Top 20 Job Skills for 2020 and Beyond!

posted by Dilip on November 29, 2019

The World Economic Forum recently published its list of top 10 job skills that would be critical to succeed in today’s global job market. In my career coaching practice, I often get queries from college students about to graduate in the near future asking what to focus on in their final years before they graduate. Established professionals also ask me the same question as they manage their own career and ongoing growth.

So, as we get ready to face 2020 soon, I thought it may be useful to make a list of top 20 job skills that go beyond what the WEF recommended. In this blog I plan to provide my perspective on what each skill means, how to develop it, and its value in making your job more rewarding, engaging, and even exciting! Extensive resources are available online and otherwise on how to develop these skills more fully.

These skills are in addition to the core technical skill you bring to your job; your table stakes. This skill is your ability to be technically competent in any area of your chosen pursuit. The skills listed below complement your basic career skill and help you be more effective in how you apply that skill in your area of responsibility. A technical area may be any one of these from this partial list: system design, internal medicine, copy writing, drug discovery, data and analytics, coding, program management, contract law, among others. For a more complete list of vocational skills see Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the US Department of Labor (DoL), which catalogs more than 14 million such job categories.

 Top 20 Job Skills for 2020*

  1. Complex Problem Solving
  2. Critical Thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People Management
  5. Coordinating with others
  6. Communication
  7. Emotional Intelligence
  8. Judgment and Decision-Making
  9. Service Orientation
  10. Negotiation
  11. Cognitive Flexibility/Resilience
  12. Public Speaking
  13. Design Thinking/Systems Thinking
  14. Cultural Intelligence
  15. Political Intelligence
  16. Analytical skills (Data literacy)
  17. Thought Leadership/Self-confidence
  18. Persuasion
  19. Teamwork
  20. Delivering Results (Execution)

*Adapted from the list provided by the World Economic Forum (2016). The first 10 on this list are from the WEF and the remaining are from my experience as a career coach.

Each of these job skills is now described below with my take on how to develop them and what they mean in the context of your job and career growth:

  1. Complex Problem Solving: Everything around us is getting increasingly complex and any problem, however trivial, has many hidden aspects to it that makes finding a solution to it non-trivial (see #13, Design Thinking below). So, anyone who can look at a problem and break it down in its component parts and reduce its complexity to simple, easy to understand (and communicate) framework will have an edge over others in finding the right and practicable solution. Often, how complex problems are framed and how they are viewed in the context of the what is already known to us make it much more tractable in developing their solutions. Simplifying complexity and making the final solution easy to understand require a disciplined mind and a methodical approach to problem-solving. Developing this skill can give you an edge in how you succeed in your everyday job challenges.
  2. Critical Thinking: There is a difference between critical thinking and rational thinking. Critical thinking gives us the tools to look at a problem and analyze it in detail to evaluate all factors that contribute to the problem or to its solution. Even the simplest of challenges can present themselves as problems with insurmountable facets to its solution when one applies critical thinking. This is because critical thinking requires accounting for all factors that can contribute to the problem or its rightful solution.

    However, applying critical thinking to every problem at hand can quickly result in a metaphorical sledgehammer to swat a fly. A more practical approach is Rational Thinking. A good example of rational thinking tool is the 80-20 rule based on the Pareto principle. This allows you to deal with 80% of the situations using 20% of the resources. As an everyday example of this is your closet full of clothes. In most cases you’ll use only 20% of what is in your closet to meet 80% of your everyday wardrobe needs. Even a more practical approach is the 5-6-7 rule. Here, as an example, 67% of your problems are caused by 5% of your difficult customers. So, dealing forthrightly with the 5% can free-up a significant chunk of your resources.

    Knowing when to apply critical thinking and when to apply rational thinking can help you make big gains when good-enough is an adequate proxy to perfection.
  3. Creativity: As the problems we face get increasingly more complex and the systems we deal with get more interdependent, creative approach to problem-solving can help you with more elegant solutions that are simpler to implement. Applying creativity requires isolating the single problem in a tangled web of interconnected factors, using some pre-knowledge—even intuition—to sus out the culprit and then applying systematic problem-solving to get to the heart of the problem. Here, using lateral thinking instead of linear thinking can greatly aid in converging on the right solution quickly. Creativity entails not just using your own insights to problem solving, but also being knowledgeable in finding where to find resources (being resourceful) that can be marshaled to converge on a solution collaboratively.
  4. People Management: A group or a team can provide a broad range of talent, knowhow, and perspectives when attacking a problem. Managing creative and experienced people, though, is a challenge. Even in today’s hierarchies command-and-control approach to getting people to follow your lead is often a turn-off. A leader must inspire his flock to jump on a problem with alacrity and to give their best to what needs to be addressed to achieve a mission. Although each person is different what motivates them, knowing those differences and knowing what is common to them all are both at the heart of getting the best out of those in your team and outside. To illustrate how important this skill is in business, almost 60% of my coaching practice stems from clients who suffer from poor people management by their immediate boss and learning how to deal with them.
  5. Coordinating with Others: In a complex ecosystem of diverse stakeholders keeping everyone on the same page through communication (see #6 below) is at the heart of how such coordination comes to fruition. With globally spread resources, time zones, and cultural differences coordinating complex activities requires understanding how to manage people’s expectations and knowing how to keep them motivated to pursue a singular mission. This requires steadfast leadership.
  6. Communication: Persuasive communication is a highly prized skill (together with #12, Public Speaking) in any leadership role. Here, leadership does not refer to someone in a position of managerial authority, but to anyone who can engender followership because of their ability to lead others. Many individual contributors (ICs) often discount themselves as not leaders because they do not have a team reporting to them. But if they are able to influence others through their creative ideas and communicate them clearly, they are, in fact, in a leadership role. So, effective communication of ideas is central to establishing one’s leadership, regardless of their management role.

    Interestingly, this skill is also one of the five components of the skill listed below: Emotional Intelligence. The reason it is listed despite its place in that skill is because of its greater significance in the success of any endeavor in any field of pursuit.  
  7. Emotional Intelligence: Or EQ is defined as one’s ability to manage their emotions and to understand how to manage the emotions of others when dealing with them in personal and professional contexts. It has five components: Self-awareness, self-control, motivation, empathy, and communication. As mentioned before, communication appears again as a component of EQ, which emphasizes its importance in overall job success. Unlike IQ, EQ is a nurtured skill and can be developed using various techniques. Interestingly, academic success (grades) is highly correlated to IQ (~98%), but adult success is correlated to IQ only about ~20%. Thus, your EQ can play a major part in your adult success, once you achieve your academic success.  
  8. Judgment and Decision-Making: This factor is at the heart of how we make decisions, especially when they affect many people not just those who are under your chain of command but throughout the ecosystem (see # 13 Design Thinking). Purely using analytical data to arrive at a management decision—or any decision—can be limiting in its long-term effect and on how it affects those around you. A carefully thought-out decision that takes not just objective data but also using your EQ to temper it can make a big difference in how your decision plays out long-term, both for you and for others. 
  9. Service Orientation: This skill has to do with how we serve others in performing our everyday duties without a selfish motive. Once again, this factor is closely tied with #13, Design Thinking. Thinking through how your solution is tied to serving others and the impact it will have on them can be critically important in how that solution is developed and delivered. If you want a sterling example of what true service is and understanding what deriving joy from serving others is watch this short (5:51) video
  10. Negotiation: To get what you want you must understand why this skill is so important. Many go through their lives thinking—even believing—that you get what you deserve. This is a misguided notion; you get what you negotiate. Always remember that. There are many blogs, videos, lectures on this topic and some universities even offer courses for credit on this subject.
  11. Cognitive Flexibility/Resilience: Cognitive flexibility is your ability to listen to various points of view, despite your strong views on any topic, and realigning how you now view the same topic with a different—and richer—perspective. Those with an open mind demonstrate higher cognitive flexibility and are willing to change their point of view based on what they accept as a better view of their previous understanding. Resilience has to do with one’s ability to bounce back when something new challenges them and requires them to bounce back without losing their rhythm. While the former is a mental challenge, the latter is both a physical and mental exercise.
  12. Public Speaking: Although this skill is a subset of Communication (#6 discussed before) it has its own place in this list. Public speaking requires a honed skill in how to understand a crowd, how to get their attention, and how to deliver a message that they can act on. Personal one-on-one communication is a different skill (as described in #6) and these two are complementary. For a leader to be successful in their executive role public speaking is one of the highly prized skills. Toastmasters International is a good resource to start working on this skill.
  13. Design Thinking/Systems Thinking: Design Thinking is a process of creative problem solving that goes well beyond merely solving the problem as is presented to us (Iceberg analogy; the real problem is invisible). Design thinking utilizes elements from a comprehensive toolkit that not only addresses the functional aspect of what a product or service provide but how it plays out throughout its complete lifecycle, including it end-of-life. By using design thinking, you make decisions based on what future customers really want instead of relying on historical or anecdotal data. Systems thinking is a concomitant discipline that requires the designer to think through the interrelationships among the many elements of the system that make it function the way it is intended. Contrasted to linear thinking (cause and effect) systems thinking requires a comprehensive view of how complex systems work and the interactions among its component parts (see #1 Complex Problem Solving)
  14. Cultural Intelligence: With world now a flat place, geographic boundaries have become history. What separates us now is our cultural differences and our ability to seamlessly navigate through those boundaries. Cultural intelligence (CQ, much like EQ in #7), allows us to navigate through these cultural barriers and make ourselves seen by others more as just another human being with common interests to work on than as a stranger who does not understand us.
  15. Political Intelligence: This factor is yet another learned skill that is critical for your success in any organization that employs other people (not robots). The word politic means shrewd. It also means scheming, sly, or cunning in its negative connotation. It is these latter meanings of this word that bring a negative perspecive to this skill. Political Intelligence (PQ) is your ability to understand other people’s agendas and how to persuade them to accommodate your agenda while letting them pursue theirs. In fact, to take this a step further is to let them subsume their agenda under yours, thus allowing you to get what you both want. PQ is also a learned skill. To advance managerially in an organization this is a critical skill.
  16.  Analytical skills (Data literacy): Data literacy is the ability to read, work with, analyze, and argue with data. Much like literacy as a general concept, data literacy focuses on the competencies involved in working with data. It is, however, not similar to the ability to read text since it requires certain skills involving reading and understanding data or information and translating it into a compelling story that anyone can understand without even looking at the raw data.
  17. Thought Leadership/Self-confidence: Thought leadership has to do with understanding how to formulate, articulate, and communicate new thoughts or ideas to change people’s minds. For this to work you first need to understand what other people are stuck on and then developing your point of view using your own skills to persuade them (see #18 below) with compelling and cogent arguments to articulate your thoughts. Without Self Confidence presenting your thoughts to change other people’s minds is difficult. So, developing that confidence is critical in making your thought leadership work for you.
  18. Persuasion: This skill allows you to marshal your argument in a cogent way to change other people’s minds. Good persuasive skills require sound logic, use of stories and metaphors, and having high EQ to understand other people’s mindset; you cannot change someone’s mind without first understanding their mindset.
  19. Teamwork: In organizations and in communities most of the work gets done through teamwork. So, understanding how teams come together before they become effective (Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing) is central to team leadership. What is required for such a leader to take a team through these four stages before they are harnessed to complete a mission is critical to both their successes. Building strong teams and getting them to perform to their best abilities is at the heart of this skill. 
  20. Delivering Results (Execution): In any organization the real reward comes when something is delivered and its impact is measured in revenues, profits, market impact, competitive advantage. This requires sound execution skills, which embody many of the previous 19 skills described in this blog. A leader’s ability to plan, organize, and deliver what is expected of them is going to be central to their own success and the success of their organization and business.

So, here are the 20 skills that describe what employers will be looking for regardless of what specialty you bring to your job and to your employer. Understanding these skills and how to develop them will make you invincible in navigating through today’s job market and beyond, making you a powerful contender to rise in your organization.

Good luck!

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