Prepare yourself
5 min. read

These seven skills predict better outcomes for employment, high income, and job satisfaction. How do you measure up?

Whether you’re looking for a job or you enjoy your current one but want to boost your pay, wouldn’t it be nice to know what skills you should work on building?

Consultancy company McKinsey set out to discover what skills people across all parts of society need to succeed at their jobs now and into the future.

Building on academic research, McKinsey identified 56 foundational skills – what they call “distinct elements of talent” or DELTAs:

List of 56 foundational skills

But which of these skills are important?

McKinsey went on to survey 18,000 people in 15 countries to find out which of these skills were most associated with three key aims:

  • Higher likelihood of employment;
  • Higher job satisfaction; and
  • Higher income.

Here’s what they found:

Higher likelihood of employment

According to McKinsey, 

“Holding all variables constant—including demographic variables and proficiency in all other elements—we found employment was most strongly associated with proficiency in several DELTAs within the self-leadership category, namely ‘adaptability’, ‘coping with uncertainty’, ‘synthesising messages’, and ‘achievement orientation’.”

Here’s what each of those skills means:

1. Adaptability –  Adaptability is “the ability to be open to changing your way of doing things even if it requires real effort or learning new skills.”

To be truly adaptable you need to be able easily change your perspective and attitude when new situations or ways of working require it, even when you find it difficult. That could mean learning new skills or work practices, or just being open to doing things differently to the way you’re used to.

2. Coping with uncertainty – Coping with uncertainty is “the ability to operate effectively in situations with high uncertainty or when things do not go according to plan.”

Uncertainty is increasingly the default state of modern life. So to be great at coping with uncertainty, you need to be unafraid of uncertain situations and be able to keep operating effectively even when unexpected changes occur around you.

3. Synthesising messages – Synthesising messages is “the ability to communicate a large amount of information concisely and insightfully.”

To be great at synthesising messages, you need to be able to condense and summarise a large amount of information into short passages that communicate the essential or relevant insights or lessons that will have an impact on the relevant issue, while ignoring all the less-relevant content.

Higher income

According to McKinsey, 

“The four DELTAs most strongly associated with high incomes were ‘work-plan development’ and ‘asking the right questions’, both in the cognitive category; ‘self-confidence’, a self-leadership DELTA; and ‘organisational awareness’, an interpersonal DELTA.”

Here’s what each of those skills means:

1. Work-plan development – Work-plan development is “the ability to identify, group, and sequence the tasks needed to achieve a certain goal and to assign deadlines and responsibilities.”

To be great at developing work-plans, you need basic project management skills, including being able to identify all of a project’s activities, determine which are critical, and then work out how best to schedule or delegate all tasks in the project in order to meet a deadline.

2. Organisational awareness – Organisational awareness is “the ability to understand how large groups of people can cooperate and coordinate and the ability to navigate organisational procedures.”

To have great organisational awareness, you need to understand the procedures, roles, and decisions—both formal and informal—typically involved in your organisation. Basically, who does what, and how across the various teams or departments where you work.

3. Self-confidence – Self-confidence is “the quality of trusting in one’s abilities, personal characteristics, and judgments.”

To have great self-confidence, you need to overcome nerves and trust your own abilities and judgment. You need to be able to approach most situations with the confidence that you’ll perform well – even if you’re not 100% sure that you actually will.

Higher Job Satisfaction

Finally, according to McKinsey:

“Job satisfaction is also associated with certain DELTAs, especially those in the self-leadership category. Holding all variables, including income, constant, ‘self-motivation and wellness,’ ‘coping with uncertainty,’ and ‘self-confidence,’ had the highest impact on respondents’ job satisfaction.”

Here’s what that means:

1. Self-motivation and wellness – Self-motivation and wellness is “the ability to maintain high motivation and energy by knowing and pursuing personal long-term goals as well as restorative activities.”

To be great at self-motivation and wellness, you need to know which activities give you daily energy and long-term purpose, keeping you motivated. You also need to know how to recover effectively when you’re feeling burnt out or just stressed from a big day or week.

2. Coping with uncertainty – As above.

3. Self-confidence – As above.


So what does that all mean for you, an ethical jobseeker? How can you use this data to get a job, increase your job satisfaction, or boost your pay?

The first step is to decide on what to focus on. Which of the seven skills above would you like to build your capacity in?

Then, make a short list of things you could do to build your skills in that area. That might be anything from further study, a training course or work experience, through to finding a mentor or just speaking to your manager or someone in your workplace about what opportunities there might be to build your skills in that area.

The world won’t stand still, so whatever your situation, proactively identifying which skills you want to develop and then working towards that goal will serve your career well into the future.