop numerous and diverse skill sets is to complete an internship. While students may find it difficult to secure internships in these uncertain times, all students have the opportunity to find employment through our Virtual International Internship program. Students have the flexibility to choose a 20 or 30 hour a week internship lasting between 1 and 3 months.

No matter your chosen career field, just the act of completing an internship means you will develop invaluable hard and soft skills. Even if you are remote, you will have teammates and supervisors that you are working with in order to get the job done. You will need to make sure you are communicating effectively and often with your teammates to ensure that everyone is on the same page and working cohesively as a unit.

Of all the sought-after attributes, most noteworthy in the NACE report was initiative. Even though it sits at an overall fourth place, it jumped the ranks significantly. Last year, it was only eighth on the list, meaning this skill is becoming exceedingly more important to employers.

What better way to show initiative than securing a remote-based position with an international company? A virtual internship on your resume will provide the first hint to employers that you take initiative, but you will also need to further show this skill by providing concrete examples of how you took initiative on the job. Did you reach out to your supervisor when you were underworked and ask for more projects? Did you go beyond what you were asked to do and take that next step?

While at your internship, make sure you are being proactive and intentional about your experience. Are you working in a research team preparing weekly quantitative reports? Ask your supervisor if you can prepare a written summary to go along with it. This way you can actively develop your written communication skills along with your analytical/quantitative skills. As a bonus, it will also highlight your initiative and prove to your supervisor and future employers that you are willing to go that extra mile!

As you work through your internship or any of your experiences, be intentional in the career skills that you are developing. Walk into the experience with a goal of what you would like to get out of it and be intentional in helping to design the experience to meet those goals (while always being respectful and courteous to your supervisor and co-workers)! Remember this is YOUR internship and your chance to show future employers why they should hire YOU!

Apply Now

Similar posts