The Most In-Demand Skills and Competencies for the Future of HR

Recently, WANTED Analytics published the “20 Most In-Demand HR Skills” – compiled by listing the most commonly specified tools, technologies and other skills that people in the HR field are required to have based upon online job ads.

WANTED’s list included:

  1. Oracle HRIS
  2. Legal compliance
  3. Oracle PeopleSoft
  4. Applicant Tracking Software (ATS)
  5. Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS)

Click here to see the full list of 20 “in-demand” skills.

I must say that I was disappointed in the content of this list – but not necessarily surprised. As is often the case, it appears that when companies are searching for HR talent, their wish-list is filled with administrative and compliance focused activities.


At the same time, the HR profession is maligned and impugned for being focused on process over innovation and administrivia over enabling success in the organization.

But I don’t blame HR. I blame the leaders of organizations who haven’t changed their perceptions, expectations or hiring requirements (see above) for the function that touches every aspect of an organization’s unique competitive advantage – their people.

Over the years, I’ve spoken with many CEO’s and business leaders who bemoan the fact that HR isn’t a strategic partner in their organization, while at the same time compensating their HR professional well below other leaders in the company and also marginalizing their ability to contribute by not including them in discussions beyond policies, payroll and benefits.

In one specific conversation with a CEO who wanted to replace his current Director of HR for not being “strategic”, I asked him how he would describe a strategic HR professional. His response? “Someone who takes care of all of that HR stuff so I don’t have to talk to them.”


To get the most out of the HR function, the mandate of every business leader should be to view the department not just as an administrative or “people” function, but as a business function critical to execution of the strategic plan of the company – and to staff this critical business function with the best and brightest talent available to ensure the organization’s success.


Because the caliber and quality of the talent in the Human Resources/Talent Acquisition functions has a direct effect on the caliber and quality of talent that an organization is able to attract, recruit and retain.

I think the list of the Most In-Demand HR Skills and Competencies for the Future of HR should look more like this:

  1. Strategic thinking
  2. Decision-making
  3. Data analysis
  4. Predictive-modeling
  5. Organizational design
  6. Coaching and influencing
  7. Recruiting/Talent acquisition
  8. Content marketing
  9. Financial acumen
  10. Technology/Information Systems

Let’s stop giving attention to what HR doesn’t do or why HR isn’t needed anymore, and instead focus on hiring and developing HR Leaders with the skills, talents and abilities necessary to have maximum impact in their organizations and within their profession in the future.

Question: What would you add to the list? Leave a comment to let me know what we should expect from HR professionals of the future.

Unbridled Talent LLC is a consulting and advisory firm providing services to clients in the areas of leadership development, executive communication skills and talent strategy. Jennifer McClure offers keynotes, workshops and training that inspire and teach business leaders to be more effective in their careers and as leaders of their organization’s most valuable resource – people. Contact us to schedule an event or to discuss our strategic consulting and advisory services.

President & Chief Talent Strategist

Jennifer McClure is a Keynote Speaker, Talent Strategies Expert and Executive Coach who works with clients and companies in the areas of leadership development, communication and talent strategy. Jennifer McClure offers keynotes, workshops and training that inspire and empower business leaders to be more effective in their careers and as leaders of their organization’s most valuable resource – people.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

21 thoughts on “The Most In-Demand Skills and Competencies for the Future of HR

  1. Your list of competencies is much closer to reality for the HR departments that are going to contribute to their organizations’ success. I would add “problem solver” to the list; not in terms of solving HR-related problems, but business-related problems and challenges. To accomplish this, HR leaders have to get more comfortable with, and good at navigating organizational politics.

    • Great additions William!

      Problem-solving skills and navigating organizational politics are critical – not just for HR – but anyone in the business world trying to get something accomplished.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Good post. I would add “business acumen” in order to define a true understanding of how the business generates revenue, profit and value for its stakeholders.

  3. Jennifer,

    When I read your title on my phone of ‘Most in Demand Skills and Competencies for the Future of HR” I scrolled down and saw this:
    Oracle HRIS
    Legal compliance
    Oracle PeopleSoft
    Applicant Tracking Software (ATS)
    Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS)

    My heart and stomach dropped that someone would actually put this in an article. Have they not heard the ‘Voice of the Customer’ of organizations, boards and executives. We are seeking leaders who happen to champion HR.

    Then I read on…THANK YOU for having the same concern and desire to ensure HR leaders aren’t aspiring to be transactional but leaders of their organizations.

    I would add:
    – Ability to focus on short-term initiatives while casting vision and inspiring others beyond the immediate action/need.
    – Focus on organizational success vs. functional success
    – Positive physical and emotional energy
    – Understand and value utilizing ‘Big Data’
    – Adaptable
    – Collaborator
    – “We” versus ‘I’ – “Entire Organization” versus ‘HR’

    It’s leadership! Organizations want leadership from all execs on their team. Individuals aspiring to climb the ranks should increase their leadership to increase their influence. Regardless of function but especially in the HR function. This will make you stand out immediately!

    Thank you Jennifer for raising the bar!

  4. Great points all around, Jennifer. WANTED’s list is a great indication of the work we have to do before practitioners and executives alike can evolve the scope of HR to something more impactful and forward-thinking.

    Speaking from the talent acquisition side of things, one mission-critical competency for the future of HR would be recruitment marketing savvy. As more hiring organizations come to understand the significance of candidate experience in talent acquisition performance, recruiters’ ability to engage and attract candidates across multiple channels and mediums will be far more important than their ability to use an applicant tracking system.

    Also, Frank is spot-on: Business acumen is one of the make-or-break competencies for tomorrow’s HR leaders. I expect we’ll be hearing much more about this in webinars and conference sessions next year.

    • Thanks Kyle!

      I recently participated in a Panel discussion at an industry conference and one of the questions asked during audience Q&A was “What’s the most important skill for a recruiter to have in the future?”. My answer was very similar to yours. I think content marketing/recruitment marketing skills are critically important for talent acquisition pros – and HR pros too!

  5. Goodness gracious, what a depressing list. I look at it and think “I don’t want that job!” Would any HR pro want that job? If this doesn’t prove that executives don’t understand HR, I don’t know what does.

    Thanks for YOUR list, anyhow.

    I’d echo Mr. Gould and add “creative problem solving” and also “written communication,” dangit! I don’t know why so many take this for granted.

    • Thanks for speaking up on the importance of written communications skills Crystal!

      Unfortunately, that skill set seems to be an ancient art form in many professions these days – not just HR! 🙂

  6. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I too think your list is much more accurate. I want to see each out these characteristics outlined and explained with expected outcomes. Some of these are inherent and may come over time or may be understood early. These qualities can certainly be challenging to interview for.

    Regardless, I firmly believe that organizations will have Talent Management Analysts in the future to replace Human Resources Managers. I couldn’t agree more about caliber of an organizations talent acquisition team. These should be some of an organizations most knowledgeable employees- great talent attracts and demands great talent. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts and insights! I would love to connect and discuss this more.

    • I like the idea of the Talent Management Analyst role and definitely think we’ll see more of those in the future!

      I think the HR Manager role will still be alive and well though. Many smaller organizations still rely on competent HR Generalists as their HR resource or to manage the HR function.

  7. Hmm. Your 1 to 4 are essential for any senior person, particularly board level, so not sure they are specifically HR, just senior and leadership requirements. As are financial acumen and IT.

    I would put a. programme management in there and b. change management (but with the emphasis on iterative change not the big ‘transformations’ that are the typical approach, usually strapped to an IT system). I would also add leadership development – both to support the business and to manage their own teams (though the latter is a senior person requirement) and push recruitment/talent management much higher up the list).

    Not sure why content marketing is in there.

    • Thanks for the great additions to the list Julia!

      Content marketing is (and will be) critical for HR professionals because the way that we communicate has changed. Whether it’s internal communications, attracting and recruiting talent or learning and development, how we frame and communicate messages – and the tools that we use to do so – will determine whether they are seen or engaged with.

  8. As an executive coach and an ex FTSE 30 plc group HRD I read the list of skills required with dismay. I never hear FTSE HRDs bemoaning the fact that they don’t have the skills mentioned. It’s more about bravery, influencing skills, P&L experience, coaching and remuneration committee experience.

    The one aspect I do agree with is that all HR functions must be operationally excellent, but that is such an obvious requirement of any function it is hardly worth focussing on!

    The more we wallow in this operational mire, the less the function will be taken seriously as a strategic contributor.

    • Thanks for weighing in John!

      We’re in agreement that HR must move beyond operational activities to be considered a strategic contributor. I also like your additions to the list, particularly bravery. I think that’s an important component for any leader who is taking action to effect change!

  9. What a disappointing list of “skills”. I agree with William Gould and would add problem solving to the list. Our managers have business problems to solve, even if it is positioned as a statement to HR. Discovering the real problem and developing solutions are essential for HR.

    • I like the way you framed your comment Bonita – “our managers have business problems to solve, even it if is positioned as a statement to HR”. That’s so true and the best HR practitioners are constantly searching for solutions to solve those problems.

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