Everyone wants to know what the secret skill is that will lead to career success. Perhaps that want is a little amplified this year amid the slowest growth in employment seen in six years. With unemployment also edging up, just banking on the fact that you have a degree isn't something that is going to set you apart from the crowd.
So, with the new year just crossed, what exactly does 2016 hold? And what are some trends to look out for that might affect the way in which you build your skills? After looking at multiple industry sources, here are the top 5 skills you can consider building in 2016:
1. Soft Skills
It would be a crime not to include soft skills in this list, because plenty of employers are looking out for these traits in an employee, apart from the required technical skills a specific job calls for. As reported by Forbes, a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) showed that these are the top 5 soft skills employers were looking out for in 2015, and we don't see why these would change in 2016:
Ability to work in a team - the ability to also work with people from different cultures and backgrounds is increasingly essential in a globalised working world.
Decision-making - in the workplace, being able to decide on a course of action is perhaps just as important as coming up with different solutions.
Problem-solving and critical thinking - apart from having technical knowledge, the ability to process and apply that knowledge is also crucial.
Communication skills - being able to verbalize and communicate ideas and suggestions is something that is highly underrated but necessary in both big and small companies alike.
Ability to plan and prioritise - employers value an employee's ability to manage their workload without having to handhold them.
While many focus on acquiring technical knowledge in university, taking advantage of the smaller things like working in project teams and helping to craft presentations is something that can clearly benefit you in the long run. Choosing a university that gives that added bonus of building up your soft skills is what will set you apart from your peers in the working world.
2. Data Analysis Skills
A quick scan over LinkedIn's 25 Hottest Skills of 2014 list reveals a host of data-related job skills. Similarly, JobScan also ranked skills such as data security and management highly. Anyone who wants to be involved in the tech world needs to recognise that at the very core of this business is an environment that is increasingly driven by data.
Being able to dissect information and apply it to business through actionable plans is key in this information age. Building up analytical skills and the ability to think critically is something undergraduates should not ignore during their time in university.
3. Digital and Online Marketing Skills
While this might only be number 16 on LinkedIn's retrospective list for 2014, the past year saw a significant change in the digital landscape, with native advertising and content marketing rising to the fore amidst a market jaded with static banners and annoying pop-up ads.
The rise of online "influencers" and digital content platforms has certainly changed the game when it comes to online marketing. According to Edelman's Trust Barometer for 2015, Singaporeans are more likely to trust an expert source rather than any representation of a company. Fundamentally, what this means is that learning how to build trust in a brand and speaking with a voice that doesn't sound like it came out of 15 layers of a corporate office is what resonates with people in this digital age.
Skills such as learning how to effectively utilise different social media platforms and creating different content formats such as blog posts, videos and Instagram posts all go towards building a steady stream of marketing content that will contribute to meeting an organisation's marketing objectives.
As pointed out by LinkedIn, Gartner analyst Laura McLellan predicted that by 2017, CMOs would be spending more on technology than their CIO counterparts. That is truly a bold prediction, but also one that speaks of the increasing reliance on technology to serve as a marketing tool.
You can learn the ways of marketing in the digital world through blogs and social media accounts. Couple this with a solid grounding at the tertiary level and you'll rise above the crowd when speaking to potential employers and future colleagues. The ability to speak with authority on the current digital landscape will show potential employers that you are up to date and relevant in an ever-changing environment.
With digital, online, SEO- and SEM-related skills all making the Top 25 list on LinkedIn across multiple countries, keeping this in mind when picking a university course or module will certainly help to prepare you for the big digital world in front of you.
4. "Borderless" Skills
We previously wrote about 2 key advantages that Singaporeans have when applying for jobs overseas, but being able to gain overseas exposure doesn't just have to start after you begin working.
While you are in university, taking advantage of opportunities such as exchanges and business study programmes, as well as learning how to interact and work with people from different cultures and backgrounds will stand you in good stead as the world only becomes more interconnected through the digital web. Picking up basic skills in different languages will certainly go a long way as well.
The benefits of being able to relate outside the confines of your geographical boundaries extend beyond just your first job, and could open doors much further down the road, not just in big MNCs, but also in smaller firms looking to expand into new territories.
5. Multi-disciplinary Skills
Some people mistakenly assume that their area of study is all they will probably need for their jobs in the future. This might be true for specialised areas of professional work, but by and large, being able to apply knowledge across disciplines can be a huge asset in the business world.
For instance, a social science student majoring in Psychology with a second major in Marketing will be better able to utilise his or her theoretical knowledge of social psychology in the area of advertising. Being able to pair the technical and theoretical knowledge with actual application in business is especially desirable when it comes to finding a first job.
Having the option of doing a double major that spans across different disciplines is definitely a huge bonus when choosing where to study, and will definitely broaden your horizons when it comes to your career.
Ultimately, it goes without saying that building skill sets that relate to your area of career interest is instrumental, together with the soft skills that are useful in any industry.
What really distinguishes employees apart is how mature they are in these areas. Starting early, especially in a relatively safer environment like a university setting with mentors that can help, is a much smarter choice than having to figure things out on the fly while you are working.
Sure, you can have your fun in university, but it's also important to recognise the opportunities that present themselves beyond just endless hours of mugging. Looking out for universities that offer these opportunities both outside and inside the classroom will not only give you a real head start, but also prepare you for the rest of your career.
This article is brought to you in collaboration with Singapore Management University.
This article first appeared in MoneySmart.
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