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Got a Diploma? Employers Would Rather See These Skills

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shironosov / Getty Images
  • Only 21 % of U.S. jobs require a college degree.
  • Most employers prefer demonstrated skills.
  • Good communication and time management skills are among the most sought after skills.

With college graduation season underway, the class of 2020 is eagerly awaiting that all-important piece of paper that officially releases them into the working world. New grads often believe that a diploma is their ticket to employment, and in some cases, they're right, but, overall, employers are more focused on workplace skills than degrees.

A study by ZipRecruiter found that just 21% of the jobs posted on its website specifically ask that candidates have a college degree. This is about on par with the estimation that  21% of U.S. jobs require a college degree, although 37%  prefer some postsecondary education. While ZipRecruiter posited that the possession of a degree may be assumed for higher-level jobs, it seems that across the board, experience in the field and pertinent skills and training trumped a diploma or a good GPA.

Even graduates themselves have found that skills are more valuable to their careers than their degrees. In a 2014 survey, nearly three-quarters of employees said their employers value work experience and related skills more than education when evaluating job candidates, with 53% saying a graduate degree is no longer necessary to secure a high-paying job. 

There's no question that higher education still factors into career success, as 82% of Glassdoor respondents said their college diplomas have helped them in the workplace. But job seekers need to realize that there's more to landing a job and advancing their careers than holding a degree.

"For any employee looking to earn a bigger salary or move up the corporate ladder, they should do their research on how their industry is evolving, including identifying specific skill sets that are in demand," Rusty Rueff, Glassdoor career and workplace expert,  "Going back to school may be one way to learn and improve, but there are also nontraditional ways, such as certificate programs, boot camps, webinars, online nondegreed courses, conferences and more."

So which specific skills do today's employers want to see in job candidates? According to ZipRecruiter's analysis of 250,000 of its job ads, the following six qualifications appeared most frequently:

  • Communication (51%) 
  • Time management (21%) 
  • Ability to work well within a team (19%) 
  • Independent motivation (12%)
  • Specific experience in Microsoft Office (11%)
  • Ability to work in fast-paced environment (7%)

Since communication skills are so high on the priority list for many employers, it makes sense that the whole process of landing a job involves communicating well, said Allan Jones, chief marketing officer of ZipRecruiter.

"When you're writing your résumé, make sure that it doesn't have grammatical errors, that it only has the most relevant information and that it tells your story as a job seeker in a way that highlights your positive aspects in an honest way," Jones told Business News Daily. 

Additionally, Jones advised having a prepared plan for what you can do on day one of your new job to help the company, and explaining that during the interview. 

"That's a great way to showcase your communication skills, and it shows you're serious about the job and the company," Jones said.

Being a good communicator isn't just about getting your point across. It's also, perhaps even mostly, about listening well. Job search expert Alison Doyle recommends that you practice active listening, which means paying close attention to what the other person is saying, asking questions to make sure you understand their point, and then paraphrasing their points back to them for full comprehension.

Doyle also stresses the importance of nonverbal communication. Adopt a relaxed, open body stance (no crossed arms) and a friendly tone to reflect genuine interest. Pay attention to the nonverbal cues your teammates and managers are giving off as well.

In her list of top 10 communication skills, Doyle also includes the following:

  • Friendliness (a simple hello and a question about a co-worker’s weekend go a long way)
  • Confidence – make eye contact, and always avoid making a statement sound like a question. 
  • Even if you disagree with someone, it is important to make clear that you understand their point of view. Active listening helps greatly with conflict resolution.
  • Feedback 0 both giving and receiving positive and negative feedback are critical components of success.

With time management skills appearing near the top of the list, it seems critical to hone those abilities. The Feminist Financier (a blogger on topics of interest to all genders) offers the following suggestions:

  • Clarify and record your priorities, and don't confuse urgent with critical. When you outline your projects and rank them according to priority, those that are the most urgent may not be the most critical. Conflicts between importance and time sensitivity should be carefully weighed, or you can spend all of your effort on projects that need to be done right away but don't carry much weight.

  • Schedule shorter meetings and reduce the number of attendees. While your calendar may automatically default to 30 or 60 minutes for a meeting, change it if you think 15 or 45 minutes is adequate. It is better to have to add another meeting than to fill time just because it was scheduled. And the more people who are invited, the longer it will take. Consider sending out a summary to those optional invitees instead.

  • Do the hard work when you are most productive. Timing is everything. If you are a morning person, schedule your creative time then. If you have a surge after midday, calendar some quiet thinking time for yourself. Use your less-productive periods for simpler tasks and your overall productivity will go up, perhaps dramatically, according to research cited by the Wall Street Journal
Business News Daily Editor

Business News Daily was founded in 2010 as a resource for small business owners at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Our site is focused exclusively on giving small business advice, tutorials and insider insights. Business News Daily is owned by Business.com.