Sharpening Four 'Invisible' Skills

Trying to capitalize on today's still-strong job market may mean focusing on these key skills that you can't list in your resume.

Published: Sep 6, 2019

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For years, you've been told you have great listening skills. Same with agility and emotional intelligence. Indeed, the attributes keep showing up in your performance review. The question now is, will they matter when you look for next role?

Hoping to benefit from a roaring job market, many workers are looking for ways to launch into a career-changing role. And while that's never easy-even with today's low unemployment rate-experts say most people overlook the importance of some critical skills that apply to nearly all roles.

Managers who rate as highly agile receive double the number of promotions compared to those who rate lower for agility.

These are ones to focus on, job pros say, while the chances to jump ahead are strong.

To be sure, most of these skills are hard to show on paper. Today, 62% of recruiters are looking for problem-solving skills, for example. That's not easy to prove on a resume. Also, 49% of recruiters are looking for adaptability, and 38% for oral communication ability, according to research by recruiting-software company iCIMS.

Still, the better you get at these four transferable skills, the better your odds.

Active listening

Many organizations emphasize the need for people to develop their presentation skills. But studies show that listening skills actually hold more weight; a person's understanding, open-mindedness, and supportiveness are the biggest combined contributor to others' overall perception of that person as a communicator. In today's complex workplace, with its matrixed teams, remote colleagues, and rapid decision-making, that's important. "To be successful, you need to know how to communicate with people from entry level to senior executives in your workplace," says Stacey Perkins, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.

To build your active-listening muscle, limit distractions around you and quiet your own preconceived notions about what a person might say. Pay attention to a person's emotional state-are they nervous, stressed, excited?-and formulate a response that acknowledges those feelings. When you restate a paraphrased version of a speaker's message, ask insightful follow-up questions and employ nonverbal cues such as nodding, making eye contact, and leaning forward.

Learning agility

Having a hunger for learning and problem-solving is a desirable skill in any field. According to a study by Korn Ferry, managers who rate as highly agile receive double the number of promotions compared to those who rate lower for agility.

If you want to push your brain to be more agile, try stepping out of your daily routine and pursue a new hobby. Push yourself to learn more about trends not just in your industry but in other industries too. By indulging your curiosities and shaking up what you know to be true, you're developing a skill that is only going to become more useful as companies look for new ways to compete in a fast-changing world.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence, characterized by empathy, adaptability, and emotional self-control, is one of the skills that may help you get promoted to a leadership position-and ensure that you thrive once you've landed in one. "When an employee moves into management and leadership, their responsibility becomes less about doing the work and more about managing people-which requires more emotional intelligence," says Alexander Lowry, a former JPMorgan Chase executive and now a professor at Gordon College.

But it's a benefit in every role, because you'll always have to deal with people. Practice separating your thoughts from your feelings in each interaction, and you'll build the emotional-intelligence muscle over time.

Intrinsic motivation

Also known as self-motivation, intrinsic motivation is your desire to challenge yourself, explore, and learn without an external reward like money or recognition. Essentially, it's what gets you out of bed in the morning.

Intrinsic motivation leads to success because the driving forces behind it are deeper and more fulfilling than a paycheck. A study at Yale University found that intrinsically motivated West Point cadets were more likely to succeed in the military compared with those who entered due to either external motives or a mix of internal and external motives. Share your intrinsic motivators, like curiosity or the desire to help others, with your interviewer. Even better, include a personal story about what drove you to choose this field.

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