New figures released last week showed unemployment numbers have dropped slowly, finally falling slightly below 10%. But the country has still lost more than 8 million jobs in the past two years – meaning many people out there are pounding the pavement in search of a new position. To increase their odds of success, many job seekers have broadened their horizons, looking for opportunities in new fields or industries. While this may mean brushing up on job-specific skills, some universal skills will come in handy no matter what field you pursue. (For more on unemployment numbers, see What You Need To Know About The Employment Report.)
Here are seven universal job skills that can make you a very competitive candidate:
1. Top-Notch Communication Skills
This is an absolute must-have for all job seekers, says Andrea Kay, author of "Life's A Bitch And Then You Change Careers". It includes the ability to listen, empathize and respond in a way that convinces others you really hear them and understand what they're saying. That means you're responsive and communicate clearly and concisely while managing your emotions – especially if it's a touchy subject or someone is upset. Communication is critical in any field, because every job entails working with other people: bosses, customers, clients, co-workers, vendors, you name it.
Jason Alba, CEO of JibberJobber.com and author of "I'm On LinkedIn – Now What?", says "We are all creative to a degree, but show me some examples of how you solved a problem creatively. Out-of-the-box thinking helps me see how you'll add value to my projects and problem." Companies are always looking for creative individuals who can easily adapt to multiple roles and present good ideas. (Companies need strategic candidates, not walking resumes. For more on this topic, see our article Business Grads, Land Your Dream Job.)
Alba says, "I want someone who will ask, 'Why? Why do we do it this way? Why don't we do it this way? What if we tried this?' I know I've developed systems, but I want someone who can think for themselves, add value to my systems and prove they don't need to be micromanaged." Only after certain difficult questions are asked can probems be acknowledged and fixed.
4. Good Writing Ability
"Clear writing demonstrates clear thinking," says Kay. "I don't care how abbreviated written communications have become because of e-mail and texting – you're still writing correspondence, memos, project summaries, proposals and reports."
5. Ability To Play Well With Others
Kay says this is about getting along with everyone: the people you report to, board members, co-workers, clients, investors, customers and others. "Put more than one person in a room, and you're going to have conflict," she says. "You can't avoid it. If you know how to manage your own emotions and help others work through disagreements so you can move forward, you bring a lot of value to any type of work. Everything is personal – even in business – and interactions between humans can be automated. At some point, interaction with other people is a part of every business process."
6. Re-engineering Skills
This is the art of doing something other than what you were originally trained to do. Kathy Freeland, author of "Navigating Your Way To Business Success", says, "In a down job market, we must be able to reinvent ourselves through learning new skills and developing new capabilities in order to land the jobs that are available." A potential employee is more valuable to a firm if he/she can wear different hats as required.
7. Computer Skills
You may have never ventured near a computer in your old job, but virtually every employer – regardless of the field – now seeks candidates with some degree of computer literacy. Even creative fields like art and design rely heavily on computer programs these days. Freeland says, "We live in a technologically advanced world, and many of the processes that were formerly done manually are now automated. Therefore, being computer literate is a must-have."
While we can't guarantee you'll land your dream job instantly, highlighting these essential skills on your resume or in an interview will surely help you stand out from the pack. (If you want to switch careers, you may not have to go back to school to do it. Learn how by reading Sell Your Skills, Not Your Degree.)