In today’s job market, what you can do is often less important than how you do it.
Employers may only hire candidates who meet the minimum requirements for technical competencies, but there is a growing appetite for candidates who can demonstrate more advanced soft skills, as those are often harder to teach. Among all the soft skills employers are seeking, however, one stands far above the rest in terms of employer demand.
According to a recent study conducted by LinkedIn, communication was the most commonly required skill in job opportunities posted to the platform in June and July of this year.
While demand for candidates with strong communication skills was once specific to industries and roles that were public- or customer-facing—such as corporate communications or sales—there is now a growing recognition of the importance of communication skills in almost any corporate setting.
“Communication is core to how people interact, and therefore it’s core to how people do business effectively,” says Dan Brodnitz, the head of content strategy for LinkedIn Learning. “Anything that involves more than one person depends on communications.”
As the pandemic disrupted traditional lines of communication, Brodnitz says the already growing appetite for candidates with effective communication skills has only accelerated. In fact, over the past six months the number of hours that users dedicated to communication-related courses on LinkedIn Learning increased threefold. Of the education platform’s more than 16,400 online courses, 4 of the top 20 most popular deal directly with communication skills training, and three address a related skill, such as “Remote Work Foundations” and “Learning Personal Branding.”
“In a moment of change that affects how we communicate, you’re going to see a heightened need for training,” says Brodnitz. “As our interactions become more complex, the need for higher-level communication skills becomes more obvious and essential.”
While the pandemic is partially responsible for the increased demand, Brodnitz anticipates “fairly steady” growth in the competency’s popularity, even after the pandemic is over. That is because most employers now value widely applicable soft skills at the same level as traditional, job-specific skills.
“In our research we found that 92% of hiring professionals tell us that soft skills are just as important as hard skills,” says Brodnitz. “That means how people work is just as important as their technical ability and ability to deliver on the work.”
The Most In-Demand Soft Skill, By Far
Employers of all shapes and sizes are now seeking candidates that demonstrate certain core competencies, but among the various attributes that fall under the umbrella of “soft skills,” effective communication remains by far the most popular.
On August 18, Swedish job search engine Jobbland.se analyzed the more than 6.5 million jobs posted on LinkedIn that included at least one of 11 common soft skills. It found that effective communication was cited in more than 2.3 million job openings, far outpacing the next most-sought-after soft skill, leadership, which was included in just over 1 million job postings. In fact, effective communication was cited in job postings at more than 35 times the frequency of other soft skills such as empathy, conflict resolution, adaptability, and dependability.
“AI and machine learning and automation are all about replacing the easy work; soft skills are the part that will be the competitive advantage of humans in the coming years,” says Jobbland.se founder Martti Kuusanmäki.
Kuusanmäki explains that as technology advances, and as automation takes over many of the repetitive tasks that once fell to humans, employers will continue putting a greater emphasis on those quintessentially human capabilities.
“Especially in leadership and management, the styles are changing, and I think one of the drivers, which is now [expanding to] the whole workforce, are the team skills, and one of the most vital parts of that is communication skills,” he says. “It is becoming a buzzword; you basically have to have it now.”
How to Communicate More Effectively
Communication’s new buzzword status might be a function of an evolving workplace culture, but author Leil Lowndes identified the value of those skills long ago.
“As I was growing up I began to notice that the people who were the most successful in life, no matter what their field was, there was something about them that just drew people to them,” she says. “Nobody gets to the top alone.”
In her 2003 best-selling book, How to Talk to Anyone, as well as in subsequent books, including How to Talk to Anyone at Work and How to Be a People Magnet, she offers tips and tricks for improving everyday interactions.
For example, she advises demonstrating passion through tone and posture, maintaining eye contact, matching the other party’s mood and tone, and assessing how much time the other party is likely to give a conversation in order to adjust your delivery accordingly.
The single biggest mistake Lowndes believes most make in their everyday communications, however, is following the natural tendency to focus on themselves.”Try to tone down your own agenda, and figure out what their agenda is,” she advises. “Try to turn the spotlight back on them.”
For example, Lowndes says most will find success framing a request from the recipient’s perspective, rather than their own. “If you wanted to take Friday off of work, how you would turn that around is say, ‘Hey boss, can you do without me on Friday?’ because that’s what the boss will be thinking,” she says. “Put it in his or her terms, because those are the terms he or she will put it in anyway.”