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My Degree & Skills

Research: employers are looking for these skills

Research: employers are looking for these skills

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It’s both.

In today’s world, your degree is one of the many important assets you bring to your future career. Combined with your unique skill set, it can open the door to many possible career options — including those that are seemingly unrelated to your choice of major.

Your degree + skills = career and job options

Employers seek a combination of knowledge, skills and experiences that convince them that a person will bring value to their organization. How a candidate develops this desired “package” comes from a variety of sources — including those gained through your degree and program(s) of study. So, instead of focusing on what you think you can or can’t do with your degree, be curious and open-minded to the variety of potential options that await you as a result of the unique combination of skills developed through your degree and other life experiences.

To continue expanding on this skillset, engage in a variety of activities and paid and unpaid work experiences that, together with the valuable skills developed through your academic program, will provide a unique package sought by employers.

Your unique skillset will play a key role in helping you determine a career direction. And once decided on, your skills will be instrumental in supporting your job search success.

In the labour market, skills are the currency used by workers in exchange for pay, so the more you develop your skills, the more marketable you will be.

You will need certain technical skills for the field you choose to work in, as well as transferable skills. Some transferable skills are more highly sought after by employers than others.

Each year a variety of organizations put together lists of these skills to help you make connections between your skills and those employers are seeking.

A recent study done by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) surveyed thousands of employers to determine the seven most sought-after competencies they were looking for in new employees, something they refer to as “career readiness.”

According to NACE, career readiness is the “attainment and demonstration of requisite competencies” that broadly prepare university graduates for a successful transition into the workplace.

Here are the top seven competencies:

Critical Thinking/Problem Solving:

  • Exercise sound reasoning to analyze issues, make decisions, and overcome problems
  • Obtain, interpret, and use knowledge, facts, and data in this process, and may demonstrate originality and inventiveness

Oral/Written Communications:

  • Articulate thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively in written and oral forms to persons inside and outside of the organization
  • Public speaking skills; ability to express ideas to others; and write/edit memos, letters, and complex technical reports clearly and effectively


  • Build collaborative relationships with colleagues and customers representing diverse cultures, races, ages, genders, religions, lifestyles, and viewpoints
  • Work within a team structure, negotiate and manage conflict

Information Technology Application:

  • Select and use appropriate technology to accomplish a given task
  • Apply computing skills to solve problems; adapt to new and emerging technologies


  • Leverage the strengths of others to achieve common goals, and use interpersonal skills to coach and develop others
  • Assess and manage ones emotions and those of others; use empathetic skills to guide and motivate; and organize, prioritize, and delegate work

Professionalism/Work Ethic:

  • Personal accountability and effective work habits, e.g., punctuality, working productively with others, and time workload management, and understand the impact of non-verbal communication on professional work image
  • Integrity and ethical behavior, acts responsibly with the interests of the larger community in mind, and is able to learn from his/her mistakes

Career Management:

  • Identify and articulate one's skills, strengths, knowledge, and experiences relevant to the position desired and career goals, and identify areas necessary for professional growth
  • Navigate and explore job options, understands and can take the steps necessary to pursue opportunities, and understands how to self-advocate for opportunities in the workplace

Compare this to a recent Canadian study done by the Conference Board of Canada.

We’ve outlined the seven most sought–after competencies employers are currently looking for in new employees according to the National Association of College and Employers. What about the competencies that could help you navigate the future world of work and learning? What skills, abilities and knowledge could help you succeed in a future characterized by AI, robotics, the ‘gig’ economy and a need for lifelong learning? UWaterloo has developed the Future Ready Talent Framework, a tool to help you understand more about the future of work and how you can prepare for success.

Do you have these skills?

If you do, can you clearly articulate them to employers in a convincing way? If you don't have these skills, have you thought about how you can develop them in order to be more competitive?

Another great way to determine whether you have the skills required for occupations and jobs you have an interest in, is to read through occupational descriptions and job postings. This seems obvious, yet often people don't read closely and reflect on the connection between their existing skills and what is being asked for.

So, which ones do you have? Which ones are you missing that seem to be important? Make a list of both. Read enough of these descriptions and postings, and you will have a good picture of your existing skills, and those you may wish to begin developing.

Note: It's important to try to develop many of the skills employers are seeking; however, there will likely be skills that just aren't 'you'. Perhaps no amount of practice will take you to a high level of mastery with a particular skill. While it is likely more productive to focus on the skills that come naturally to you, don't ignore your lower proficiency skills: in order to reach your longer term goals, you may need to develop at least some of them, at least a bit.

There may also be skills that you truly don't enjoy using. Forcing yourself to use a skill on a regular basis that you don't like can lead ultimately to burnout. Instead, look for occupations and work that either do not require this skill or, if required, it's in a minimal amount. If one or more of these skills are minimally present, do be prepared to develop them: this will only serve to benefit your career in the long run.

University of Waterloo

Centre for Career Development