5 Key Skills to Master in Tough Times

How to stand apart in the face of a potential recession.

As companies prepare for a possible recession, one question persists among many workers: how to stand apart in the face of cutbacks? Experts say it’s mostly a matter of developing some key skills.

Indeed, many companies report they’re experiencing a significant change in the workforce skills that their organization needs for its growth. According to a recent study, 87% of leaders say their organization is either experiencing skills gaps now or anticipates them within the next few years.

“With the looming recession, it can’t hurt to beef up your skills, because it helps you to be more attractive as someone to retain or hire,” says Korn Ferry Advance coach Tiffinee Swanson. Here are five in-demand skills to master now.

Digital expertise

The ability to master digital communications—to use digital networks to access and manage information—has become more critical in the workplace. “The mastery of video communications will take on increased importance to career advancement because virtual work will only increase,” says Korn Ferry Advance coach Valerie Olson.

Consider mastering the advanced functions of video communication tools such as Zoom or Teams, says Korn Ferry Advance coach Rasha Accad. These tools can enable teams to be efficient by automatically scheduling and transcribing meetings, she says.

Financial fluency

Most employees don’t understand financial jargon and can’t decipher a balance sheet. Being financially fluent will give you insights into your company and how to help it be profitable. “Being able to understand financial terms will enable you to steer your work in a way that contributes to the business’s bottom line and success,” Accad says.

Data literacy

Companies collect a lot of data, but they often don’t know what to do with it. Become the employee who can present data so that non-technical audiences can understand it. Provide suggestions on how to use the data to improve the business’s bottom line, Swanson says.


As we enter a time of workforce transformation, employees need to be flexible and adaptable, says Mark Royal, senior client partner for Korn Ferry Advisory. Some business leaders value agility and curiosity more than a degree from a top university or work experience at a well-known company, he says. Organizations are looking to hire people who enjoy tackling complex challenges and embracing change. They want to hire employees who have a history of overcoming obstacles and delivering results, and who are adept at navigating interpersonal situations, he says.

Ability to be a multiplier

Companies are also looking to hire people that can use their intelligence to amplify the capabilities of those around them. “The world is changing so quickly that it’s not possible to be an expert anymore, because no one person can know everything anymore,” Swanson says. Instead, employers are looking for employees who can empower their colleagues and bring out the best in them, she says.

While it’s tempting to try to develop a new skill during tough economic times, Olson says, it’s important to have an affinity for that skill before you spend time mastering it. “Make sure you are drawn to an activity, have interest in learning it, and most importantly, would enjoy doing it on a daily basis,” she says.