The 5 skills and abilities employers value most — and that can help you earn more money at work

"These general competencies" can separate "the people who get the promotions and those who don't."


Showcasing the right skills at work can be your ticket to earning more money.

Researchers at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) recently studied which competencies, or "knowledge, skills, and abilities workers use in their jobs," are most valuable across occupations. They found five competencies that are generally in high demand throughout the workforce and that could ultimately boost workers' salaries.

"The thing that separates the people who get the promotions and those who don't tend to be these general competencies," says Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the CEW and lead author of the report.

The researchers measured the use of competencies in quartiles from "least intensive" to "most intensive," and measured the salary differences among the groups. The more competent workers were in a particular skill or ability, the higher their earnings were likely to be.

Here are the five most in-demand and valued competencies, as well as the potential earnings boost for qualified workers:

1. Communication

Potential earnings boost: 20%

Communication is the competency with the "highest demand across occupations, is in the top three most-demanded competencies within every occupational group, and is associated with the highest earnings boosts across the labor market," according to the report.

Depending on the employer, having strong communication skills could mean being an attentive listener, having strong spelling and grammar skills, knowing laws and legal codes, and being able to communicate clearly.

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2. Teamwork

Potential earnings boost: 13%

Employers defined teamwork as being able to persuade others to change their behavior, helping team members, being aware of people's reactions to your behavior, and understanding what people mean when they talk.

3. Sales and customer service

Potential earnings boost: 7%

Sales and customer service, according to the report, includes the ability to assess customer needs, meet standards of quality for service, and show, promote, and sell products to customers.  

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4. Leadership

Potential earnings boost: 13%

Leadership qualities that employers value include the ability to motivate people and identify their strengths and fit into the company, navigate confrontations, and help others manage time.

5. Problem solving and complex thinking

Potential earnings boost: 19%

Employers describe problem solving and complex thinking as the ability to process new information, understand and employ various types of rules, solve problems, and come up with creative ideas.

Keep in mind, however, that these improvements aren't one-and-done efforts. "Workers should also recognize that the most useful and relevant set of competencies within each occupation is bound to change as different occupations evolve," according to the report. "So they will need to continuously broaden the variety of competencies they have."

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