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The No. 1 Skill Employers Want Job Applicants to Have Might Be the Hardest to Find, New Research Reveals Communication and problem-solving are important — but something else could be more critical than both.

By Amanda Breen Edited by Jessica Thomas

Key Takeaways

  • AI continues to change the workforce — but soft skills remain "business-critical."
  • Small, mid-size and large businesses have different priorities when it comes to hiring.

As AI continues to make its mark on the workforce, job applicants who possess the soft skills that computers can't replicate entirely — at least not yet — are in high demand.

In fact, according to LinkedIn's 2024 Most In-Demand Skills list, "human" or "durable" skills remain "business-critical" despite the shifting technological landscape.

Some of the most sought-after soft skills are very familiar: communication, leadership, teamwork and problem-solving all appear in the top 10 included on LinkedIn's list.

Related: This Is the No. 1 Skill You Must Master to Succeed at Work in 2024, According to a Tech CEO

Management services company ADP's recent survey, which asked more than 1,500 businesses which skills they prioritize the most when considering new hires, corroborates those findings — with one noteworthy exception.

For small and mid-size businesses seeking new hires, "strong work ethic" was the most prioritized skill (53% and 40%, respectively), and it was the second most important for large businesses (42%), which cited "the ability to work on a team" as their No. 1 (45%).

However, all businesses, regardless of size, agreed that a "strong work ethic" was the most difficult skill to find in new hires, per ADP's research: 36% of small and mid-size businesses and 33% of large businesses.

Related: The Best Hires Often Have No Experience At All. Here Are 6 Unconventional Traits This CEO Looks for When Hiring the Best Person for the Job.

The definition of a "strong work ethic" might vary depending on who you ask, especially if they're from different generations. Some business leaders complain that Gen Z employees "lack work ethic" and "are difficult to manage" and go so far as to avoid hiring them, CNBC Make It reported.

Some of the other skills and traits that at least 20% of responding businesses told ADP they have trouble finding in candidates include "self-starter," "critical thinking," "time management," "problem-solving," "flexibility/adaptability" and "industry-specific knowledge."

Amanda Breen

Entrepreneur Staff

Senior Features Writer

Amanda Breen is a senior features writer at She is a graduate of Barnard College and received an MFA in writing at Columbia University, where she was a news fellow for the School of the Arts.

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