What Are Employability Skills and Why Do They Matter?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Employability skills tend to be non-technical skills that help make you an impactful employee.

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Each job requires some combination of technical and workplace skills (sometimes called soft skills). In other words, you will likely need to know how to perform the work specific to your role and how to do so effectively.

Employability skills tend to refer to the latter—they are workplace skills or transferable skills that help make you an impactful employee. But you can also think of them as skills that employers tend to value. In fact, many employability skills are “higher cognitive skills” that can’t be carried out in automated tasks because they require creativity, critical thinking, and other important social and emotional abilities. According to a skills report from McKinsey [1], they will continue to be in demand.

In this article, we’ll go over nine skills employers seek in candidates they’re interviewing and how you can integrate your employability skills into your resume and cover letter. 

9 valuable employability skills 

Beyond looking for specific technical skills when hiring for a role, employers typically seek qualities such as how candidates manage their time, collaborate with others, and think critically about problems. These are known as employability skills, and they’re highly valued because they can bolster your technical know-how and overall impact. In building this list, we looked at reports forecasting important non-technical skills from Pearson [2], the World Economic Forum [3], and McKinsey [4]. 

It’s worth noting that many employability skills draw on one another. For example, being a strong collaborator often means being a proactive communicator with good time management. Learn more about how to strengthen these important skills.

1. Communication

Communication is a key part of any role. You communicate in various ways at work, including offering solutions to an ongoing problem, updating the status of a project, sharing the latest data in a visual report, and emailing coworkers. Being an effective communicator is a prized skill because of how wide-ranging it tends to be. Learn different ways to improve your communication skills in the workplace.

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2. Critical thinking 

There are usually ways to make things function better in the workplace, whether that’s processes, strategies, or even teamwork. Thinking critically and creatively—being an observant individual who asks questions and draws insights that can be used to identify solutions—is a worthwhile skill to hone.  

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3. Problem-solving 

Being able to solve problems depends on your ability to think critically and communicate solutions, thus drawing on two other employability skills on this list. And problem-solving isn’t just a managerial task. It’s a skill you can strengthen at any level. Many workplaces appreciate it when you work to uncover a solution rather than simply flag a problem. 

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4. Time management

Whether you work in an office or remotely, managing your time effectively is important. When you do so, you can set and achieve more goals, reduce stress, and stay on track. Learn more about six time management tips to boost your productivity.  

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5. Ability to work independently 

Speaking of managing time, you will often need to work on your own to complete a task or project. In that case, fostering an ability to work without supervision—or independently—can go far, creating greater trust between you, your team, and your managers. This is especially important for remote work.  

6. Dedication

Dedication may seem like loyalty to a company—and it certainly can be that in many respects—but it also signals to your employer that you value high-quality work and put in the effort to deliver key results every time. Being a dedicated employee means caring about your work and the standard of that work.  

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7. Collaboration

Collaborating with others on your immediate team or cross-departmentally is a critical interpersonal skill. Because many teams must work together to complete projects or achieve results, it’s important to know how to work well with others by engaging many other skills on this list, such as communication, time management, and problem-solving.  

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8. Flexibility 

The nature of work can change over time. In fact, at many start-ups, change is a given. Remaining flexible in the face of change is a valuable skill to develop and continue working on throughout your career. Flexibility often means staying calm in the face of change, remaining positive, and trying to plan ahead where possible. 

9. Leadership 

You don’t have to be a manager to be a leader at work. Leadership skills show that you’re proactive, take charge, and think critically about the larger impact of your role. At the managerial level, it shows that you know how to manage a team of employees, ensuring that everyone is working together to complete the tasks at hand. 

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Your application materials, which often include your resume and cover letter, should detail your various employability skills. You may find it easier to list your technical skills on your resume, and use your cover letter to expand on some of the ways you’ve used employability skills to be an effective colleague. Use the tips below to integrate employability skills into your next job search: 

  • Resume: Use action words throughout your resume to highlight your employability skills by showing their impact. For example, mention how you strengthened teamwork or cultivated better communication. You can also use your resume skills section to lay out your unique strengths.   

  • Cover letters: Ideally, your cover letter should expand on your resume. Use it to share anecdotes or examples of how your employability skills have impacted a project or team. Learn more cover letter tips with our helpful guide. 

Learn more: What Skills Should I Include on My Resume?

Explore further

Develop key employability skills with a course on communication from Wharton, or interpersonal skills from IBM. Enroll in a free, 7-day trial today. 

Or check out a Professional Certificate from Google, IBM, or Meta to develop job-ready skills in areas like UX design, data science, project management, marketing analytics, and sales

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Article sources

1. McKinsey and Company. “Skill shift: Automation and the future of the workforce, https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/skill-shift-automation-and-the-future-of-the-workforce.” Accessed October 6, 2022. 

2. Pearson. “The Future of Skills: Employment in 2030, https://futureskills.pearson.com/research/assets/pdfs/technical-report.pdf.” Accessed October 6, 2022.

3. World Economic Forum. “The Future of Jobs Report 2020, https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2020.pdf.” Accessed October 6, 2022.

4. McKinsey Global Institute. “Skill Shift: Automation and the Future of the Workforce,https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/skill-shift-automation-and-the-future-of-the-workforce” Accessed October 6, 2022. 

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