Forbes mentions these 12 skills as the most important to make you competitive in the job market today:
Let’s break it down to see why these are so important.
The short version refers to how quickly you can adapt to changes around you and increase your efficiency with said changes. Basically, how quickly can you learn new things?
Probably one of the best ways to stay relevant and competitive in the market is to work on your learnability. Whereas in the old days you were expected to be an expert in your field, the focus seems to be shifting more favourably towards those who can do many things well instead of just doing one thing well. Not only does it give you a bit of an edge because you can problem-solve uniquely with your specific set of skills, but employers also love the diversity because you can cover other aspects of the business where they would normally have to appoint someone just for that task.
You could spend your evenings out partying and socialising with friends or binge-watch ‘The Umbrella Academy’ with popcorn and slushies. Or you can devote two nights to upskill yourself in some way. Think about your hobbies and how your hobbies could add value to your everyday work. Or go to the library and read up on a topic you find interesting so that you can start understanding more about it.
There is a very famous saying by Jerry Rice:
“Today I will do what others won’t so tomorrow I can do what others can’t.”
It doesn’t have to be something special; the idea is to train your brain to learn new things so that you can become better and faster at it as you keep practicing. It will only benefit you in the long run in your career. If the promotion is between yourself and a colleague with the same qualification and background, the one that will stand out is the one that showed how quickly they mastered the software programme you are all working on and spent some time designing a couple of extra templates. What impresses an employer is not how cool the design is for instance, it is the initiative and ability of the employee to master a new skill and apply that skill to enhance his productivity or work quality. Remember that there is no shame in using Google. I promise you that more than half of employees spent most of their first couple of weeks (or even months) on Google to understand certain aspects of their new jobs or just brush up on their knowledge. It doesn’t mean you are not capable, it means you are smart enough to use the tools available to you to be more efficient. You can spend 10 minutes trying to figure out an Excel formula and miss the deadline. Or you can just Google it in 2 minutes, write it down in your notebook so you remember it next time, spend 3 minutes setting it up in Excel and have 5 minutes to spare to have a quick cup of coffee!
This all comes down to learnability and that practice makes perfect. What you practice today, can change the world for you tomorrow. And the more you learn, the better you become at learning new things. The more things you know, the better chances you have to stay competitive. The more competitive you are, the better your chances of landing great opportunities that will catapult your career forward.
It all starts with an attitude and adaptation – a willingness to learn and master a skill one at a time until you become so versatile that it becomes your unique value-add to any company that hires you.
Resilience is a tough one. No really, it is all about being tough. A short Google definition will tell you that it is the ability to bounce back after failure or disappointment or basically when something did not work out according to plan.
Why is it important in the workplace? There are many reasons but let’s focus on two for now. Because no job is perfect. There will always be parts of your job that you will not enjoy, maybe even despise. That goes for any job level, even your top management. As much as you might hate having to schedule an important meeting because of all the up-and-down emails to find a suitable time, your manager might hate having to go to that meeting because it takes him or her away from their home and family. To mope about this for the whole week is not going to get anyone anywhere. Instead, see this as an opportunity to learn about scheduling or even do your research to find a better and more efficient solution; or perhaps use it as an opportunity to build a relationship with the person on the receiving end, you might need each other sometime in the future.
Secondly, because failure is part of learning and we are all learning continuously, it means that failure is inevitable. By all means, sulk away at home in front of Netflix with a jar of chocolate spread in your hand because you didn’t get the promotion, but get up tomorrow morning and go to work to figure out what you can do to improve yourself and tomorrow night switch off Netflix and go onto YouTube to see what makes great employees stand out and how to make managers take notice of you. And congratulate your colleague. Ask them for any tips they can share. Whatever you do, you can hit rock bottom and feel miserable and want to pack your bags and leave, but pull yourself together, get up and face the world again. Bounce back and try again. And again. You will get there. Instead of viewing setbacks as a failure, why not view them as opportunities to learn and acquire new skills?
Now this one is often underestimated yet so crucial. Imagine a Formula 1 championship. Agile does mean to move fast but it has more to do with adapting fast than moving fast. Not only does the F1 driver have to be aware of his opponents at all times, but he also must focus on where he is going as well as where the other drivers are going. He cannot drive while only thinking about his car, tyres or the track as he will crash into an opponent. He has to be aware of what others are driving and think, sometimes on the spot, about his reaction and anticipating what his opponent will do. Especially taking corners on the track, he cannot drive without being aware of the drivers around them and the angles they will take around the corner or how he can stay ahead while they try and overtake him in the corner.
Agility in the workplace means that you (and hopefully your company is there too) constantly have to adapt to changes either at work, in the market or personally. Employers can already spot agility during an interview. Maybe the interview time and venue have changed last minute, and you smoothly accepted the new invite and still showed up on time. May they ask you something unexpectedly during the interview to see how you react. Once you are employed, the expectation is still there to be agile. Trends in the market are changing, can you please have a short report on the manager’s desk in the morning on how you are going to change your strategy to align with new market trends? Your manager is sick and you must stand in for a presentation during a meeting. For the business, it can sometimes mean changing the business model and adapting the pricing structure or offerings to stay competitive in the market. The trick here is to roll with the punches and not get too attached to any kind of strategy or tool for example as things can change overnight.
Be the F1 driver that takes it slowly around the corner because you anticipated your opponent’s move and avoided a collision, rather than being the one at the back that is too scared to risk anything, or the impulsive one that throws all caution to the wind and speeds around the corner to stay ahead, only to crash into the barrier.
It is such a cliché. “I am a team player”.
Do you know how many people have this sentence written on their CVs and in fact, they are the worst team players? Nobody believes this anymore, so they want to see it in action. This often plays out in the interview in the form of a scenario described to you and asking you how you will react or asking how your classmates, lecturers or previous part-time employers would describe you. On this note – please refrain from giving the very fake-weakness answer “I work too hard”. Employers are tired of hearing this. Just be honest and own up to it without giving the employer a reason to NOT hire you.
Collaboration doesn’t mean sitting together in one room and talking about a shared problem. It doesn’t mean we all put our names on the report yet only one person wrote it. It also doesn’t mean brainstorming new solutions with ten people in the room and only two of them talking.
The fast-paced society we are living in requires constant collaboration. Even your favourite TikTok influencer does not work in isolation. Because of the possibilities that the digital era brings, the focus is very often on the details which can easily take up your entire day. The TikTok video that you see of about 20 seconds most probably took a couple of hours to make. Sometimes the influencer films him or herself, but often they have people assisting them. They might need lighting or music. Then the video editing itself can take hours. Often, it requires multiple takes to get the message across which means lots of time is needed to cut and trim all the video takes and put them together in one flowing clip.
The workplace is no different. Time is limited and collaboration is the way to get around more work with less time. Be smart and divide the report according to the skills and competencies of the team. Not all members have to be part of it. Perhaps next time your colleague writes more sections so that you can focus on research instead. The takeaway is that very few people nowadays can work in isolation and learning to work effectively in a team will only benefit all of you.
We get it. No one likes to do oral presentations in class. You feel stupid or shy. Especially if you have a loudmouth in the class that makes it look so easy and funny. Maybe you are a loudmouth and you know the other things that you are afraid of but too scared to share.
It doesn’t matter how shy you are or what kind of accent you have. In South Africa, EVERY single person has an accent. Because we have 11 official languages and thank goodness, we sound a bit more diverse and original than the single-language countries where everybody just sounds the same, right?
The point is that you absolutely must brush up on verbal communication. It is probably one of the most important skills you can ever master and it will always benefit you. The presentations in class are intimidating with peers watching you, but it is such good practice because one day, you might have fewer friendly people in the room and you still have to deliver your presentation convincingly.
So, you are shy, and you are not thinking of a career where you must speak in front of people? It is inevitable. Say you want to become a doctor; you will be attending daily ward rounds where you present patients. Perhaps you are studying engineering where you will have to present your design and plans to your team as the project lead. Perhaps you enjoy history and only want to research ancient cultures, but you still must present your research and contribute to conferences or even the media if you have interesting findings to share. Or perhaps you love academia and want to continue with your PhD. You are still expected to present at conferences and other events, not to mention having to defend your thesis publicly once you are finished. Right, so maybe you are into a computer or data science, and you only work with regression analyses. At some point, you will have to address colleagues to report on your work or results. It is unavoidable that somewhere in your career you will need to speak in public and better to practice it where you can rather than avoid it until you have no choice and then do a poor job. If you are perhaps already an influencer on social media, it is a great way to practice because watching your videos back will help you realise when you are talking too fast, mumbling too much, saying ‘uhm’ one too many times and just generally become comfortable sharing your opinion out loud.
It is scary and intimidating. But it gets easier the more you practice.
You know those horrible school essays that you had to write and all those comprehension tests “Please fill out the correct form of the word in brackets?” When you start working it all makes sense.
Ask around how many who have been working for many years, still go to Google to see which side the receiver’s address is supposed to go on the letterhead, left or right? But it is so much more than this. Written communication can become a tool to bring across a message to someone else, it can be used to drive a point of view over emails, it can become your file for all meeting minutes because you are expected to keep a record, it is part of marketing and strategic planning in any business, and it can even help you negotiate your salary or a project contract. Knowing how to express yourself in words in a way that forms an argument or tells a story is an incredible skill to have. And it doesn’t have to be only those in journalism or communication studies that can benefit, everybody can. In the society we live in where the Millennials and Gen Z are often accused of preferring text over talk, written communication is even more important. As a fellow Millennial, I would argue that the avoidance of phone conversations has often more to do with wasting time on unnecessary small talk than purely sending an email in half the time … but that is, as always, up for debate.
Nevertheless, imagine a rather challenging colleague at work taking you on a project that you know you have worked hard on, but they just have a way with words and using their seniority to shut you up. If you have practiced your written communication, you don’t have to back down one bit but keep your ground.
Example: Your colleague writes the following email after a discussion between you two where you didn’t argue your point well (hint hint – go practice your verbal skills in the mirror or record yourself and watch it back, it can be cringeworthy but very insightful!):
Thank you for the insightful discussion today. It is so pertinent that we familiarise ourselves with the facts to have these important brainstorming sessions and argue our points from a point of knowledge so that we can add value to the conversation and find viable solutions.
Does this sound nice to you? You were just told that you were an idiot who should read up before you open your mouth.
Maybe this colleague was loud and interrupted everyone and if you haven’t practiced your verbal communication or learned some empathy (the next skill in this discussion) you might retaliate with an angry email along the line of:
I wasn’t feeling very well today so I wasn’t on top of my game. It is not necessary to take it out on me and CC everyone in the office. You could’ve just talked to me. I know what I am talking about, I have a degree in this field. You didn’t even give anyone a chance to speak. Blah blah blah.
This will not get you anywhere. If instead, you contemplate what you want to say and practice it by reading it out loud or asking a friend to soundcheck for you, then you can answer the message with elegance but still, make your point. What about this:
It was indeed an insightful discussion, thank you for your contributions and for highlighting the aspects that needed further research and clarification. I would love to continue this conversation in the future and hear everyone’s opinion as I believe that will truly add value to guide the conversation forward and build our team cohesion.
See the difference? No one was rude, no one was name-calling another and in isolation, these emails look very positive. If the first email was not meant as an insult, the above message will be well received. If the email was indeed meant as a subtle insult, the sender will get the message that he/she is not running a one-man band.
It is all in the details and the peanut gallery will still be eating their popcorn!
The golden word in today’s society. Having empathy for someone else. This is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence and if you have no idea what either of these means, start Googling NOW. Empathy is the ability to understand how someone else might be feeling or what they might be thinking. Emotional intelligence is a combination of understanding or sensing other people’s emotions and being self-aware of your own emotions and how you are reacting (and appearing) towards them. The umbrella definition for emotional intelligence is the ability to manage your own emotions while still communicating effectively. So even if you are angry, realise you are angry and excuse yourself from the situation if you can so that you can go and calm down. Or perhaps picking up that your colleague seems angry and not provoking him or her further and changing the conversation without them having to.
So why is it so important in the workplace? It is important in every aspect of your life such as personal relationships and just, in general, being a decent person! But in the workplace, it helps if you can anticipate what and how others are feeling and check yourself in the conversation to not cause unnecessary conflict, discomfort, hurt or even company issues. Realising your colleague or manager is perhaps not their friendliest selves on Monday mornings might help you to understand to rather set up a meeting with them on Tuesday if you know they will be more approachable and open to your new idea. Or understanding that your one colleague is not chatty in the mornings before work and perhaps came in early to have some peace before the workday starts and leaving them be instead of targeting them for the next 15 minutes to listen to your party weekend or views on Trump.
It can as simple as noticing your colleague seems quiet and just asking if they need to talk and either leaving them alone if they say no, or offering your time over a cup of tea if they want to take you up on the offer. Empathy puts humanness back in business. If you talk about customers, empathy plays a huge role to understand how your customer might be feeling when they buy your product and tailoring your strategy to hook them in the right moment and the right place. Or the opposite can also be true, dealing with an angry customer understand to not take anything personally and to remain calm while dealing with the situation because you understand that if you were in the customer’s shoes, you probably would have been feeling the same.
Empathy might come naturally for some, but others must make a point to practice and you can start any day by just focusing on the people around you and trying to understand the world from their perspective. If you might want kids one day, this will come in handy because a 2-year-old needs you to understand the world from their perspective because they don’t even always understand it!
Creativity can come in many shapes and forms. We often tend to immediately think about an artist with a bowl of fruit, but creativity is much bigger than that, and for many people has absolutely nothing to do with art at all. It is about thinking outside the box. Those who are not happy with the status quo (the way things are) and perhaps you are already thinking about Apple because they are one of the biggest examples of challenging the way things are. Just think about their famous slogan “Think Different” which encompasses their worldview in two words. Saying don’t be average, don’t accept things the way they are, don’t just be placid, be different and think differently. And the way you think differently is by being creative.
There is a reason why artists and those in the theatrical spaces are often seen as dramatic and ‘otherwise’ or just plain upstream. It is because they live their creativity outwards. They challenge the status quo through their artwork, their theatre productions, their music and other mediums. They are often labelled as rebellious. The question we must ask ourselves today is – why do we feel so threatened and scared of change? What about change makes us uncomfortable and what about change makes us so angry towards those who are comfortable thinking differently, but out loud? Change and creativity are not the problems. Our attitudes are. Our fears and comfort are. People don’t like change because it causes discomfort and brings an element of uncertainty, yet the assumption is often more negative than positive. That is why creative people are often seen as trouble-makers – because they ask questions, and they are too curious for those who like things the way they are and do not want to deal with uncertainty. Don’t let that stop you. Beware of the thin line between curiosity and arrogance though, because that will have the opposite effect. It goes back to emotional intelligence. Knowing when to ask the right questions and thinking about how you are phrasing the question and who your audience is. Take for example a booking system for taking appointments. First, make an effort to learn and understand the system before questioning it otherwise you will just seem ignorant. Then talk to those who use the system a lot and find out what challenges they face and go do some research on alternative programmes and the cost and maintenance of these alternatives. Then you can initiate a conversation with the manager and mention that you have a couple of suggestions perhaps. Don’t jump in on a random day and complain about the system of the manager without having some solutions in mind. Always assess the situation before putting out random new ideas because sometimes you have one opportunity to get your ideas across and if you don’t do a good job, the opportunity might not present itself again.
Hopefully, you get the idea that creativity can present itself in many forms and ways. If you spot something that can be improved in your work environment, find out as much as you can before wasting your time researching something that might never change, but be curious and keep on asking questions. The troublemakers are often the change initiators that were inevitable.
Everybody knows that being able to problem-solve is important, but not everybody understands what that means. What do you think it means? Most people think that problem-solving is when your company’s revenue is taking a bit of a nosedive and you must come up with new ways to generate revenue. While that is of course a problem to solve, that is also an everyday strategy for managers. For you, as a fresh graduate problem-solving will look a bit different and might or might never center around revenue directly.
Problem-solving is also not as much a skill as it is an attitude. True, some people have a natural inclination towards problem-solving, but it is most definitely a skill that can be learned and improved. It can be in the small things in your everyday work, or it can be a very big strategy that you are working on. But in essence, it comes down to not expecting to be spoon-fed. Especially coming fresh from varsity, it is often a mentality that graduates struggle to change when they get to the workplace. It is understandable though, coming from a place where lecturers gave PowerPoint presentation handouts, and told you which pages in the textbook to ignore for the exams and your classmate gave you his/her neatly written class notes to copy a week before the exam. But in the workplace, you must think for yourself and if you don’t have an answer, think of a way to get your answer without expecting to be spoon-fed.
A typical scenario as a new employee would be for instance to not be familiar with the accounting software your company is using. Or perhaps being expected to file a monthly report on your division’s marketing campaigns. You could keep asking how to get things done on the accounting software platform, interrupting your other colleagues. Every 5 minutes ask a question, or you could spend a couple of evenings after work reading on Google or watching YouTube videos or visiting the website and help center of the company. We mention YouTube a lot, but it is such a great knowledge-sharing platform for free that it doesn’t make sense to not use it!
For the monthly report, you could keep asking a colleague to check your work and annoy them enough until they just do it themselves, or you can problem-solve and ask someone to share a previous report with you to understand the structure of it. If no one can assist you, get back to Google and look at some templates to get ideas and just start putting something together. And always treat all documentation as if you are being assessed on it. Meaning, proofreading and making sure there are no typos, neatening the document and ensuring formatting is consistent; using the correct referencing method and adding a table of contents if it is a long document. High quality of work goes a long way. Employers will have much more respect for an average report that is very neatly written than an average report that looks as if your dog threw up on it. Take pride in your work. Rather than asking a senior colleague how to write the report and expecting to be spoon-fed, give it a go yourself and ask them to check and advise. That way you will learn much quicker and much more than just being directed and dictated as if you cannot think for yourself.
Expert tip: Always make an effort to get to know the personal assistants or secretaries/receptionists in your new workplace. They know absolutely everything and everyone and are often a great source of information. Just remember to keep your humility if you move up the ranks, don’t become THAT person who looks down on anyone below his rank as if they do not matter. Humbleness will bring you very far as well.
Another buzzword in modern society. Companies need leaders and not managers. And this is absolutely the truth. You can be a leader already in school and varsity. Leadership is not bound by age. The effectiveness of leadership is also not bound by age even though there is often an expectation that with advanced age comes maturity, wisdom and leadership. This is simply not the case albeit a sad reality. The upside is that you can strive to be a leader even as a freshly qualified graduate. The argument about whether leaders are born or made can be saved for another day. We believe that the potential to become a great leader is in all of us if only it can be unlocked for the right purposes.
So, if we step aside from all the fluff for a moment, what does it mean to be a leader? For the most part, a leader is someone who inspires his or her team, who can share the vision of the company, who is trusted by the employees of that company and who can motivate the people around him or her to be their best. There are many other ways to be a leader but for this article let’s focus on the example below:
You stepped into your new role and slowly learned the ropes when a new intern is appointed part-time. She is in her second year of varsity and assigned to your team and is very eager to learn. Leadership is not sending her on coffee errands and copying files just because you can and because that is what you had to do when you were an intern. Leadership is trying to motivate her and encourage her to learn as much as she can during this internship. Leadership is getting both of you coffee instead so that she can read through a report that is due and understand more about the career she is working at. Perhaps even asking for her input and letting her type a couple of points. Leadership is not delegating your boring tasks to her like scheduling meetings and answering the phone while you go out for lunch. No, leadership is involving her in your boring tasks and making her see the bigger picture and how these tasks fit into the company vision, asking her opinions, and valuing her input.
Leadership is not bound to your title, never forget that. Respect is earned, regardless of your position in the company. The CEO that manages his/her team like a dictator will get things done because his employees fear him/her, while the CEO that leads with a vision and mutual respect will get things done because his/her people feel inspired to come to work and make a success of their company. After all, they feel valued.
If you wonder how to become a leader, keep these in mind:
The idea of negotiating your salary, working conditions or some sort of agreement might leave you feeling nervous with clammy hands and a pounding heart in your chest. It is not for the fainthearted and comes naturally to only a selected few who seem to have a knack for it. For those of us who do not like conflict or awkward situations, it is not something we would actively seek out but if you can master this skill, it can open doors for you.
Negotiation is an art and if you will, a combination of empathy, problem-solving, resilience and verbal communication in one action. It is so much more than that, but the intent is not to scare you with the complexity of the skill, but instead to understand how useful it is and why everyone should at least try their hand at it. Negotiations drive almost every aspect of a business, and it doesn’t matter in which department you are working, you will have to negotiate at some point. It might be negotiations about supplier quotes if you work in retail, negotiating contracts if you work in HR, negotiations about treatment options if you work in the medical field or negotiations about budgets if you do project management. The essence of negotiation is to resolve an issue or find a solution in a way that is beneficial to both parties and at the very least, is accepted by both parties. It is not an argument even though both parties will try to persuade each other of their view or perspective and is a strategic move to avoid a direct argument. Negotiations usually start if one or more parties do not accept the terms and conditions of an agreement (in whichever form it may present itself) and initiate a conversation to discuss adjustments or alternatives to the current proposed agreement. A very good skill to learn is understanding what the value-add is for your opponent. If you can figure out what they are after, it will help your argument by perhaps upping your stakes or adjusting your offer to give the opponent what you think he wants, while you get what you want.
Negotiation is all about strategy, you never reveal all of your cards on the table and only share what is truly necessary. Almost like poker. You do not let your opponent see what the most important aspect for you is because they might use that against you, the same way you try to understand what they want to use against them. Keep your cards close and be careful whom you share your information with. It can start with something more relevant to you know like negotiating your salary. Make sure you can back the expectation that you have otherwise you will look ignorant instead of assertive. Be realistic with your negotiations and practice with friends or family if you must.
As fresh students you have probably heard the term “Third Industrial Revolution”, also often referred to as the Digital Revolution which signifies the era where technological advances around the world made everyone sit up in their seats with the possibilities it could unlock. Heading into the Fourth Industrial Revolution which places a huge focus on aspects like machine learning (Artificial Intelligence), virtual reality, the Internet of Things (IoT)human-machine interactions and solving global issues through incredibly advanced technology, the question remains if South Africa can supply the skills for the futures jobs and demands of various industries. As much as your world right now evolves around exams, and assignments, showing up in time for class and perhaps hiding a hangover or two, you must think about where you are headed in the future. Not the typical ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years?’ future, but rather “Where could your career be 5 years from now”? There is a difference even though it doesn’t seem like it.
You could see yourself in 5 years in a top accounting firm as a senior associate, owning your own graphic design company, or perhaps moving towards a senior post as an educator (teacher) at the school you always had your heart set upon. And this is great. But what if there are such advances in technology that senior associates are no longer appointed as their tasks are taken over via AI, that a fantastic new graphic design software is disrupting the market and your customers start declining, or the school you had in mind decides to go fully online and pupil start attending online classes with virtual teachers? The point is not to make you feel concerned, the point is to make you think. If you think about your career instead of just your personal goals, you start applying the notion of learnability. What does this mean in practice? It means that you could start acquainting yourself today with advanced accounting software, watch YouTube videos or job shadow someone using these tools so that instead of not becoming the senior associate, you can become the project leader on implementing new accounting software and setting it up. Instead of losing out on customers and hating on all DIY graphic design software, familiarise yourself with various software so that you stay ahead of the curve and maybe start selling pre-made designs that people can customise themselves on said platforms. Instead of losing your dream teaching job, you can create it. Familiarise yourself with online teaching principles and perhaps start teaching online yourself in your spare time so that you can become the virtual teacher or even write the script for the virtual teacher and manage the platform schedule because you were a step ahead.
You can not go wrong by upskilling yourself in any technology platform or software. It doesn’t have to do anything with the typical backend of IT software, it just means keeping up with relevant applications that could make your job easier. If you study marketing, for instance, you will add real value to an employer if, instead of outsourcing all your marketing materials to graphic designers, you take on some tasks yourself on DIY platforms and show off your creativity and skills. Perhaps you work in agriculture and you wonder what you could do here? Agriculture technology startups are popping up everywhere because there is such a need for automation. The same in the medical field. You might not need excel skills in your daily job but what if you can assist the unit manager with reports on excel and in that way become invaluable to the team?
Technology is not the ultimate goal; it is merely an enabler and means to an end. If you use it well, the sky is the limit.