The current job market is in good shape, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting an addition of 11.9 million jobs from 2020 to 2030. But this doesn’t mean employers will hire just anyone.  

They’re on the hunt for employees who can learn on the go, work well with others, and bring their best ideas to the workplace.  Here are a few of the skills that business students should develop to make sure they’re ready for today’s job market:

1. Cultural competence

Not everyone looks, thinks, or believes the same way you do—but can you navigate those differences to work well with others? Cultural competence takes teamwork to the next level. If you’re culturally competent, you are conscious of the differences between yourself and employees of other cultural, ethnic, or even socioeconomic backgrounds. But rather than being put off by those differences, you’re able to embrace them, appreciate and learn from them, and use those differences to strengthen your working relationships.

Academic programs can help you develop cultural competence by exposing you to a diverse student or faculty population, or by using course material, media, or class experiences to take you outside of your own experience. International study is another great way to develop cultural competence.

2. Written and oral communication 

Do you know how to translate your thoughts into words that others understand? Written and oral communication skills are must-haves for every employee, but especially those in the business world, where interactions with clients and investors demand that you can clearly explain your business. If you’re a weak writer or poor orator, you’ll have a hard time winning contracts or financial support for your business—not to mention snuffing out company rumors with a quick, pointed email. 

To develop your communication skills, look for a business program that requires classes like public speaking and interpersonal communication. And when you take those classes, take them seriously. Words enable the clearest form of communication, far better than emojis or charades, so hone your skills to set yourself up for success.

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3. Creative problem solving

This is a classic skill for every job and industry that exists, but it still merits its own mention. Creative problem solving utilizes both strategic and analytical thinking (not to mention a bit of zany creativity) to overcome new or engrained problems. The creative problem solver looks at problems from different angles and brings disparate ideas together to make effective solutions.

Creative problem solving is best developed on the go, through hands-on projects that may require collaboration. These projects don’t necessarily have to be part of business classes (although that won’t hurt), but they could be part of general education course requirements in any subject.

4. Project management

Can you map out a project from beginning to end, with all of its moving pieces and deadlines, and keep yourself (and others) on task without someone else looking over your shoulder? 

Yes: Congratulations! You have project management skills.
No: Let’s work on this.

Project management skills are necessary for anyone who might be in a management position someday—or anyone who wants their boss to trust that they’ll follow through on their work assignments. 

If you’re not good at project management, one of the best ways to get better is to start practicing with your college syllabi (that’s plural for syllabus, folks). At the beginning of the semester, map out your assignment deadlines and test dates. Then, reverse-engineer the work you’ll need to do for each piece, breaking assignments and studying down into manageable chunks. Plan out when you’ll accomplish each baby step, mark it out on your calendar or digital to-do list tool, and get to work. 

Follow this method each semester, find the project approach that works best for you (do you prefer to do one whole assignment at once and then work on a new one, or would you rather do the research for all three of your papers and then write them?), and apply what you learn in group and internship settings.

5. Adaptability

With technology constantly changing and many young employees switching jobs every few years, it’s important that you’re able to adapt—to new tools, teams, and environments.

The need for adaptability doesn’t mean you need to keep up with every new social media platform or Apple product that’s released into the world, but it means you’re able and willing to keep learning. This way, you (and your employer) can stay at the front of the curve, leading the way in new developments rather than falling behind. 

If there’s one thing that’s certain in today’s business world, it’s changed, so make sure your business program isn’t teaching the same curriculum it taught 30 years ago. With the explosion of data, the dominance of digital technology, and changing regulations influencing how businesses can use both data and technology, it’s crucial that your business program prepares you to stay on top of ongoing developments.


Note: This blog was originally published on December 19, 2019. It has been updated to reflect current information.