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12 Skills the Common Core AND Employers Want

By Dave Stuart Jr.

The Common Core is a set of goals aimed at college and career readiness. This we know.


But do the anchor standards really correlate to what employers want? Quite a bit, according to 10 Things Employers Want You to Learn in College.

So what, according to Coplin, should people entering the workforce be able to do, and how do these line up with the “career and college readiness” anchor standards of the Common Core?

1. Converse one-on-one

From 10 Things Employers Want You to Learn in College:

A senior human resources person writes, ‘I think conversing one-on-one is my main skill set. A new-hire must be able to carry a conversation–willing to learn. The training process that all our new-hires must complete can be very confusing, and we expect each new-hire to ask questions in order to grasp a full understanding. If someone cannot hold a decent conversation, I am hesitant to even place them in a lower-end job, even if they have the education and training.

Being able to carry on a conversation is the heart of the first Speaking/Listening anchor standard, SL.CCR.1.

2. Present to Groups

From 10 Things Employers Want You to Learn in College:

The ability to talk to groups of people is critical in many workplace situations. Initially you will probably not be placed in front of a group but will observe how your superiors handle such presentations. A businesswoman who was interviewed for this book said that she does not expect an entry-level person to make presentations to strangers, but by the second year, that person should be able to make presentations to groups of his or her peers. Over the long run, being able to make good group presentations will catch the eye of people within your organization as well as outside of it.

In short, being able to present is like having an ace in your hand — you may not always be able to use it, but it's sure better having it there than not. Presenting is the fourth Speaking/Listening anchor standard, SL.CCR.4.

3. Use visual displays

From 10 Things Employers Want You to Learn in College:

There are two related tasks that you must perform well in order to use visual displays effectively. First, you need to master and organize your content well enough to integrate a display into your actual talk. Second, you need to produce the display, which ranges from simple layouts on an 8.5 by 11-inch piece of paper to a PowerPoint presentation. The first task always precedes and defines the second.

The fifth Speaking/Listening anchor standard, SL.CCR.5, deals with strategically using visual displays.

4. Write well

From 10 Things Employers Want You to Learn in College:

Writer's block is okay for starving poets and novelists; it's just part of the process. But for anyone working for a boss, writer's block is a quicker way to get fired than producing poor copy.

At the other end of the spectrum is “writer's diarrhea,” where once you start you cannot stop. Clients and fellow workers do not have the time to wade through unnecessary verbiage and figure out what you are trying to say.

Being able to overcome writer's block is likely a function of writing like crazy throughout one's K-12 education. Writing widely and routinely is the 10th Common Core anchor standard in writing, and writing appropriately for a given context is the heart of W.CCR.4.

5. Edit and proof

From 10 Things Employers Want You to Learn in College:

A misspelling, which would lose you a couple of points on your paper in a course, could spell doom in the workplace. As a senior executive says, “Who wants to buy our multimillion dollar product when we can't even spell it right? Attention to detail is key in the workforce–without it, don't  bother.” Sound harsh? That's only because your teachers and professors have misled you with only minor point deductions for misspellings. To put the importance of editing and proofing in proper perspective, leaving a ‘not' out of a business proposal is about the same as a surgeon taking out your left kidney when your right one is diseased.


The ability to edit writing is part of the fifth writing anchor standard, W.CCR.5, while a command of grammar and usage is the first language anchor standard, L.CCR.1 and a command of surface-level errors like capitalization, spelling, and punctuation is L.CCR.2.

6. Use Word-Processing Tools

From 10 Things Employers Want You to Learn in College:

Although word-processing skills don't seem like a big deal, they should not be taken for granted. One of my former students, who was now completing a master's degree at one of the top graduate schools in the world, wrote this to me: ‘I am shocked by how many people in my program don't know how to do a lot of stuff in Word (formatting, tracking, etc.)–things I'm sure I only know because of my undergraduate experience on various projects.

Common Core has garnered some controversy for its keyboarding requirements, but they, as well as the tech-based writing anchor standard, W.CCR.6, are designed to make graduated adults who are able to meet tight deadlines for word-processed projects.

Interestingly, Coplin has strong feelings about using Microsoft Word, and as a teacher like me whose students only use Google Docs, I'm intrigued by them:

Bill Gates is the man behind Microsoft and whether we love or despise him, we all need to thank him for Microsoft Word, which is the only word-processing tool you need to master. Other word-processing programs, no matter how cheap or quaint, are useless in writing for work. Most of you already know that and have some experience using Word. The rest of you need to get on board.

Intense, right? I do have to admit that, though Google Docs has grown leaps and bounds (now including features that mimic those Coplin goes on to cite, like tracking), it still lacks the robustness of Word. We will see if that statement holds true in five years, however!

7. Master online communications

Coplin cites a host of online communications platforms and skills that employable people should be comfortable with, including Google Docs, email platforms, online calendars, syncing email with your phone, using an email signature, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and free online data storage solutions like Dropbox.

But I appreciated that part of Coplin's definition of mastery is being able to harness the downsides of these tools and skills as well. From 10 Things Employers Want You to Learn in College:

Communicating electronically can have its downside also. The constant interruptions that email brings, whether you work at a desk or use a portable device, can be a major roadblock to your success. It creates distractions that can interrupt thoughts when you are trying to write something. If you have become addicted to checking for messages from email or Twitter, you might be caught at a meeting and chastised. Bosses don't like to see this addiction even if they are addicted themselves. Learn to break the habit by turning off your portable device and fixing your desktop to not alert you to incoming email messages.

Mastering online communications is part of W.CCR.6.

8. Gather information

From 10 Things Employers Want You to Learn in College:

As this up-and-coming corporate type suggests below, information is an important key to advancement. He writes, ‘Hunt or be hunted. The majority of my accomplishments have come as a result of having information that someone else needed. The first step is to know what someone needs and why. The second step is being resourceful enough to know where to get the data and how to get it quickly. I can't stress the quickness enough. Organizations need speed, and when you're gathering information you have to be organized.'

The up-and-comer quoted above refers to skills laid out in the research threads of the Common Core, most notably the 7th reading anchor standard (R.CCR.7) and the 7th, 8th, and 9th writing anchor standards: W.CCR.7, W.CCR.8, and W.CCR.9.

9. Search the web

From 10 Things Employers Want You to Learn in College:

Finding information on the Internet may seem easy, but finding the information you need and can trust on the Internet is much harder. Internet research can be risky and lead to poor results unless you have a solid grasp of web research.

This skill is the heart of R.CCR.7 and W.CCR.8.

10. Detect nonsense

From 10 Things Employers Want You to Learn in College:

If you learn nothing else in college, learn how to see through what people say by looking at why they say it. Is it self-delusional… or is it aimed at making a sale or garnering support? …

Nonsense detection is critical to your job success. Whatever job you take will require getting the correct information about the tasks you need to perform and the conditions affecting your performance. This information comes from written sources as well as from statements by your boss, coworkers, those you serve, and others. Unfortunately, information is always generated for a purpose, and that purpose often gets in the way of the truth.

The Common Core is rife with calls to be able to evaluate the validity of arguments (R.CCR.8), assess the credibility of sources (W.CCR.8), and evaluating a speaker for BS (SL.CCR.3). (Ahem.)

11. Pay attention to detail

From 10 Things Employers Want You to Learn in College:

Paying attention to detail is more important than generalizing because the effective use of generalizations depends on mastery of detail. In whatever task you undertake, get as many details as possible. You need to be like a medical doctor and piece the sequence of events together and create a pattern in your mind that helps you determine the reasons for an event. Can you create a story that explains why a patient is ill, a client did not buy your services, a student failed a course, or a person you supervise did the wrong thing?

Attention to detail is a habit built through skills like close reading (R.CCR.1), editing and revising (W.CCR.5), and mastering sentence- and word-level conventions (L.CCR.1 and L.CCR.2).

12. Master in-depth knowledge of any field

This one may surprise you because the CCSS are often associated with a skills-only approach. It's common nowadays for people to say, “It's the reading skills that matter, not the book you gain them from.” But both the Common Core and Coplin disagree with people who claim knowledge isn't important in an age when you can “just look it up.”

From 10 Things Employers Want You to Learn in College:

If two job applicants have the same level of competence… but one is a Civil War history buff just like the boss, who do you think will get the job?… Areas of in-depth knowledge are valuable because they may possibly connect you with your boss or colleagues. In-depth knowledge will help you have bond-building conversations with colleagues.

The Common Core points out, in its introductory matter, that one skill that typifies a college/career-ready person is that they “build strong content knowledge.”

Your students deserve answers to ‘when will we actually use this?'

I hope this post, and this blog, helps you to speak positively to kids about the value of working hard in your classroom on classic skills like reading, writing, thinking, and speaking. Let me know what you're thinking in the comments. Rock on.

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33 Responses to 12 Skills the Common Core AND Employers Want

  1. Mary Lou January 4, 2014 at 9:55 pm #

    Wow! This is awesome! Thanks for sharing and I can’t wait to share with my students!

    • davestuartjr January 5, 2014 at 11:18 pm #

      Mary Lou, let me know what they think! 🙂

  2. Deborah C Owen January 5, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    Outstanding synopsis Dave. Thanks so much for sharing. Now I know what book I need to get next! Also, as a librarian, just pointing out that most of the last few items are all library/research related. Mastering online communications, gathering information, searching the web, and detecting nonsense are specifically information literacy. The others are also, though maybe slightly more tangentially.
    Definitely passing this on! 🙂

    • Kim Schultz January 5, 2014 at 11:54 am #

      I concur with the two replies above! Great article to get me thinking about getting my 8th grade students ready for high school, college and the job market! Thanks Dave or sharing such pertinent information!

    • davestuartjr January 5, 2014 at 11:18 pm #

      Deborah, I think you would like some of the other skills in that book — there are many more that deal with info lit — you will love it!

  3. L McEwen January 5, 2014 at 2:02 pm #

    This is fabulous! I really love how instruction on these skills begins in kindergarten and progressively works its way up. This is the way to make change:) Thank you for posting this!

  4. Karen Michalec January 5, 2014 at 4:05 pm #

    This is great!

  5. L Straits January 5, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

    Super summary! I teach 12th graders at a career and technology school. This may be an excellent reading for them!

  6. Sandra Diodonet January 5, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

    Thank you! I will include this on my agenda for my staff meeting tomorrow.
    Principal Diodonet

    • davestuartjr January 5, 2014 at 11:16 pm #

      Thank you, Principal Diodonet — I wish your staff a happy Monday 🙂

  7. Susan S. January 5, 2014 at 6:53 pm #

    I like the way you connect the list of skills employers want to the Common Core standards that develop those skills. This list also shows that people who do not get a college education may still become successful if they have worked hard to master communication skills, writing, and use of technology while in school. We need to remind our students that they are receiving access to a world-class education that will propel them toward a life well lived, regardless of whether their life includes college or not, to the extent that they really work at it. Couple this information to the encouragement of Dr. Martin Luther King to the youth of this nation that all vocational choices include a civic engagement component, and our students will know both their potential for meaningful employment and influence in their communities.

    • davestuartjr January 5, 2014 at 11:16 pm #

      Susan, as always I love your passion — thank you for your compliments and I’m glad it’s useful. Dr. King was dead on with that.

  8. Brian C White January 5, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

    Incredible. Insightful. Inspirational. Thanks Dave.

    • davestuartjr January 5, 2014 at 11:14 pm #

      Brian, thank you brother! I hope you are well, sir!

  9. Gregory January 5, 2014 at 10:55 pm #

    Seriously? Does YOUR employer want you to be able to proof and edit? Do you realize you spelled employer wrong in the headline? It doesn’t need two “e’s” at the end. I bet you won’t be posting this reply!

    • davestuartjr January 5, 2014 at 11:13 pm #

      Gregory, thanks for the heads up — I always love a slice of humble pie.

      *facepalms self*

      I hope you have a great day, sir — enjoy it!

    • Hoppy March 8, 2014 at 1:03 pm #

      I didn’t see,….perform math efficiently or accurately! Obviously not needed in today’s marketplace.

  10. Michelle Howell-Martin January 6, 2014 at 8:02 am #

    This is a great list! I’m thinking of using it with the 5th graders. Thanks for all of your work!

    • davestuartjr January 6, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

      It’s my pleasure, Michelle — thanks for taking the time to let me know you’ve got a use for this stuff!

  11. lindajanney January 6, 2014 at 9:17 am #

    I hope you don’t mind if I print this out as an AOW! I can’t wait to hear the conversation over this article. Thanks always for your level head. Now how can we level Congress?

  12. franmcveigh January 6, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

    I’m fascinated by the fact that the top three items deal with Speaking and Listening. Those aren’t necessarily the skills that have been taught in the OLD traditional one semester speech class in the past. The inclusion of speaking and listening standards in a grade-level progression from kindergarten through 12th grade is very important for student success!

    And I’m also a bit dismayed that reading standards aren’t really directly included until number 8. Further emphasis on the importance of Speaking and Listening and Writing. Again, the emphasis for both strands and ALL students is going to require focus from all content area teachers so your post will help point many in that direction!

    Great read to start the year! Thanks for this important post to get 2014 rolling!

  13. Michele January 6, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

    Thanks, Dave. I teach h.s.seniors…I’ll share this with my students and colleagues. I’ve also shared this list with my son who is a college senior majoring in literature and marketing. With the double major, I’m sure he’s mastered all of these skills!

    • davestuartjr January 6, 2014 at 7:30 pm #

      Michele, please let me know what they think! I think Bill Coplin’s book is pretty high quality — passionate and practical. I’m planning to give it to some grads this spring.

  14. camb888 January 6, 2014 at 6:27 pm #

    Interesting! Enjoyed the concrete connections to the standards.

    HOWEVER, (oops) in #2 ” Present to Groups”, it seems that the CCSS have not yet been mastered. The sentence in question reads, “Over the long run, being able to make good group presentations will catch the eye of people without your organization as well as outside of it.”

    This from #5 “Edit and Proof” “Being able to edit writing is part of the fifth writing anchor standard, W.CCR.5; having a command of grammar and usage is the first language anchor standard, L.CCR.1, and having a command of surface-level errors like capitalization, spelling, and punctuation is L.CCR.2. Also see (R.CCR.1) on close reading. (Kinda like a surgeon taking out the wrong kidney!)

    and from #11 “Pay Attention to Detail”: “Attention to detail a habit built through skills like close reading (R.CCR.1), editing and revising (W.CCR.5), and mastering sentence- and word-level conventions (L.CCR.1 and L.CCR.2).”

    This last quote, in and of itself, seems to be missing a verb and is, therefore, not even a complete sentence! Also see (R.CCR.1) re close reading.

    Sorry, but couldn’t resist, and I didn’t even read closely!

  15. Hayley West January 10, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

    I just want to thank you for all the e-mails, resources, and helpful hints. Unfortunately, I see a lot of negativity (and freaking out) about Common Core, even among my fellow teachers. The way I see it, my state has adopted this as our curriculum. I can either accept it and find ways to help my students succeed, or I can always criticize, ooze negativity, and cause myself undue stress and headaches. I choose the former. I want to show people that this curriculum helps students become citizens of the “real world,” and I want to instill confidence and a “can-do” attitude in my kids. I will be linking this particular article to my facebook page (if that’s OK) in an attempt to open the eyes of the critics. THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU DO! It has eased my transition into CC and my return to an American classroom (I taught in Korea for almost 2 years). I appreciate you very much.

    • davestuartjr January 10, 2014 at 1:21 pm #

      Hayley, you have perfectly summarized my take on the CCSS. There are only a few paths we can take on it, and I, with you, opt for the, “Okay — I agree where it’s aiming, at college/career readiness, and while I may not agree with every last detail of its authorship or its implementation or the assessments being created for it, I’m not going to freak out about it.”

      Basically, life’s too short, and the kids in my room don’t benefit from me freaking out, and my family doesn’t deserve a husband/dad who’s allowed himself to have a problem-pointer-outter attitude all day.

      Please link anything you’d like, Hayley — I mean it when I say I’m waging war on the freak out here, and I’m so delighted every time I find a like-minded and like-hearted colleague like yourself.

      Kamsa hamida (I think). 🙂

  16. franmcveigh January 13, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

    Had to write some more about my thinking after reading your post. Check it out here” http://davestuartjr.com/12-common-core-employer-skills/

    • davestuartjr January 16, 2014 at 5:18 pm #

      Fran, as always, I love this 🙂 Great book, right? How are things in Iowa?

      • franmcveigh January 16, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

        Great book! Love to consider the “end product” of our schools as the students leave the hallowed halls and go out into the real world.

        Iowa – we are currently under a blizzard warning! Not pretty! Typical Iowa winter! I think it will be 40+ degrees this weekend. . . . it will change in a day or so!

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