The top skills to look for in your next employee

We've asked Australia's top recruiters to reveal the five skills employers are demanding - and how you can spot if a candidate has what you need.

Technology is transforming the world of work, replacing transactional tasks across a range of industries and augmenting the role of humans. At the same time, shifting labour dynamics have given rise to the ‘gig economy’ and flexible work practices are now part of business as usual. So, how can businesses maintain a competitive edge amidst all this change? It may be less about new talent and more about new skills.

We’ve asked leading recruiters to share the most highly sought-after skills in the current market. Here are their top five picks.

1. Adaptability

Employers are now competing for candidates who can handle the pace of a rapidly changing workplace. Are they adept at switching their strategy? Can they swiftly adjust to new technology? How quickly can they respond to new market trends?

Nick Deligiannis, Managing Director of Hays in Australia & New Zealand, says adaptability is a highly valued skill. “Employers want their people to be able to pivot to a new role or area of responsibility as things change and to upskill to remain on top of new trends relevant to their job function or industry,” he says.

Deligiannis says behavioural interview techniques can help employers determine if a candidate has the required skills, such as adaptability.

“An employer can look for examples of past behaviour that demonstrates these competencies. Examples of questions include ‘Describe how you led a team through a difficult project and how did you improve their work?’ or ‘On time-pressured assignments, how have you made sure the job was done within budget?’.”

2. Analytical thinking

Data is the mainstay of the digital economy. While algorithms and artificial intelligence can help capture and analysis it, it takes humans to really make sense of it and extract its true value.

 “Analytical thinking has become a highly sought-after skill,” says Mike Dickson, Director NSW at Six Degrees Executive. “As every function seeks to operate more efficiently and to drive return on investment, the ability to analyse enables informed decision making.”

To detect if candidates have this vital skill, Dickson suggests reducing your list of required skills to five or six and asking candidates to explain – with examples - how these skills or attributes have helped them succeed.

“Narrowing down a competency framework to those that are critical enable those involved in the hiring process to assess and compare candidates for a position, to dig deeply into an interview on the critical factors and therefore make more informed decisions about who the best candidate is for the job,” he says.

3. A proactive approach

In an era of automation, inherently ‘human’ skills are required to complement the work of machines. While robots need to be programmed to complete tasks, humans can use their own initiative and creativity to preempt and solve problems.

Qamran Somjee, Practice Leader of Digital, Projects & Technology, Davidson Technology, says a proactive approach is required as more organisations become more ‘agile’.

“Companies need less leader-led employees and are looking for staff who are proactive enough to contribute ideas and robust enough to accept the team’s feedback, even when it is negative.

Somjee recommends tailoring interview questions to elicit information about previous work experiences and what drives a candidate to succeed. “This allows organisations to ensure an alignment of success between the candidate, the business and their prospective team,” he says.

4. Empathy

Technology has created a new generation of hyper-connected consumers who are demanding new levels of service. To meet these expectations, many organisations have adopted a human-centred design methodology to ensure the customer is at the very centre of business processes, products and services. As a result, employers need their team to step into customers’ shoes and deliver what they want.

Natalie Firth, co-founder and co-CEO of Think Talent, says empathy is now a popular term among recruiters. “It’s becoming more valued in the workplace, not just for workplace collaboration but also to ensure that a customer-centric approach is maintained across all departments.”

To detect a candidate’s level of empathy, Firth suggests using practical assessments. “Give candidates a case study and ask them to present to you, based on how they would ensure the best customer outcomes,” she says.

5. Resilience

The fast pace of workplace change presents challenges. Andrea McDonald, director of u&u Recruitment Partners, says resilience is now one of the most sought-after skills. “The requirements of today’s workplace are more intense than ever before,” she says. “Due to the rise in technology, employees are rarely ‘off’, so the ability to manage that pressure and work effectively is essential.”

To identify a candidate has this valuable skill, McDonald suggests asking them to describe situations where they have required resilience. “Listen to the environments in which they have worked and determine if they are fast-paced or changing,” she says. “Back up the information through reference checking and with any additional work samples or tests that can confirm your thoughts.”

Should you hire or invest in skills?

While new employees can bring these sought-after skills to the workplace, employers may also need to consider reskilling existing team members to ensure they have the depth and diversity to seize new opportunities and respond to new challenges.

“As the shelf-life of skills become shorter, training and continuous learning is becoming increasingly important to remain competitive,” says Rafael Moyano, CEO of Adecco. “Companies will need to make regular business investments in continuous learning to upskill existing employees to build future talent pipelines.”

While reskilling looks set to become a necessary element to develop your workforce, Deligiannis says there are many benefits in introducing skills via new employee. “Hiring in the skills you need ensures you overcome skills gaps immediately with a skilled professional who will add value to your team or department.”

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Susan Muldowney

Susan Muldowney has worked in publishing for more than two decades and found her perfect job when she began freelancing two years ago. She is based in Melbourne and specialises in writing about business, architecture and design.

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