McKinsey’s Chief Learning Officer Encourages You to Develop These 10 Critical Job Skills

If you’re getting ready to attend college or graduate school, then you’re probably very interested in building a career or accelerating your current one. A lot of the value that comes from earning a degree is in the prestige of the program and the network that you build, but of course much of the value comes from the actual hard job skills that an education helps you develop. The jobs landscape is changing quickly these days, probably more rapidly than ever. Some skills that virtually guaranteed you a job just two decades ago may now be close to irrelevant. What the heck are you supposed to do to ensure that you can survive — and maybe even thrive — in this environment?

In a recent talk at Darden, Nick van Dam, global chief learning officer at McKinsey & Co., listed out what he thinks are the 10 most critical job skills of the future. Without further ado, they are:

  • Complex problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • People management
  • Coordinating with others
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Judgment and decision-making
  • Service orientation
  • Negotiation
  • Cognitive flexibility

Notice that no specific skills such as “writing code” or “great writing skills” are on the list. Those are undoubtedly the kinds of abilities that will help keep you employed for a long time, but Van Dam’s focused on more general, descriptive skills here. Problem-solving, creativity, cognitive flexibility… If you have these abilities, then there probably isn’t a lot that you can’t do. And, if you can’t do something, then odds are that you’re probably able to learn it pretty quickly. If you can learn and adapt quickly like this, then lifelong learning — something that Van Dam stresses is important — should come relatively easily for you.

We sometimes use the phrase “mental agility” around here at Veritas Prep to describe the same sort of skills. Taking it back to test prep for a moment (we couldn’t help ourselves), that’s why we always urge our students to understand the bigger picture when we teach them how to solve a question. It’s one thing to “learn the trick,” but on test day, when the test presents you with a question that’s sort of similar, but not quite, will you freeze? Or will you have the mental agility to adapt in the moment, recognize the pattern, and solve the problem?

Also, note that there are many others on the list that one would call “soft skills,” such as people management, emotional intelligence, and negotiation. The more that repetitive, measurable tasks are replaced by automation, the more that these soft skills — the kind that a robot can’t do, at least not any time soon! — will matter as you try to move up in the workforce. Either you learn how to write the code, or you learn how to effectively manage the person doing the writing. And, when “write the code” gets replaced by another skill in 20 years, you’ll have the mental agility to learn that skill… or manage that new person with the new skill!

By Scott Shrum.