Essential Workplace Skills


As soon-to-be graduates hit the job market, they need to show employers they have what it takes to succeed. Outlined below are six essential skills and tips on how to demonstrate them to employers.



A work memo is not a text message. Employers want workers who can produce well-organized written reports with no spelling or grammar mistakes. "I think that's an area that's amazingly important, as well as oral communication," says Ruth Prochnow, career and internship counselor at the University of Denver Career Center.



Reading Text is the ability to read and understand written information in many different types of workplace documents, e.g., work instructions, emails and memos, health and safety manuals and policies and reports. We use this skill to scan for information, skim for overall meaning, evaluate what we read and integrate information from multiple sources.


Document Use

Document use is the ability to find & use the informations you need, put in those information where it is needed, and construct information displays: these are all document use tasks. Icons, labels, lists, tables, forms, graphs, signs, maps, images, schedules, schematics, touch screens & technical drawings are examples of documents or information displays used in a workplace. We use this skill when we read signs, labels, list, as well as when we interpret graphs and charts.



Some jobs require specific technical skills, such as knowing a programming language. But even for people in supposedly nontechnical jobs, computer skills are essential. "Technology is just a given," says Norm Meshriy, a career counselor and owner of Career Insights. "We have to work very effectively and efficiently, and technology provides tools that allow us to do that."



Companies have been cutting out layers of management in recent years, so they're now looking for leadership at all levels of the organization.



Employers want workers who will be a productive part of a team. This means getting along with coworkers, meeting deadlines, and being willing to pitch in to get a project done rather than saying, "It's not my job."

Although many schools are trying to teach teamwork, a lot of schoolwork still emphasizes individual achievement. But part-time jobs and extracurricular activities often involve working with others to achieve a goal. "To do almost anything in this life, we've got to work together," Meshriy says.



Writing is the ability to use the written word to create a clear message. It includes non-paper-based writing such as typing on a computer. We use this skill when we organize, record, document, provide information to persuade, request information from others and justify a request.



Thinking is the ability to engage in the process of problem solving, job task planning and organizing, finding information, critical thinking, significant use of memory and decision-making. We use a thinking process to solve problems, organize and plan, find needed information, be logical, remember things and make decisions.


Continuous Learning

Continuous Learning is the ability to apply strategies which support learning and the ability to adapt to change. We use this skill when we learn as part of regular work or from co-workers and when we access training in the workplace or off-site.  



Be able to write a traditional memo but be fluent at instant messaging. Be a leader but also a team player and work independently. Employers' demands can sound almost contradictory, which points to a crucial workplace skill: flexibility. Coworkers and bosses come and go. Priorities change. It's critical to be able to adapt to new requirements and work even during uncertain times.


Nurturing Your Skills

A key challenge for recent graduates is that with less work experiences, it can be difficult to demonstrate all the skills employers are looking for. Internships and part-time jobs are particularly important, though as are recommendations from supervisors at these positions. Take these jobs seriously, says Carrie McKnight, director of career services at Notre Dame de Namur University. "Sometimes it's what you have to do to be tested," she says. Experience volunteering at a homeless shelter or playing on a sports team can also help you demonstrate qualities employers want to see. To sell interviewers on your skills, Meshriy suggests thinking of a story that illustrates each skill, with a challenge, the actions you took to meet it and the results. When an interviewer asks how you get along with others, you can segue into your story about teamwork. It's important to have several different stories so you don't tell the same one over and over in an interview.