The ongoing changes in the relationship between employee and employer are changing the entire world of employment. Until recently, the priority values for the employer were: education, work experience, and technical skills. Today’s recruiters are looking for candidates who exhibit also unique personal competencies that make them appear more attractive to a company’s culture.

Uncertainty about long-term employment in one organisation, the unpredictability of career paths and a deepening competency gap makes the job market for candidates even more challenging than before. That’s why it’s crucial to understand which skills make you “employable” – but first things first. 

What is employability?

Employability is used interchangeably with terms: soft skills, 21st-century skills, general competences, transferable skills, or holistic competencies

Employability is a term used in a variety of contexts and meanings. Researchers understand it in two dimensions: narrow and broad.

The narrow approach refers to skills that make a person more attractive to employers over some time and concerns a short time horizon.

In a broader context, employability takes on aspects related to both gaining and maintaining employment in the long run.

Employability skills definitions:

  1. Employability as “a set of features and skills that make up the ability to obtain and maintain a satisfactory job”. [First employability definition, proposed by J. Hillage and E. Pollard in 1998] 
  2. Employability as the potential of an individual professional career, determined by the level of professional knowledge and skills, adaptability to new duties and professional challenges, and the ability to manage a career. [A contemporary approach proposed by N. Saha, B.I.J.M., Van der Heijden, and A. Gregar]
  3. Employability as “holistic competence” – a set of competencies that an individual must develop for themselves, relatives, career, and society. It includes various positive values ​​and a sense of professional ethics, developed throughout life. [A term proposed by dr. Chan and her team from University of Hong Kong]

In this article, we look at employability in terms of a broad set of skills, attributes, and personal qualities that make the employee more likely to find a job and succeed in their work. This set of skills is the answer to the phenomena in the current labour market – the increasing flexibility and insecurity of employment, limiting permanent work, the complexity of career paths, and the deepening competency gap.

Top 10 employability skills useful in today’s labour market 

Specific unchangeable character and personality traits make one employee more beneficial than another. These are, among others: professionalism, accuracy, focus, self-confidence, creativity, and transparency. It is worth making efforts to bring out your most vital qualities during the interview. So, let’s take a look at specific 10 employability skills every employee should have.

1. Self-motivation and initiative

Top 10 employability skills employers seek in the 21st century: 1. Self-motivation and initiative

These attributes are one of the most critical determinants of success in any situation. Self-motivation relates to the inner striving for achievement, development, and continuous progress. Moreover, it is what pushes you to complete or persist in something when you don’t feel like doing something or in a difficult situation.

Motivation is related to the initiative — being proactive (not reactive), noticing, and taking advantage of emerging opportunities. A person with the enterprise is more likely to seek, identify and seize opportunities. They will not only do what is required of them but will exceed the set goals – above the norm or atypically.

Employees with these skills can successfully catch new business opportunities, introduce new systems, or processes to an organisation. These competences make them capable of coping with a sudden crisis and help realise the organisation’s goals.

2. Organisation 

Top 10 employability skills employers seek in the 21st century: 2. Organisation 

Organisational skills refer to the skill of  planning work to meet deadlines and objectives. They are directly linked to motivation, resourcefulness, concentration and methodicalness. They also include:

  • the use of mental abilities, physical space and resources; 
  • task and people management; 
  • goal monitoring; 
  • prioritisation; 
  • posting; 
  • time management. 

The last element of an effective organisation is one of the essential hiring skills as it is closely related to achieving results. And poor time management can lead not only to a lack of effects at work but also to a work-life balance. Being agile at managing time makes it easier to: 

  • plan the use of available resources (time, effort, people, money); 
  • define the time frame for the task or project; 
  • set schedules. 

3. Troubleshooting 

Top 10 employability skills employers seek in the 21st century: 3. Troubleshooting 

Problem-solving is about understanding an issue by breaking it down into smaller pieces and identifying fundamental issues and solutions. It is part of larger skill sets, such as analytical, reasoning and critical thinking skills.

Recruiters highly appreciate this competency, because problem-solving is an integral part of the everyday life of any company. People with this skill cope with challenges better and are more creative when facing obstacles. They are more efficient in:

  • analysing facts and figures;
  • defining challenges;
  • developing contingency plans;
  • evaluating processes;
  • creating and implementing solutions.

Problem-solving suggests that one can collaborate in more heated situations and thus is considered a good leader or teammate. Moreover, it is related to the ability to search for information and then use it.

4. Information use

Top 10 employability skills employers seek in the 21st century: 4. Information use

Information literacy has a wide range of meanings. It can refer to locating a single piece of relevant data as well as creating a clear data-driven presentation. Employers are looking for people who can:

  • find the correct information on any medium; 
  • organise the information in a meaningful way; 
  • analyse the data and draw appropriate conclusions; 
  • coherently pass the information collected to others. 

To understand, analyse and communicate the information well, you might need to understand simple numerical concepts, for example: 

  • basic arithmetic operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division; 
  • using data and mathematics to support a thesis, show evidence, or show a tipping point. 

5. Technology use

Top 10 employability skills employers seek in the 21st century: 5. Technology use

Nowadays, technology permeates all aspects of human life, rapidly advancing this trend. And it doesn’t matter what profession you are in — programmer, data scientist, network engineer, investment banker, administrative clerk, or a nurse. To remain in the labour market, everyone must be up to date with technology related to a given profession. 

6. Adaptability

Top 10 employability skills employers seek in the 21st century: 6. Adaptability

New technologies, competition, new business models — all this requires a modern employee to think quickly, be able to move efficiently, and be brave in proposing new solutions that have not yet been tested.

So it should come as no surprise that adaptive abilities rank high among skills in the employment process. Adapting also means being willing to learn to come up with new, more efficient ways to get things done.

7. Learning

Top 10 employability skills employers seek in the 21st century: 7. Learning

The skill is about being enthusiastic about work, with an open mind and a willingness to learn, with room for learning new skills, and a desire to grow. It is also the ability to learn from your mistakes for the benefit of both yourself and your employer. 

8. Communication/interpersonal skills

Top 10 employability skills employers seek in the 21st century: 8. Communication/interpersonal skills

Communication is an integral part of any employment-related skill list. If you want to be successful in your professional (and personal) life, you need to be able to communicate effectively with others. Communication and interpersonal skills are the ability to explain things clearly and concisely using written and spoken means. However, communication is much more than explaining to others what you want them to understand. You should also be able to: 

  • listen; 
  • draw logical conclusions; 
  • build relationships; 
  • adapt the language to your audience; 
  • follow the information collected.

Negotiation skills are related to communication skills. They involve taking into account other people’s feelings and expressing your own requirements in a clear and unemotional way to achieve a win-win result.

9. Teamwork

Top 10 employability skills employers seek in the 21st century: 9. Teamwork

Teamwork is about working well with other people from different disciplines, backgrounds, and expertise to accomplish the task at hand. We cannot underestimate the power of cooperation. Well-organised teams can achieve much more than any of their members would if they played solo. 

Teamwork is also about appreciating diversity and difference and the value that can come from doing so. Collaboration is one of the employment skills sought after — meaning: 

  • the opportunity to work with people of different origins, ages, religions, and political views;
  • recognising strengths and weaknesses of each team member to allocate tasks appropriately; 
  • taking responsibility for the results; 
  • ability to resolve conflicts within the team.

Synergy is the modern fashionable slogan that defines teamwork. Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Effective Action, emphasises that it is difficult to talk about effectiveness when it is not achieved. This concept includes the creative cooperation of a team that is committed to the tasks and open to the ideas and solutions of others. 

10. Leadership

Top 10 employability skills employers seek in the 21st century: 10. Leadership

For managerial positions being able to lead others is extremely important. Leadership skills combine management ability and people skills with charisma, empathy, and strategic thinking, only to name a few. To be a good leader is extraordinarily challenging to achieve, and good leaders are worth their weight in gold. 

Why are these top 10 employability skills important? 

The top 10 employability skills we listed are much more challenging to learn than specific technical skills. They are dependent on individual traits and one’s character so learning them requires vast focus on personal growth and a high level of persistence to fight some contradictory skills a person might have. However, it is worth making the effort to develop them, because they are increasingly appreciated in today’s labour market. Why? These competences give you the possibility to:

  • get your first job, even without an experience; 
  • have a smoother “transition” between positions in the same organisation; 
  • increase your chances for getting a new job if required;
  • gain independence in the labour market thanks to better flexibility and resistance to change.

In a report by the World Economic Forum, some of the world’s largest employers recognised critical thinking and problem-solving skills as the most sought-after skills in their industries. 

Top 10 employability skills — summary 

The importance of the abovementioned competencies is reflected in the report of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (O.E.C.D.). It states that in a rapidly changing world, they are crucial for future generations to succeed in their careers and lives. Over the past 20 years, competencies in higher education have shifted from purely career-oriented competencies to a more holistic view of graduate attributes, which include “softer” skills.