Make 2017 just a little better than 2016 by improving the skills that employers are looking for.

As the giant ball drops on a crazy and tumultuous year and we look ahead to 2017, not everything is bad. The unemployment rate is hovering around 5 percent, which is considerably better than it was five or six years ago. What does that mean? That means there are jobs out there for the taking, but the competition is still fierce.

If you're looking for a way to set yourself apart from the rest of the resumes out there, you need to think beyond your degree and your certifications. Start thinking about the top skills employers want. Most people who apply to a position have the nuts-and-bolts training required to do the job. According to a Linkedin survey of nearly 300 hiring managers in the U.S. conducted in 2016, it's your soft skills that can put you at the top of the list.

Here are six real-life job skills that employers are looking for in 2017.

1. Communication skills.

Regardless of your profession, communication skills are a must. Communication skills are one of the top skills employers want. Big ideas, creative solutions, and awesome technique may not do you much good if you can't get your ideas across to others. Even if you work remotely and do the majority of your work on a computer, you need to be able to communicate effectively with co-workers, bosses and clients.

Paul J. Meyer, a wildly successful motivational speaker and author said, “Communication - the human connection - is the key to personal and career success.”

If you know, or can learn to, effectively convey your ideas to those around you, you'll be more successful. It's really that simple. From the words you choose to the subject lines of your emails, how effectively you communicate can be a benefit or roadblock to your career. Keep in mind, sometimes non-verbal communication is just as important.

If you think you need help in this area, check out some of the many courses you can take online to boost your skills.

2. Organization.

Simply put, organization is a skill employers are looking for because it leads to efficiency and transparency. If you are a person who respects and follows some method of organization, it makes it easier for your company to understand your work process. On top of that, it allows both you and your company to see where you might be able to improve that process.

Organizational skills can mean anything from how you write up a report, to how you arrange your desk and supplies, to how frequently you have team meetings. Even though some people thrive in a haphazard methodology, or think they do, an organized approach is much more company-friendly. If you think you need to step up your organization, there's no better time than at the beginning of the new year.

3. Teamwork.

It's not too hard to figure out why companies and hiring managers value teamwork as highly as they do. No matter what your job is, you most likely have to work with others frequently. That means more than just talking to them. You'll have to share ideas, collaborate on projects and work together to find solutions to problems.

People who struggle to accept others' input and cooperate on a regular basis can cause a number of problems, which can lead to an air of resentment in the office. Others may become frustrated and the company could even lose good employees.

If you aren't great dealing with people face-to-face, there is some good news. In today's high-tech world, cloud-based collaboration is becoming more and more prevalent. It's teamwork from wherever you are through the internet. However, don't fool yourself, the basic elements of teamwork still apply.

Playing nice with others isn't just for the grade-school playground, it's for your work life as well.

4. Punctuality.

You may be inclined to swipe this into the category of time management, but it's actually simpler than that.

Time management implies that you efficiently manage your time throughout the day, week, month from project to project. It's a way of measuring your efficiency.

Punctuality means you do what you say you were going to do at, or before, the pre-established time. It means you show up to the office on time, regardless of your commute. It means you're in your seat and ready when the meeting is supposed to start. It means you are on the conference call by the time it's supposed to begin.

Why is it such a big deal? Think about the others who are in that meeting or on that phone call. Did they have to waste some of their precious day waiting for you? Or, if they proceeded without you, are you going to have to ask questions later because you missed some information?

If time is money, a person who does not take punctuality seriously is like a slow leak in the company's finances. It's not a skill that employers are looking for. Punctuality is a choice. Choose it.

5. Critical thinking.

“It's sort of a mental attitude about critical thinking and curiosity. It's about mindset of looking at the world in a playful and curious and creative way.” - Adam Savage

One of the most detrimental phrases one can hear in the business world – any business – is “that's how we've always done it!”

If you hear it, cringe. Why? Because it means there is a deep-seeded lack of critical thinking in the company. The way it has been done in the past is the way they will continue to do it, regardless of innovations and changes in the world.

Critical thinkers look beyond the basic information in front of them at all times. They look at things from different angles. Why? Because there may be a better way that they just haven't seen yet. They don't assume that the information provided to them is complete.

Why is this a skill that employers are looking for? Critical thinkers deal with analysis, not emotion. They don't simply adhere to tradition or gut feelings, they do research and are able to present solutions along with data to back up their ideas. In short, you don't present information unless you've thoroughly vetted it yourself. It's a form of taking responsibility for your work.

Doesn't that hamper creativity? On the contrary. Critical thinking skills allow you to see solutions to problems that you'd possibly miss if you didn't do the research. That's a valuable commodity for any company.

As you count down the final days, minutes, and seconds of 2016, start to look ahead to 2017. Take a quick inventory of how well you fare in these five soft skills and make a resolution to improve those areas that are a little weak. It will help you get a new or better job or simply be better at your current job in the new year.

Want to see how your resume stacks up? Try out our free critique today!

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