10 Workplace Competencies Employers Want

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  • A new report sheds light on the top workplace competencies employers look for when hiring.
  • These in-demand skills and abilities include leadership, teamwork, and problem-solving.
  • College students can build competencies through part-time jobs and volunteer work.

Searching for a job can be stressful, especially in a challenging labor market. How can you prepare to not only succeed in your job search but also achieve more long-term success in the workforce?

A new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) sheds light on what employers desire in potential candidates, as workers continue to navigate employment uncertainty in the wake of COVID-19. The report identifies specific competencies that are in demand right now, based on an analysis of 1,000 occupations.

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Ready to Start Your Journey?

Whether you're preparing for your first job search or anticipating your next career move, CEW believes that "the right mix of occupation, education, and competencies can result in high rewards" in terms of salary and satisfaction.

What Is a Workplace Competency?

The new CEW report focuses on "workplace competencies" — the knowledge, skills, and abilities that are most relevant in today's workforce. Also referred to as "KSAs," these competencies often appear in job vacancy announcements and job descriptions to convey the tasks you can expect to perform in a role and the areas in which you'll need to bring experience in order to succeed.

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    Knowledge: What do you know or understand about specific topics relevant to your field of interest? Knowledge consists of concepts, facts, and other information related to a subject or task.
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    Skills: What proficiencies do you bring to the job that allow you to apply what you've learned in a workplace setting? Skills are usually performed in ways that can be measured or tested.
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    Abilities: Abilities can be defined in two ways. They can either (1) be natural talents you bring to the workplace, or (2) address your capacity to perform specific tasks and/or apply your knowledge and skills in different ways.

Top 10 In-Demand Workplace Competencies

As you review the top workplace competencies below, think about how your education and work experience have prepared you to meet employer expectations, as well as where you may have gaps, in each area. According to CEW, these competencies go beyond both having a degree and studying a certain major.


This competency includes abilities related to writing and speaking, active listening, reading comprehension, and language skills. Consider the various ways we — and the companies we work for — communicate with colleagues, customers, and the general public.


Many jobs involve working with other people. Employers hiring for these positions need employees who are perceptive of others' reactions and can identify ways to help. Being able to contribute and support the contributions of others as you pursue a common goal is valuable in most work settings.

Sales and Customer Service

Positions that involve working with clients or customers depend on skills related to evaluating needs, providing services, and adhering to quality standards. Many roles have a sales or customer service component, without having these terms in their job titles.


Skills in this competency include coordination of resources and tasks, delegation, negotiation, time management, and personnel management. Think about the traits of leaders you've admired, such as teachers and supervisors, and what made them successful in their roles.

Problem-Solving and Complex Thinking

This is a broad category that includes skills and abilities such as deductive reasoning, judgment and decision-making, originality, and critical thinking. Critical thinking is particularly important in roles that require you to synthesize information and develop creative or innovative solutions.

Perception and Attentiveness

This competency category entails identifying when a problem exists, organizing information in meaningful ways, and shifting between multiple activities or sources of information. Being aware of what's happening in your work environment and with projects you're working on is critical to most jobs.

Teaching and Learning

Many jobs require you to learn aspects of the role on the job and continuously upskill, while others may require you to train employees on certain aspects of their jobs, even if you aren't an official or formal trainer.

Vision and Hearing

This physical competency applies to positions that require the ability to detect differences in how things look or sound. This could pertain to operating specialized machinery or technology and reacting to warning signs or alarms.

Digital Technology

Computers are integral to many of today's jobs. This competency includes computer literacy as well as familiarity with up-to-date hardware components and software applications.

Business and Economics

This category covers a variety of knowledge and skills related to administration and management, data analysis, accounting, and clerical office tasks (e.g., managing records, creating forms, and word processing).

Check out the U.S. Department of Labor's O*NET OnLine skills search for more detailed descriptions and examples of these and other workplace competencies.

To learn more about which competencies are important in your field of interest, explore CEW's full report for profiles of STEM fields, business and professional office occupations, community service roles, education careers, healthcare jobs, and more.

How College Students Can Build Workplace Competencies

A list of workplace competencies, like the one provided by CEW, might seem overwhelming. Understand that you won't be able to build your knowledge, skills, and abilities in all areas at the same time. Skills development takes time and effort. Knowing what employers in your industry of interest are looking for in candidates can help you prioritize your education and training resources.

Here are some key steps you can take now to make the most of your current competencies and move closer to your career and employment goals.

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    Explore Your Career Options

    Take time to research what will be valuable to employers in the field you want to pursue and the level at which you want to work. Also, consider the future. As the CEW report points out, it's not just about getting hired — you should also be thinking about the role competencies play in maintaining employment and advancing your career.

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    Enhance Your Job Search

    Let potential employers know how you've developed the skills they need. Provide examples of accomplishments you've achieved on your resume and LinkedIn profile, and through stories you can tell about your skills in networking conversations, at career fairs, and during job interviews.

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    Keep Learning

    Where are the gaps in your competencies? Embracing the opportunity to become a lifelong learner can have both personal and professional benefits. Seek out opportunities to maintain your current skill set and develop new competencies through avenues like continuing education, certificate programs, professional certification, and free online classes.

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    Gain Experience

    Look for opportunities to practice your skills and abilities in authentic situations that also provide feedback from someone with more experience. The goal is to apply your knowledge in new ways by taking advantage of activities like traditional and virtual internships, part-time jobs, and community service projects. You should also talk to your professors about how you can develop specific workplace competencies through your course assignments and extracurriculars.

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    Connect With Your Career Center

    Not sure where to start? College students and alumni can take advantage of the expertise and resources available through their school's career center. Your institution's career counselors, coaches, and advisors will show you how to dig even deeper into hiring trends, help you assess your competencies, and introduce you to employers that are hiring graduates from your school and program. It's never too early to begin career planning and competency-building.

Feature Image: wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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