Whether you are new to the workforce and want to get hired, or you are looking to climb the corporate ladder, there are essential skills you need to possess to be considered for your ideal role. While technical skills will vary by your job description and industry, there are some universal skills that everyone can use to succeed in their careers. Payscale’s 2016 Workforce-Skills Preparedness Report sheds light on the hard and soft skills most lacking – and most needed – in today’s job market. Read on to find out how you can help close the skills gap and demonstrate to employers you’ve got what it takes to get hired and promoted.

The Skills Gap

The skills gap is the divide between the skills employers need and expect from prospective or current employees, and what skills employees actually possess. Payscale’s report found that there was a large gap between the skills hiring managers were seeking and the skills recent college graduates possessed. However it’s not just fresh grads who are lacking these skills. Many people don’t learn the hard and soft skills they need to be job-ready through formal education, and don’t receive the training required to learn these skills on the job.

What is the difference between hard and soft skills?

Employers look for two sets of skills when considering a candidate’s job application and interview performance. Hard skills are measurable abilities that can be evaluated or tested, such as typing, accounting, programming, writing or proficiency in a foreign language. Your hard skills generally demonstrate you have the specific knowledge required for a particular job. Soft skills are interpersonal skills such as listening, creative thinking, time management and working well with others. Soft skills are less measurable, and less commonly taught, but just as important for success. Payscale’s report found that poor soft skills in particular prevented people from getting hired, even with impressive resumes. The following hard and soft skills have been identified as the most lacking and therefore the most needed to help you close the skills gap.

What hard skills are managers and recruiters looking for in new hires?

Writing proficiency

This hard skill took first place on Payscale’s report, with 44% of hiring managers stating this skill was sorely lacking. It’s not only professions like marketing and journalism that require good writing skills. Daily email communications, business memos, reports and giving feedback on performance all require a high level of writing proficiency.

How to demonstrate: First of all, make sure your resume and cover letter are grammatically flawless, with no spelling errors. A whopping 63% of managers surveyed by Robert Half said they would reject candidates whose resumes contained one or two errors. Be professional in any email correspondence before and after your interview by using full sentences without excessive ‘text speak’ abbreviations and slang.

Public speaking

An estimated 3 out of 4 people suffer from speech anxiety, and many people fear public speaking more than death itself. With those stats, it’s hardly surprising that 39% of hiring managers found public speaking skills seriously lacking in candidates. Public speaking is not restricted to the realm of huge auditoriums, instead we use it every day when giving presentations, interacting with clients, and participating in meetings.

How to demonstrate: Your interview will be an assessment of your public speaking skills, so prepare beforehand by practicing your answers to some of the most common (and dreaded) interview questions. Body language is also a big part of public speaking, so ensure you establish eye contact and try to relax – if you appear to be at ease, it will make your audience feel comfortable. On your resume, highlight examples of your experience, for example presentations you have given or if you were in a debate or Toastmasters club.

Data analysis

From the ubiquitous Excel to Python and Tableau, data analysis is paramount in virtually every industry. Companies need skilled employees who can organize and analyze data to give them meaningful insight on their sales, clients, finances, and virtually anything else that can be measured. 36% of hiring managers felt that data analysis skills were lacking in candidates. Chances are these skills weren’t required in college, and once in the workplace many people get by with what they manage to teach themselves.

How to demonstrate: If the job requires Excel skills, give specific examples relevant to the job, for example how you used Pivot Tables to analyze trends in monthly sales data. Potential employers can also gauge your skills from any training courses you have completed, so be sure to add your Excel certification to your resume and LinkedIn profile for greater recognition.

What soft skills are managers and recruiters looking for in new hires?

Critical thinking/problem solving

This soft skill took first place, with a whopping 60% of hiring managers finding critical thinking and problem solving skills absent in the majority of candidates. Problem solving skills show employers that you are able to work independently and think critically to find solutions to obstacles. While problem solving skills are not generally formally taught, we all learn to solve problems every day, like taking a route with less traffic to work or finding the best priced plane ticket. All you need to start developing problem solving skills is a curious mind and a desire to get to the bottom of a good mystery like Sherlock Holmes.

How to demonstrate: Prepare for the interview by thinking of an example of a problem you faced, and explain the steps you took to resolve it. This could be any life experience from handling a difficult customer to fixing a software bug, but choose something with measurable results for the most impact. The STAR model comes in handy here to break down the Situation you faced, the Task you had to complete with any challenges involved, the Action/s you took and the final Result of your actions.


Good leaders are always in high demand, with 44% of hiring managers wanting to see more candidates with this skill. Leadership encompasses a lot of different qualities and skills like communication, delegation and vision that can steer a team or company in the direction of success. Employers want to know if you have the potential to contribute to the company and the team by taking on the responsibilities of a leader.

How to demonstrate: Detail some formal and informal leadership roles you have had such as mentoring, heading up a group or volunteer project, and training or managing staff. The STAR model can be useful here as well to quantify your results from times when you motivated others, improved efficiency or raised funding to ensure a successful outcome. For example, if you organized a fundraising campaign that exceeded the collection goal by 20% and doubled membership to your association or club, these stats brilliantly illustrate your achievements.


Regardless of the position, being able to work well with others is crucial from entry to C level. 36% of hiring managers chose teamwork as a key skill missing in many candidates’ repertoires. Your experience as a team member is a good indicator of how you communicate, collaborate and generally how well you get along with others.

How to demonstrate: Everyone has some experience being part of a team, whether in an education, extracurricular or working capacity. Being a productive team member involves knowing your responsibilities, using your strengths to the advantage of the team, and reliability in seeing things through to completion. Specify who you worked with, how you contributed to the team, and use the opportunity to highlight other skills you displayed such as negotiation or conflict resolution. Again, having a measurable, positive outcome will make the best impression.

What skills can help you get promoted to management, executive or director levels?

Management skills

Unsurprisingly, management skills are the most important here, whether financial management, business management or knowing how to train and manage teams. Every company wants managers who can consistently produce great results from themselves and the resources they manage. Management skills are vital for a company to run not only smoothly, but to retain a competitive edge in today’s business environment.

How to demonstrate: In addition to any experience you get on the job, training is key here to apply the industry standards and best practices to improve your management skills. For example, undertaking PMP Certification Training with the aim of getting certified by the Project Management Institute is the gold standard to demonstrate your project management skills. The benefits of showing you are top management material are tangible – obtaining a PMP Certification has been shown to result in a 20% increase in salary compared to non-certified project managers.


While the skills gap continues to plague the global workforce, the hard and soft skills identified above can be learned and developed to shrink the divide between what employers are seeking and candidates have to offer. Knowing what hiring managers are looking for gives you an edge to increase your chances of getting hired or promoted, and improving your skills will ultimately make you a more well rounded, star employee.

— This article was originally posted on GoSkills.com