6 Essential Skills for a Successful Career in the 21st Century



CC Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons User D-M Commons

With the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reporting the creation of a projected 20.5 million new jobs between 2010 and 2020, there’s never been a better time to brush up your skillset, dust off your resume, and find the perfect career. But the unique needs of technology-driven commerce dictate that certain skills will naturally have greater value than others. If you focus your effort on the areas that promise the greatest dividends, you’ll likely be rewarded with a handsome payout. 


The McKinsey & Company consulting firm forecasts that, “by 2020, there will be a shortage of 1.5 million college grads, which means employers will continue to place a high premium on better-educated workers.”

But a traditional graduate degree isn’t the single avenue for advanced education. It’s not right for everyone, or every sector. Many emerging careers are better-suited for specialized programs or courses that provide us with the knowledge needed for our specific niche–like social media, digital marketing, and user experience design. For these, 1+ years in a brick and mortar educational institution is not the only option.

The face of learning has changed–allowing us the opportunity to build our education à la carte, adding elements to increase our edge as needed, with a minimum of disruption. Flexible programs and distance learning make it possible to continue developing professionally while continuing education. Many employers even offer tuition assistance programs–they know that your value increases as your skills do, making it a worthwhile effort for you both.


There’s a reason the Swiss Army Knife has been going strong for over 100 years. The ability to readily utilize the right tool for the job increases productivity–and the more tools we have, the more easily we can adapt in any situation. In today’s job market, that means being able to offer experience and knowledge across various fields. As the Institute for the Future describes it, “The ideal worker of the next decade is ‘T-shaped’–they bring deep understanding of at least one field, but have the capacity to converse in the language of a broader range of disciplines.” This is music to the ears of career switchers–a growing population, thanks to increasing life spans that will likely see us through multiple careers.

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Media Literacy

Continued adoption and understanding of technology relevant to our field is critical. Our information landscape is evolving constantly, and without making a concerted effort to keep up with developments that relate to our work, we’re not only missing out on a vital opportunity–we’re creating a scenario where someone else who has remained savvy will be seen as a better candidate for promotions or during the application process. Cultivate an open and curious approach to new tech, and you’re bound to grow.

Selective Information Intake

Not surprisingly, this proliferation of technology also creates a paradox–we need remain current without becoming lost. Author J.D. Moyer wisely suggests adopting an Information Diet–being more selective with the information we consume by increasing quality and reducing quantity–in order to remain focused. Assess the ways in which you spend your time and energy in this area, figure out what has the most value for you, and let the rest go as needed. Reddit will go on without you for a day or two, they promise.

Time Management

Along the same lines, the ability to budget our time and recognize the areas where it’s slipping through our fingers is paramount. There are countless strategies and tools that aim to increase our productivity through time management. There’s MindMeister for visually inclined free-form thinkers, Grid Analysis for those who respond to straightforward spreadsheet-style breakdowns, and StayFocusd (which blocks or times our use of time-sucking sites) for those of us who just need a good, old-fashioned nag every now and then to stay on task.

Virtual Collaboration

With more work being done remotely (in whole or in part), being an effective collaborator has taken on new dimensions. In a thought-provoking report on the Future Work Skills of 2020,  The Institute for the Future cites the importance of the “ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team.”  IFTF points to Yammer, “a private social network that helps employees collaborate across departments, locations and business apps,” as one of the tools that can facilitate collaboration for modern teams.

There’s one common thread that emerges as we analyze the recommendations of experts when it comes to job skills of the future–but it’s nothing new. Evolution and adaptability are the foundations of survival for our species and have been since long before social media, or even Swiss army knives. Competing in the modern workplace is no exception. Our tools and methods may be different, but the goal is the same–and uniquely human. We’re still continually striving to move forward, make innovations, and be the best possible versions of ourselves.

Looking to evolve? Consider trying one of our workshops, courses, or immersives to get ahead.