What’s the Number One Skill Employers Seek?

What’s the Number One Skill Employers Seek? was originally published on Firsthand.

Figuring out how to stand out in a pool of candidates—especially when you are applying without a referral—is one of the most stressful aspects of a job search. So, what do employers really want, especially when hiring new grads? The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has released its annual Job Outlook survey, which answers just that question—and the results might surprise you! Check out the chart below to see what percentage of surveyed employers are looking for these skills on candidates' resumes.


% of Respondents

Problem-solving skills


Ability to work in a team


Strong work ethic


Analytical/quantitative skills


Communication skills (written)




Communication skills (verbal)






Technical skills




Interpersonal skills (relates well to others)


Computer skills


Organizational ability


Strategic planning skills


Friendly/outgoing personality


Entrepreneurial skills/risk-taker






Fluency in a foreign language


Source: Job Outlook 2020, National Association of Colleges and Employers

It probably goes without saying that a solid GPA and a relevant major (a media company probably isn't looking too hard at biochemistry majors, for example) are useful in getting your application noticed. But when it comes to the personality traits and work style, the number one attribute employers are looking for in their new hires is problem-solving ability, with over 91 percent of surveyed employers marking the skill as desirable. In fact, problem solving skills outscored all other attributes by nearly 5 percent. The next most desired skills were teamwork (86.3 percent) and work ethic (80.4 percent).

Surprisingly, fluency in a foreign language was only flagged as an important skill by 2.9 percent of employers. Most four-year colleges have a foreign language requirement, and while it's undoubtedly important to have foreign language skills for personal growth and development, it doesn't seem to be in very high demand in the current job market. Though, of course, language skills are crucial if you're planning on working in any kind of cross-border capacity, so keep your desired field in mind.

What employers want in their candidates overall hasn't changed much in the past year—the top eight skills in this year's results are the same as those in last year's, albeit in a different order. Written communication skills were the most sought-after attribute in candidates from last year's Job Outlook survey, though these skills have fallen to fifth place this year. Significantly, of the 20 attributes presented in the survey, 13 were selected by more than half of the responding employers. This suggests that employers aren't focused on just one specific skill when recruiting new employees—it's important for job-seekers to be well-rounded candidates.

As it happens (just kidding, it's by design), many of the most desirable skills in a candidate are also metrics for NACE's standard of career readiness—i.e., the skills you need before entering the workforce. So check out our article on career readiness to learn more about some of the skills employers desire most and how to fine-tune those skills before starting your career.

By Firsthand
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