Make 2021 better than 2020 by improving the job skills employers are looking for as we start the new decade.
As we look ahead to 2021, we know one thing for certain — 2020 turned the work world on its head. With a global pandemic creating and enforcing new strategies to keep the wheels turning, remote work became the norm. Some companies embraced the remote work model and will keep it full-time, while others hope to get back to on-site work again in 2021. However, the shift to remote work taught them a lot of lessons about what it takes to make a great employee in the new normal.
If you're looking for a way to set yourself apart from the rest of the candidates out there during your next job search, you need to think beyond your degree and your certifications and toward the top job skills employers want in 2021.
Most people who apply for a position have the nuts-and-bolts training required to do the job. But many hiring managers agree that it's your soft skills that can put you at the top of the list. That being said, there are some hard skills that can up your employment game as well — especially in the next couple of years.
As you get ready to test the job market in the next year, brush up on these 13 job skills in 2021 that recruiters and hiring managers will be looking for in top candidates.
1. Continuous learning
The days of getting a job and simply punching in and punching out are over. If you want to get ahead you need to embrace continuous learning. By improving your skill set, whether it's soft skills or hard skills, you boost your chances of improving your career trajectory.
Employers love to hear that candidates enjoy learning because it's necessary in a business world where change and growth are happening at remarkable speed. Those who don't embrace learning new things will be left behind.
Skill Tip: Check out online class platforms like Udemy or Linkedin Learning to see what they have to offer in your professional field — and don't be afraid to branch out from that, either. If you're a computer programmer who wants to learn project management, great; if you want to learn design, that's cool, too!
2. Time management
Time management has always been important, but with the acceptance of remote work, it's more important than ever. That means that your employers have to trust that you can manage your time and get your work done without anyone looking over your shoulder. In today's age of smartphones, social media, and binge-worthy TV, you need to prove that you can stay on task and on target.
Skill Tip: Prioritize your tasks for the next day before signing off, putting the biggest, ugliest tasks first if you can. Once you tackle those, the rest will come easy, and you'll stay on target.
3. Decision making
Everybody makes decisions, right? Not exactly. For some people, decision making is excruciating; they struggle to see beyond all the questions: What if we make the wrong choice? Is it worth the investment? Will the team be on board?
Having the ability to assess the criteria in front of you and come to a conclusive decision on a regular basis, even if you're wrong once in a while, marks you as a person who gets things done. It also shows that you're willing to take risks on occasion — and that's a good thing, too.
Skill Tip: Decision making is more than just an attitude, it is a skill. Grab a copy of former Navy Seal Mark Divine's book, “The Way of the Seal” and look for the chapter on what he calls the PROP decision-making model. It's simple, but it's also bulletproof.
If you think remote work means flying solo, you're probably in for a surprise. Collaboration is alive and well, but it takes a little more conscious effort now. Embracing collaboration and thinking about it proactively as you begin projects shows hiring managers that while you may be working alone in your home, you're still a team player.
Skill Tip: Learn cross-functionally; while you may not be able to do everything, learning how and why other teams do what they do will help you work together with them on any project with understanding and patience.
5. Emotional intelligence
The ability to stay in tune with your own emotions and the emotions of those around you is more valuable than ever and is why it's an important job skill for 2021. The days of “leave your problems at the door when logging in to work” are gone. From acknowledging your own emotions to having empathy for the emotions of your co-workers and clients, emotional intelligence will help you be a “people person” without having to be an extrovert.
Skill Tip: Start by taking an emotional intelligence quiz. Then, once you see the results, look at those areas where you may be lacking. Next, think of someone you know from work or in your personal life who you think excels in that area.
Talk to them about it and try to learn at least one small trick you can use to increase your EI.
6. Creativity and resilience
2021 will be a time of change and growth, and that means having creativity can put you in the driver's seat for finding solutions and new ideas that move the needle for your company. Resilience goes hand in hand with creativity.
Sometimes new ideas don't work right away — or at all — and being able to rebound from a setback with improvements and new ideas shows employers that you will keep their company moving forward.
Pro Tip: Find some simple things you can do to boost your creativity; sometimes all it takes is a little change in your routine.
Have you noticed that things are changing faster than ever? As technology evolves, we're finding new ways to use it. That means the old “We've always done it this way!” attitude is nothing but dead weight on your career.
You need to be adaptable to new technology, new collaborations, and new philosophies to succeed in 2021.
Skill Tip: Find books that focus on adaptability in the workplace. Even though it's from 1998, Spencer Johnson's “Who Moved My Cheese” is still a useful read and a good place to start.
8. Change Management
As we've noted above, things are changing faster than ever, and sometimes that can be hard on employees. Having a knack for change management, whether that means handling changes on your own or helping to guide whole teams on new directives, is a great way to make yourself an irreplaceable part of nearly any organization.
Skill Tip: Take a class or read a book on emotional intelligence because a major part of change management is understanding how changes affect employees on a personal level. Having a strong understanding of EI gives you a big leg up in succeeding.
9. Coaching Mindset
Increasingly, success has less to do with how aggressively you try to boost your own career and more with how you help the people around you. From your bosses to your direct reports, having a coaching mindset means you look to make those around you better. Think about it — who doesn't want to work with (or for) a person like that?
Skill Tip: Think of five people you have worked with, including customers, bosses, or direct reports. What could you have done to help them improve their situations? Then take a few moments to think about how that could have affected your own career.
10. Project management
Understanding the full scope of your projects and being able to manage them from concept to completion
will be a critical skill in 2021. With the emergence of more remote work, it's harder for management to keep tabs on every project going, so having employees who are skilled at project management makes their lives easier. It also sets you up to help others and possibly move into a management role of your own.
Skill Tip: Make yourself proficient with at least one or two project management systems. Do a little research to see which ones are most popular in your industry. A company that uses Asana, Wrike, Jira, or another system will love seeing that on your resume.
11. Cloud computing
Now we're getting into some more direct skills that can really give you an edge in 2021. The world is moving into the cloud even faster than expected thanks to 2020, and we need people who understand it and can work with it.
Even if you're not a programmer or engineer, just having a solid understanding of the cloud, how it works, and best practices can keep you ahead of the game.
Skill Tip: Take a quick class on cloud computing, finding one that will cover what is most relevant for your career. You can even find free online courses like this one.
12. Knowledge of new social and digital media
Like it or not, digital media is running the show these days. If you want to compete in the job market, you need to at least be cognizant of what's out there, how it works, and what kind of audience it enjoys. We're beyond just Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter these days (but don't neglect them!). While it may be comfortable to stick to what you know and ignore the newcomers, that mindset will leave you and your resume in the dust — especially as we enter the new decade.
Skill Tip: There are classes out there that you can take to brush up on new media, as well as plenty of articles detailing the complexities of the different social and digital media sites out there. But if you want to save a few dollars and get right to the heart of it, find a college-aged person and ask them what kinds of media they use and how they use them.
13. Artificial intelligence
It's truly an AI age now. We not only want computers to do work for us, but we also want them to get smarter as they work. Just like cloud computing, you may not need to be a top-level expert, but a solid understanding of AI can give you a vital edge in a difficult job market.
Skill Tip: Again, there are free courses out there for the taking.
Now that you know some of the professional skills and traits you will need to be successful in the new normal, it's time to get to work. But remember, you don't just have to boost your skills — you have to advertise them. Update your resume to highlight these top 13 skills in 2021, and then create a killer cover letter that shows just how ready you are for the new year and a new job.
Need help updating your resume for the new year? Our writers know exactly what hiring managers are looking for. Let them help!
This article was updated in December 2020 by the author.