January is job hunting season, with job seekers and employers trying to find that perfect match — a task that's getting more difficult as Canada's skills gap widens.

But don’t blame the skills mismatch entirely — it’s also miscommunication.

A U.S. report by LiveCareer, Bridging the Skills Gap, has found that part of the problem is around the way we talk about skills. For one thing, job seekers aren’t emphasizing them enough. The average job ad lists about 22 skills, but the people replying to it list only 13 skills. They aren’t articulating what they’re capable of doing.

We also have a gap to bridge around the types of skills we’re talking about. Job ads in all categories mention hard skills more frequently than soft skills, encouraging people to highlight technical know-how over people skills. Of the 13 skills that the average person lists, 10 are hard skills and 3 are soft skills.

But when employers sit down to review resumes, it’s the soft skills that jump out at them. They’re more likely to follow up with people who described themselves in human terms. If you have a positive attitude, say so. The report identified three highly-sought soft skills that people aren’t using in their resumes: energetic, detailed oriented and building effective relationships.

When researchers compared the 20 skills that most frequently appear in job ads to the 20 skills most frequently listed on resumes, it revealed more interesting divergences.

  • Four of the top skills employers list in job ads don’t appear in the top 20 skills listed on resumes. Those missing resume skills are: multitasking, physical demand, teamwork, retail industry knowledge and positive attitude.
  • Five of the top skills job seekers do list on resumes don’t actually appear in the top 20 skills listed in job ads. Those are: budgeting, time management, being a team player and Microsoft Word.

There are lessons here for both sides.

Job seekers need to showcase their full range of skills, even it means adding another page to their resume. But you can go ahead and delete Microsoft Word at this point.

Employers should beware that relying on automated software to scan resumes and match skillsets might mean they miss out on qualified applicants. “Teamwork” is one of those most frequently listed skills in job ads. But people don’t use “teamwork” to describe themselves in a resume — they say “team player.” This isn’t a skills gap — it’s semantics.

The skills gap is a long-term issue for us to tackle as a country. But we can close this communication gap between employers and job seekers first thing in 2019.

As Senior Vice-President, Office of the CEO, John advises the executive leadership on emerging trends in Canada’s economy, providing insights grounded in his travels across the country and around the world. His work focuses on technological change and innovation, examining how to successfully navigate the new economy so more people can thrive in the age of disruption. Prior to joining RBC, John spent nearly 25 years at the Globe and Mail, where he served as editor-in-chief, editor of Report on Business, and a foreign correspondent in New Delhi, India. He is the author of three books and has a fourth underway.

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