For soon-to-be college graduates, it’s a tough job market out there–in many fields, perhaps the most competitive ever. To stand out from their peers, tomorrow’s grads will need to show that they have the skill sets that businesses value most. [Read: “World-renowned futurist Michio Kaku: This is what higher ed should be teaching students right now.“]

Here are four of the skills that top the wish lists of many major employers:

1. Critical Thinking Skills

Once seen as merely “nice to have,” critical thinking skills have emerged as a flat-out necessity in today’s knowledge-based economy. By 2020, critical thinking will be the number two most important skill set to demonstrate on the job (second only to complex problem-solving).

This should not come as a surprise in the digitized workplace: future careers will require workers to analyze vast amounts of data quickly, and be able to apply their analysis to practical problems. Highlighting the ability to think critically right off the bat will help students develop from post-grad new hires to valued decision-makers.

Unfortunately, this is an area where many millennials struggle: our recent survey found that only 36 percent of recent college graduates believe they are very well-trained in critical thinking.

2. Business Communications Skills

By themselves, critical thinking skills can only carry you so far; workers also need to be able to explain their analyses in a cogent fashion to their peers and managers. In fact, good business communications skills can help teams work together more easily and contribute, potentially, to the company’s long-term health.

By contrast, poor communications can result in deep inefficiencies and fan the flames of misunderstanding. In the digital workforce, communications take place over so many different media: phone, email, chat applications like Slack or Google Hangouts, social media, and (arguably the most important) face-to-face communication. Being a skilled communicator means being able to adapt to each of these modes of conversation, and knowing when each is most appropriate.

Employees who are able to express themselves clearly in the workplace will be seen as valuable assets by their teams, which is a key to advancement.

(Next page: 2 more critical skills for the digital workforce)

3. Social Skills

Every workplace, regardless of industry, consists of people–people with various strengths, personalities, and emotions, all of which can affect the way the company functions. Demonstrating strong social skills is a big plus for new employees, especially those working in diverse and multi-generational office environments.

Social skills include emotional intelligence, relationship building, persuasion, empathy, and public speaking, among others. Among these, emotional intelligence is regarded as one of the most important social skills to exhibit in the workplace. According to a study from the European Journal of Business and Management, workers with high emotional intelligence are better able to express their emotions in a healthy way and understand the emotions of their co-workers–therefore enhancing their work relationships and performance.

4. Creativity and Innovation Skills

To be successful in the digital world, any business needs to build a staff of innovators. Employers are always on the lookout for creative minds who question what works, develop new ideas, and view the status quo as unacceptable. That’s not to say that they’re looking for revolutionaries–but tomorrow’s graduates will be expected to bring a fresh perspective and an innovative mind-set to the workforce. New hires should remember: the key is being confident enough to share your ideas, regardless of how early on in your career you may be.

Today’s career-minded students have a huge opportunity to determine the future of work. While we don’t know exactly what the workplace of the future will look like, we can be sure that the students who will lead us there are those who think critically and creatively, communicate clearly, and continually question the status quo. With these skills in place, students will be well-equipped for long-term career success.

About the Author:

Frank Connolly is the senior editor for MindEdge Learning.


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