11 Job Skills Employers Wished Young People Had (and How to Get Them)

job hunting books

Some recent grads aren’t quite prepared for the working world. | John Moore/Getty Images

Young people on the hunt for a new job have reason to celebrate. Nearly three-quarters of employers plan to hire recent college graduates in 2017, the highest share since 2007, a CareerBuilder survey of 2,380 hiring managers found. Starting salaries are up, too, with 39% of companies planning to pay new hires $50,000 a year or more.

Low unemployment plus a desire for fresh blood are contributing to a healthy hiring outlook for younger workers. “Competition for soon-to-be college grads is escalating to a degree we haven’t seen in the last 10 years,” said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer for CareerBuilder. “In the current environment, where job unemployment continues to decrease and there’s continued competition for sought-after skills, employers are especially attracted to college graduates and the fresh perspective and skills they can bring to the workforce.”

Unfortunately, companies with ready-to-fill positions say some young people don’t have the chops to make it in the working world. Many HR managers CareerBuilder surveyed said recent graduates didn’t have a strong combination of both technical and liberal arts skills, weren’t prepared for more complex entry-level positions, and had spent too much time in school focused on book learning rather than developing real-world skills.

What specific job skills are young people lacking? We’ve highlighted the 11 areas where employers said recent grads were coming up short and explained what you can do to boost your skills and make yourself a more attractive candidate.

11. Math

math class

High school students learn in a math class. | Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Fourteen percent of employers said young people needed to brush up on their math skills. That’s not surprising. Surveys have shown American adults perform dismally even on tests of basic math skills.

If you bluffed your way through your statistics class and are now regretting it, there’s still hope. Khan Academy offers free online courses in everything from basic arithmetic to multi-variable calculus, and MathPlanet can help you refresh your high school math skills. Plus, through MIT’s Open Courseware, you can access video lectures, notes, assignments and other material for higher-level mathematics classes.

Next: The skill many young people probably think they have. Employers disagree.

10. Computer and technical skills

computer programming

A computer programmer is at work. | iStock.com

Young people might be glued to their smartphones, but when it comes to the technical skills they need to land a job, they’re coming up short, according to 17% of HR managers CareerBuilder surveyed. Programming, SEO and SEM, industry-specific software (such as Quickbooks or Salesforce), and even facility with Word and Excel are among the computer and technical skills employers say they want, but many prospective employees don’t have.

If you need a crash course in industry-specific software, the manufacturer might offer training modules that can get you caught up. Completing online courses through sites, such as Lynda, is another way to bridge the skills gap. Community colleges and adult education centers also offer classes for people who want to get better at using software, such as Word, Excel, Powerpoint, or Photoshop.

9. Research and analysis

resume crumpled in cyan background

If you don’t have good research and analysis skills, many employers won’t be interested in your resume. | iStock.com/ragsac

Seventeen percent of employers wish job candidates had better research and analysis skills, CareerBuilder found. Companies want to hire people who can think critically and evaluate information, not just Google something to find an easy answer.

Proving to employers you have research and analytic skills is a matter of showing, not telling. If you completed a major project or report for school, you might be able to point to that as evidence of your analytical skills. Even something as straightforward as thoroughly researching a company before an interview and learning about industry trends, competitors, and challenges can show an interviewer you’ve got the goods in this area, according to career website The Big Choice.

8. Project management

project outline

Employers want candidates who can manage complex projects. | iStock.com

Just over a quarter of HR professionals who talked to CareerBuilder said today’s young people need better project management skills. If you’re weak in this area — or aren’t even sure what project management really is in a workplace setting — sign up for a class, such as Project Management: The Basics for Success, through Coursera.

The beginner-focused course explains the essentials of project management and also covers team leadership, another skill employers say young people are lacking. The Project Management Institute also has a wealth of tools to help you learn about project management, as well as links to accredited project management programs.

Everyone — not just artists — could benefit from having the next skill in their toolbox, according to employers.

7. Creative thinking

man working on tablet

You don’t need to be an artist to be a creative thinker. | iStock.com

Ever feel like you’re having trouble coming up with great ideas or creative solutions to problems? Employers definitely think you’re not that imaginative. Thirty-four percent said recent grads were not great at creative thinking.

Unfortunately, developing your creative thinking skills isn’t just a matter of signing up for an online course. You’ll need to — wait for it — get creative to give yourself a boost in this area. Try reading articles or books you’d normally pass over, talking to someone you don’t know, or even going to see a movie in the theater to get the creative juices flowing, Jason Zook wrote in an article for Inc. Exercise can also make it easier to think creatively, according to Fast Company, as can adding some ambient noise to your work environment.

Young people addicted to text-speak might be lacking the next essential job skill employers are looking for.

6. Written communication

Business woman writing on a computer in the office

Having strong writing skills is essential for many jobs. | iStock.com/Rostislav_Sedlacek

Employers want workers with strong written communication skills, but 35% say job seekers are coming up short in this area. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a Hemingway or Faulkner to impress your future boss with your prose. You just need to be able to communicate clearly and professionally.

Becoming a good writer requires practice. You can hone your skills by reviewing your resume and cover letter for extra words, confusing phrasing, and grammatical and spelling errors. If you’re struggling with writing, a business writing course can help you brush up on the basics. Then, put what you’ve learned to use when developing your application materials to show the hiring manager you won’t embarrass your boss with your poorly written emails.

5. Leadership

Leadership Concept on blackboard

Demonstrating that you have great leadership skills might help you get a job. | iStock.com

Companies want to hire people with leadership potential, but 38% say recent graduates are more likely to be followers than leaders.

Young people who are still in school can enhance their leadership skills by getting involved in student government, working as a resident adviser, or getting involved in a campus club or Greek organization, suggested ThoughtCo.

Volunteering is another way for people of all ages to get leadership experience, Karl Moore wrote for Forbes. Volunteer nonprofit leaders need to be able to motivate people who aren’t getting paid, develop creative solutions with limited resources, and work with people with competing interests, he wrote. These are skills that will serve them well in the corporate world, as well.

4. Oral communication

group meeting

A group of young employees talk during a meeting. | iStock.com

Peppering your answers to interview questions with “umms” and “likes”? Have tendency to mumble or let your sentence trail off? Recruiters have noticed. Nearly 40% of HR managers surveyed said young people needed to work on their oral communication skills.

Simple things, such as making an effort to remove fillers from your conversations, will make you appear more persuasive, LifeHacker noted. If nervousness is a problem for you, practice can help calm the jitters, according to Harvard University, while using humor and telling stories can make for a more engaging conversation or presentation. Joining a local Toastmasters group, an organization that helps people become better communicators, can also help you refine your speaking skills.

The next skill is one you should have picked up in Little League but apparently didn’t.

3. Teamwork

young creative team sitting at a cafe

A creative team works on a project together. | iStock.com/jacoblund

Thirty-nine percent of employers say the young people they are interviewing aren’t good at working as part of a team. Being able to work as part of a team isn’t a single skill you can learn through rote practice. Rather, it’s the ability to apply a bunch of other career skills in a group setting to get stuff done. You can get better at collaboration by developing a host of soft skills — listening, brainstorming, negotiating, and building a consensus.

To prove you have what it takes to work with others, avoid using clichés, such as “team player,” on your resume. Instead provide concrete example of group collaboration. You might include serving on a volunteer committee, working on a group project for class, or participating in student-run organization.

2. Problem-solving skills

Thinking young woman looking up at many question marks

A young woman tries to solve a problem. | iStock.com/SIphotography

Nearly half of employers CareerBuilder surveyed said recent graduates lacked the problem-solving skills they needed to thrive in the workplace. Unfortunately, their concerns aren’t misplaced. Forty percent of U.S. college students graduate without having developed the complex reasoning skills needed to white collar work, research has found. The problem, according to employers, is students who drift through college and never make an effort to really learn or think critically about problems, The Washington Post reported.

A mix of academic and practical experiences (such as internships and outside-the-classroom activities) can help young people develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills they need at work, employers said. Changing the way you approach problems can also improve your skills in this area. “Stop looking for the right answer, and start looking for the right question,” wrote leadership and career coach John Morgan.

The biggest skill young people were lacking had to do with how they interact with others, employers said.

1. People skills

man and woman talking in an office

Companies want to hire employees with good people skills. | iStock.com

Kids these days just don’t have any people skills, at least according to employers. Fifty percent said younger candidates need to work on their ability to communicate, treat others with respect, and develop good working relationships.

No one wants to admit their lack of social graces is putting others off. But if you’re having trouble connecting with interviewers or landing a job, you could be the problem. To improve your people skills, Everyday Health suggests working on your emotional intelligence by keeping your emotions in check and learning how to read others.

Practicing healthy conflict resolution, listening to those around you, paying attention to cultural difference, and being open to feedback are also important. Younger workers also need to reduce their sense of entitlement and practice face-to-face communication skills, career experts say.

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