The #1 Job Skill? Slack, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and Facebook all say the same thing

What job skills should be at the top of your resume?

The job market these days is no joke. Finding your dream job usually means your resume ends up on a giant stack, and if you make it to the interview round, you’ll be one in a long line of candidates that a hiring manager sees. So what should you highlight to ensure that you get noticed? And if you’re the hiring manager with a massive list of candidates, what should you be looking for?

We might sound biased, but we think that special skill is empathy, and we’re not the only ones. Richard Wellins of Development Dimensions International (DDI) says empathy is critical to success.

“IThe research shows there is no other single leadership skill that is more important and yet, in today’s culture, empathy is near extinction. I believe it is one of the most dangerous global trends of our time.”

– Richard Wellins, SVP of DDI

Empathy is also a skill that’s going to last through the automation wave that has already started. George Anders, Editor at Large at LinkedIn points out that “[even] the most ingenious machine-based attempts to mimic human interaction (hello, Siri) can’t match the emotional richness of a real conversation with a real person.” He writes that empathy will be the number 1 job skill in 2020, and beyond. It’s a job skill that can be tracked across projected trends in job growth. There is no critical skill quite like this, transcending roles and industries, and people are taking notice.

CEOS are taking notice

CEOs are implementing empathy into the way that they work, and they are looking for team members who will do the same.

“When we talk about the qualities we want in people, empathy is a big one. If you can empathize with people , then you can do a good job. If you have no ability to empathize [...] Everything becomes harder.”

– Stewart Butterfield, CEO, Slack

Yoram Soloman, the founder of Large Scale Creativity agrees. “Of all the soft skills, there is one that stands out and, in fact, is the basis for being successful in the others: empathy.” Empathy acts as a foundation for other key workplace skills, like effective communication, collaboration, and conflict resolution. For Danny Wegman, CEO of Wegman’s Food Market, empathy is the skill they look for first, because so much else can be taught on the job.

“We look for people who genuinely care about others and are happy to serve in whatever ways are necessary. We can teach just about any other skills they need.”

– Danny Wegman, CEO, Wegman’s Food Market

The so-called hard skills are often evolving quickly, so even someone who has experience will need continued learning opportunities over the course of their career to stay at the cutting edge. “We believe curiosity, passion, and a love of learning together can be greater than a person’s previous experience”, says Hyatt Hotels CEO, Mark Hoplamazian. “Care comes from a place of empathy and understanding - traits you can’t learn from a book but that produce better results.”

At Slack, Stewart Butterfield is a huge champion of empathy. He says that when they are hiring, they’re looking for people who have a really strong ability to read the room. It’s not just about being able to respond to a need, it’s about “trying to anticipate someone else’s needs and meeting them in advance”, says Butterfield, which can help make things run more smoothly and keep individuals and their teams performing at their peak.

Empathy starts with awareness and listening

Butterfield and others are also quick to point out that guessing what your employees or team members need to succeed is not the same as showing empathy. When looking for empathic leaders, you’re also looking for someone who is willing to ask questions.

“Leadership is asking a lot of questions [...] often people are too busy or bogged down to even articulate what they need.”

– Monif Clark, CEO, Monif C Plus Sizes

Companies are also looking for people who know that empathy means recognizing that the same problem may need different solutions for different people. You need to respond to the needs of individual team members, instead of choosing a one-size-fits-all solution. If you’re hiring your next manager, research shows that empathy might be the make-or-break skill that you were looking for.

“Leaders who master listening and responding with empathy will perform more than 40% higher in overall performance, coaching, engaging others, planning and organizing, and decision making”

Development Dimensions International

This is something that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has seen in action, and she practices it with her team, by encouraging them to bring their “whole selves” to work, and hosting check-ins at the beginning of every team meeting to see how people are doing both at work and beyond it.

“[We] are better employees when we stop trying to be two people [...] That means sharing what you are going through so that people can empathize and help you.”

Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook

Mallun Yen, co-founder and CEO of ChIPsNetwork.org talks about empathy as a part of authentic leadership. “For me, being authentic was understanding the whole person: what their background was, where they were coming from, what their interests were, what motivated them, and what their goals were.” Understanding your employees goals and motivations can help ensure that you are able to assign people to tasks and projects that will make use of their skills and help them to get to where they want to be in terms of their career. “You should be looking out for each other”, says Butterfield. “Everyone should try to make the lives of everyone else who works here a bit simpler.”

Empathy helps companies stay ahead

In this 4th industrial revolution, companies and individuals are fighting to stay ahead of the curve, and to cultivate and improve the skills that they need in order to innovate. Barbara Cerf, Corporate VP at New York Life says that today’s “great leaders are innovative. They look at things differently and they teach us to look at things differently. [...] they understand people and business.” And if innovation and understanding people are so important, then Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says that we should be encouraging empathy in the workplace, like he is. “Empathy makes you a better innovator”, says Nadella, and it’s not just lip-service; empathy is the backbone of his new strategy at Microsoft. Innovation thrives in spaces where people know they can take risks, and that their teams will respond with empathy if things don’t go according to plan.

“I try to create an environment that recognizes there’s no such thing as ‘perfect’ and instead embraces creating a safe environment for risk-taking and making mistakes.”

Mallun Yen, Co-Founder and CEO of ChIPsNetwork.org

Encouraging an environment of innovation is much easier when people know that their peers will take the time to recall their own challenges or failures instead of rushing to judgement.

Companies of today that are working to become the leaders of tomorrow have recognized empathy as a critical job skill. If Slack, LinkedIn, Facebook, Harvard Business Review, and many others are looking for it in their new hires and their existing teams, what are you waiting for?


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