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October 3rd, 2011,
Top Job Skills

By Patrick O’Connor
There’s a new phrase cropping up in job postings, interviews, and advertisements for job training programs:

“HELP WANTED:  IT Support person. Flexible hours; 21st century job skills a must.”

“We’re impressed with your resume.  Tell me, what 21st century skills would you bring as a member of our team?”

“Come to our training program, and you will leave with the 21st century skills employers are demanding.”

This has led many people to wonder–What exactly are these 21st century job skills, and where did they come from?

Well, most of them came from the 20th century.  The Partnership for 21st Century Skills lists seven skills as essential for employees:

Today’s Top Job Skills

  • The three R’s (reading, writing, and Arithmetic);
  • The four C’s (Critical thinking and problem solving, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity and innovation)

There’s a good chance that, right now, you’re looking at these lists and asking two questions.  First, haven’t these skills all been around for awhile?  Second, how did writing and arithmetic ever count as one of the 3 R’s?

The second question will have to wait for another time, but if you’re looking at the 4 C’s and thinking, hey, I have those already: you’re right. The surprising part of this list isn’t the skills they’ve listed.  The surprise is that it’s taken someone this long to say this is what employers are looking for.

So if you have these 21st century skills already, why don’t you have a job?

You may want to consider how well you’re letting employers know you have these skills, and how you have used them in other jobs, and in life.

  • Does your resume discuss how you’ve used the 4 Cs in your other work? If not, you may want to modify your resume by putting a list of skills and projects you’ve demonstrated in other jobs.  By adding this functional part to your resume and putting it right before your job experience, you¹re giving employers a strong summary of how you’ve used the skills they’re looking for throughout your career.
  • If your job experience is a little low, apply the same approach to your education experience, or to your work as a volunteer. You have to use the 4Cs when you organize the town book drive, coach a basketball team at the Y, or run the youth program at your place of worship. Explain how you did this; it will put you ahead of many applicants.
  • Read articles and watch videos that talk about 21st century skills. This is a hot topic now, and having the latest information at your fingertips can make for a stronger answer when interviewers ask about your skills.
  • Keep these skills sharp by practicing them every day.  Take a new approach to a problem in your community or neighborhood, and work with others to solve it.  If you haven¹t volunteered for a while, look around for the possibilities in your community where you can demonstrate these skills and make a difference.

It’s always a little intimidating when an employer uses a phrase you’ve never heard before.  The best way to respond is to find out what they mean and apply it in your life. This is the best way to expand the tools and qualities you need to land a great job and lead a better life.