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3 in-demand soft skills candidates are ‘most lacking in’

Hiring managers are less and less impressed by where you went to college — or if you have a four-year degree at all.

Nearly half — 45% — of companies have dropped degree requirements for some roles this year, according to new research from ZipRecruiter, which surveyed more than 2,000 U.S. employers. 

Instead, companies are prioritizing skills over education: 42% of companies are now explicitly using skills-related metrics to find candidates, LinkedIn told CNBC Make It in June, up 12% from a year earlier.

It’s unclear what, exactly, is driving the shift toward “skills-based hiring,” whether it’s the post-pandemic decline in college enrollment, rising concerns about tuition inflation or the continued pains of a tight labor market. Whatever the cause, “this trend is gaining momentum,” says Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter.

When employers drop degree requirements, they become more specific about the skills they look for in job postings, especially soft skills that may have been assumed to come with a college education, according to a 2022 study from the Harvard Business Review and The Burning Glass Institute.

These are the top three skills employers say candidates are “most lacking in,” per ZipRecruiter:

  • Time management 
  • Professionalism
  • Critical thinking

It’s important to note that professionalism may look different in various work settings, as certain industries are more formal than others, says Marissa Morrison, vice president of people at ZipRecruiter. 

Employers who participated in ZipRecruiter’s survey said they “care very deeply” about finding responsible employees who can communicate effectively with clients and colleagues, Morrison adds.

Morrison and Pollak both note that the “soft skills gap” has become one of HR’s biggest post-pandemic hiring challenges, mainly due to staffing shortages at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and generational divides in the workplace.

The workplace is now more age-diverse than ever before, the Society for Human Resource Management reports, with baby boomers, Gen X, millennials and Gen Z working side by side. 

But with that comes friction over differing professional norms, says Morrison. “Employers have the perception that younger generations are no longer picking up these important soft skills at school or at college,” she explains.

Between 2021 and 2022, when companies were desperate to fill vacancies, many lowered their recruiting standards, hiring more “novice employees” lacking these important soft skills, says Pollak. 

Now, she says, companies are trying to “course correct,” investing in employees’ soft-skills training and hiring candidates who can help improve productivity and team performance.

You can optimize skills-based hiring by making sure your resume is tailored to the skills outlined in the job description, Amanda Augustine, a certified career coach and resume expert at TopResume, told CNBC Make It in June.

Include examples of how you’ve used these skills in the bullet points outlining your previous work experience or add a section to your resume that highlights these skills and call it “Core Skills” or “Areas of Expertise,” Augustine advised. This could mean listing a skill, followed by proof of it through a brief anecdote or data.

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