20 Most Important Technical and Soft Skills to Earn 6 Figures this 2018

What was the most common question you got asked as a kid? Other than “Why won’t you stay put?” for me, it was always “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Parents, relatives, and other adults always seemed to enjoy hearing my future plans, and I’d rise up to the occasion by smugly stating that I’d be a billionaire by age 25.

It seems like a tall order now but let’s face it; when you’re a kid you’re conditioned to believe that getting your dream job is pretty simple. You’re constantly told things like “Study hard and you’re sure to succeed” or “Do something you love and you’ll never have to work another day in your life.”

Nowadays, while formal education and pursuing one’s passion remain as vital factors for success, neither of the two are surefire methods. The truth is, surviving (and making it big) in today’s insanely competitive job market takes a whole lot more than having a degree and diligently showing up to work every day.

Remember that other workers usually have as much education and experience as you do, and the only thing that can give you a leg up is your ability to adapt and learn new skills that will help boost your career to the top.

Learning new skills is especially important given the advent of technology. Thirty years ago, a working knowledge of the most basic computer programs would have been enough to give you an edge; but nowadays the ever-changing needs of the labor market mean that you need to constantly evolve if you want to stay ahead of the competition.

As Lydia Frank, editorial director for compensation data and software company Payscale.com says, “You can’t remain stagnant. You always want to be learning something new; you always want to be advancing.”

Excited to start earning a six-figure income? Check out the top 20 in-demand skills that are useful for almost all industries:

A brief side note: This list is divided into two parts—technical skills and soft skills. The nature and subject matter of the former require the use of some industry-specific jargon, but in the interest of encouraging the uninitiated, we’ll try to make things as simple as possible. If necessary, feel free to explore and do your own research.


Technical Skills

1. Cloud and distributed computing

Sharing the Number 1 spot in LinkedIn’s Top Skills survey for two years in a row, cloud computing and distributed computing are two distinct and separate skills that share a single underlying concept—which is the use of large-scale computer networks to accomplish tasks such as data management and storage.

Basically, cloud computing uses network hosted servers that enable users to store and access data from the cloud, instead of using the traditional hard disk storage.

On the other hand, distributed computing uses a distributed system to share and delegate tasks to individual computers within the system. Examples of jobs that require cloud computing and distributed computing skills include cloud architects, software engineers, service developers, and system administrators.

The average salary for folks with the right cloud and distributed computing skills? Payscale’s data reveals a whooping 122k ++ per annum.

2. Data mining and statistical analysis

Coming in as the close second to cloud and distributed computing, data mining and statistical analysis are among the most in-demand skills in today’s tech-driven labor landscape.

At its simplest form, data mining and data warehousing refers to the process of collecting, storing, and integrating data; while statistical analysis is the practice of organizing, analyzing, and applying collated data to achieve certain business objectives, such as reaching out to new clients, improving existing products or services, or offering more personalized customer experiences.

As Burning Glass Technologies CEO Matt Sigelman says, “Mainstream American companies have come to realize that in order to become more effective in the marketplace, they need to analyze data.”

Examples of industries that require an in-depth knowledge of data mining and statistical analysis include marketing, logistics, and operations management, to name a few. As for compensation, individuals with this particular skill set can expect a pay boost ranging from +5% to +6.1%.

3. Software development

Simply put, software development is the process of building and designing individual software, such as mobile apps, database systems, IOT gadgets, and even large infrastructure, using a specific programming language.

The typical development process includes identification of required software, analysis of the software requirements, specification of the software requirements, actual software design, coding, and programming, as well as testing and maintenance. Usually, commercial software is developed according to market demand, while enterprise software development is driven by industry needs.

If you want to pursue a career in software development, you need to be flexible enough to learn new technologies and software systems quickly. For example, trendy coding languages often change depending on the popularity of certain platforms and content management systems (CMS).

Beginners may consider looking into some of the most widely-used languages and CMS, such as Ruby on Rails, PHP, JavaScript, Python, and WordPress.

Folks trained in software development can pursue a wide range of lucrative career options, including those involving developer operations engineering (DevOps), quality assurance, user interface (UI) design, artificial intelligence, 3D animation, and more.

Based on figures released by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 186,600 new software development jobs will be needed in the next ten years. The median salary for software development jobs ranges from $100,080 to $100,690 per year.

4. Web development

Web development refers to the steps involved in building a website or a web application, either for the internet or for a private network (intranet). Web developers usually use programming languages such as HTML 5, CSS, or Javascript to create websites, as well as other languages to establish other technical aspects of a site, such as databases, email services, or user authentication features.

There are three kinds of web development specializations that interested individuals can pursue if they want a career in this field: front-end, back-end, and full stack development. Front-end developers are responsible for the layout and other visual aspects of a website—essentially things that the final user will see and use when they visit the site.

Meanwhile, back-end developers are the ones who build behind-the-scenes functions and databases that ensure the functionality of a website. Common back-end languages include Ruby on Rails, PHP, and Python. Finally, full stack developers are the ones who work with both the front and back end of a website and are proficient in both front-end and back-end languages.

According to Payscale, web developers with late-stage experience can expect to earn at least $82,000-$100,000 per year.

5. Network and information security

Cyber-security breaches are common nowadays. Research shows that from 2005 to 2016, more than 800,000 records have been compromised by attacks, with no indication of slowing down or decreasing. In fact, experts predict that cybercrime threats will cost businesses 2 trillion dollars by 2019.

As such, it comes as no surprise that businesses are constantly looking for ways to safeguard the integrity and security of their data—leading to the rising demand for professionals skilled in network and information security.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms the rising demand, projecting an 18% increase in information security careers by the year 2024, a figure that goes far beyond the 7% national average.

So, if you’re interested in a profitable career that has the added benefit of helping fight crime, network and information security is the way to go.  Using real-time job analysis software that examined more than 110,000 information security job postings in 2017, Rasmussen College identified key technical and soft skills necessary for professionals who want to join the industry.

Desired tech skills include in-depth knowledge in information systems, Linux, cryptography, and UNIX, while soft skills include communication, collaboration, problem-solving and deductive reasoning.

Examples of network and information security jobs include network security administrator, data security analyst, network penetration tester, and systems security administrator. The average salary for these types of jobs easily surpasses the six-figure mark, ranging from $110,000- $191,750 per year.

6. Digital and inbound marketing

Digital or internet marketing simply refers to the practice of using the internet to market products and services. It’s a broad term that encompasses a lot of different types of marketing such as content marketing, social media marketing, search engine optimization (SEO)/ search engine marketing (SEM), and email marketing, among others.

Side note: The SEO industry alone is estimated to be worth $72 Billion by 2018.

On the other hand, inbound marketing is a non-intrusive, customer-focused marketing strategy that aims to attract new leads and clients via the creation and distribution of relevant and engaging content (blogs, videos, infographics, etc) that captures the attention of target clients. Unlike traditional “outbound” techniques (TV and print ads, etc) that bombard the public with generic promotional messages, inbound marketing builds brand awareness and generates leads by creating personalized content that resonates with the customer’s needs.

Research conducted by Google in cooperation with the CEB Marketing Leadership Council shows that on average, modern buyers are able to independently complete up to 60% of the purchase decision-making process even before engaging a sales rep, with 81% of consumers conducting online research before making big purchases.

This means that businesses need to look for new ways to reach out and guide potential clients as they go through the sales cycle—and this is where inbound tactics and growth hacking (process of building a large online customer base as soon as possible via digital marketing) come in.

According to recruiting firm Mondo, a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) in charge of a company’s digital marketing strategy can expect to earn as much as $245,000 a year; while reports from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that workers skilled in advertising, promotions, and digital marketing made bank with a median wage of $127,560 in 2016.

7. Project management

Nowadays, many of us find ourselves as accidental project managers who never intended to lead projects until, at the request of our immediate supervisor, we suddenly find ourselves overseeing one.

But did you know that having an in-depth knowledge of the project management lifecycle, from the conceptual phase up to the termination and evaluation phase, can serve as your stepping stone to eventually becoming a C-suite executive leading an entire department?

What’s more, it’s a skill that’s in-demand across all industries—it doesn’t matter if you’re in tech, sales, marketing, international development, healthcare, finance, or education, etc—all sectors require project managers.

At its core, project management simply refers to the application of specific knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to a broad range of activities in order to meet the requirements of a particular project.

The specific tasks and responsibilities of a project manager may vary from one industry to another, but the required knowledge areas for this type of position generally involve the following components: strategy development, project design and integration, time management, finance management, quality control, human resources management, communications, risk management and procurement management.

According to Payscale.com, C-suite execs skilled in business strategy development and management can earn up to 9.1% more than their counterparts.

8. Sales

The days of aggressive hard-selling are over. These days, consultative selling takes the stage, and sales professionals are raking in big bucks by via consultative or customer-focused selling.

Customer-focused selling is about selling from the other person’s perspective, a process that requires attention and practice, especially since modern buyers are more independent and capable of doing their own vendor evaluation and product research without the help of sales representatives.

Nowadays, the most popular sales tools include customer relationship management (CRM) software, social prospecting, data and list services, as well as automated engagement and sales cadence tools.

Want to know what a typical workday looks like for a sales professional?  According to Hubspot, sales reps spend just one-third of their day actually interacting with prospects, while 21% of their time is spent sending emails, 17% data entry, 17% prospecting and lead generation, 12% for internal meetings, and 12% planning and scheduling cold and follow-up calls. If you consider yourself capable of doing the said tasks, a career in sales is a great opportunity to hone your skills.

Because a sales job is often commission-based, the potential income can be unlimited. However, consistently hitting the six-figure mark requires a solid background on customer service, sales and networking, along with a minimum of five years experience in the industry before you can find big clients willing to close deals with you.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, sales managers earned a median wage of $117,960 in 2016, while sales engineers who sell complex scientific and technological products or services to businesses are among the highest paid sales representatives, earning a median salary of $100,000 as of 2016.

9. Communications and PR 

Strong communication skills are crucial if you want to make it big in any industry, but did you know that having excellent communication skills in itself can land you in a six-figure career in corporate communications, international development, public relations, or marketing?

Interested in making a living in the communications industry? If you love writing or are particularly skilled in launching publicity drives and marketing initiatives, there are a lot of viable career paths and options that you can explore.

Some of the most common jobs include public relations careers, which can involve investor relations, consumer relations, corporate communications and employee relations; as well as marketing jobs, which often deal with content marketing, lead generation, SEO/SEM, and social media management.

Recruiting firm Mondo found that 80% more companies are hiring digital marketing professionals nowadays, particularly those with good technology awareness, and people skilled enough to get a marketing management position can expect to earn an average of $245,000 per annum.

On the other hand, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that PR and fundraising managers earned a median salary of $107,320 in 2016.

10. Education and training

While it’s true that school teachers usually don’t earn six-figure salaries (in fact, the median wage for a secondary school teacher in the US was pegged at just $58,030 in 2016), having a solid background in teaching can propel your career as an education specialist, corporate adviser, consultant, mentor, or an independent life coach.

Education and training professionals who are skilled in teaching, planning and administrative work can explore three major career pathways: administration and admin support, professional support, and teaching and training services.

These jobs are consistently in high demand across many industries and can be a great choice for someone who wants a career that leaves a lasting impact on others while making a decent salary at the same time.

If you’re interested to pursue a career in this field, a bachelor’s degree, as well as on-the-job trainings that build your public speaking, training program development, project management, and curriculum planning skills, are essential.

As mentioned, the compensation for skilled professionals working as independent agents, or as employees in a large corporate entity can be substantial. For example, 2017 figures from Payscale show that an independent life coach can earn as much as $209,400.

11. Financial management

At its core, financial management is the process of planning the usage and day-to-day management of an organization’s finances, so as to achieve business objectives and positive ROI for all stakeholders.

To help make the process easier, companies and institutions usually hire a financial advisor or a financial services planner who can assess the company’s financial needs, explain relevant laws on taxation and investments, identify potential problems, and assist in making sound insurance decisions.

Want to pursue a career as a financial advisor? You will need a bachelor’s degree as well as excellent skills in budgeting, risk management, and review and evaluation.

Some countries like Australia also require all candidates to have a formal accounting qualification prior to embarking on a career as an advisor, while all Australian financial service planners have to obtain a financial services (AFS) licence.  Make sure to check the required skills and competencies in your area beforehand. Most companies also seek financial advisors with appropriate IT skills and knowledge of standard accounting programs, so you’ll need to familiarize yourself with common software systems used in the industry.

According to Payscale, financial advisors with sufficient skills and experience can expect to earn as much as $146,446 in 2017.

12. Aviation

If you love traveling and would like to incorporate your passion to your career, why not consider a job as an airline pilot?

If you’ve ever gone to aviation academy, the flying skills you learned can contribute to getting your Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL), but if you don’t have the cash or the time to enroll, any flying skills learned via military service can go a long way towards successfully getting your license. An ATPL allows you to apply as a pilot for airlines or private companies/ individuals who need your services.

Best of all, a career as an airline or commercial pilot can boost your earnings big time—in fact, figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the median wage of pilots reached $105,720 in 2016.

Soft Skills

Soft skills are just as important as technical skills, not to mention that they carry weight across all industries. If you are serious about pursuing a six-figure career, you need to be equipped with an arsenal of vital soft skills that can help you survive the competition and stress that you are sure to come across.

As Emőke Starr, Head of HR at Prezi says, “We look for candidates with a solid foundation of soft skills and trust so that the rest can be built upon it. “

13. Agility

When we say agility, we don’t just mean the ability to get things done quickly. We’re actually referring to the agile method, which is a development method that focuses on accountability, collaboration and teamwork between self-organizing teams of workers.

This method was first developed for software developers who needed to develop high-quality software as rapidly as possible, without losing touch of the customer’s needs.

Unlike non-agile projects that often take years to complete, the agile method uses “sprints” or iterations which are short periods of time (from 2 weeks to 2 months) wherein the team builds and finishes a set of predetermined targets. An agile project can have one or more sprints, and the final product is delivered and released during the final iteration.

Familiarity with the agile method is useful especially if you want to pursue a career in software development, given its popularity in this industry.

14. Humility

The ability to admit your mistakes and asking for help is an important skill that you need to develop if you want to boost your career to the top. Not only will it endear you to your colleagues, supervisors, and staff but will also help you become a more efficient worker.

For example, humility during the planning stage allows you to easily solicit suggestions and comments from relevant personnel.

Asking the simple question “Who else has tried to do this? What can I learn from them?” can help remove barriers to communication between staff, and gives a sense of ownership and responsibility to everyone who gave suggestions. Being humble also shows your willingness and capacity to learn and adapt to the rapidly-changing needs of your work environment.

15. Time management

Time is money, the saying goes, and lots of it gets lost in disorganization and disruption. Professionals often deal with a constant barrage of technology, people, and tasks that can contribute to that disorganization.

Many people find that they flit from one task to another, with no substantial results other than fatigue and burnout. As such, businesses often look for an employee with a proven track record of being able to manage time effectively, not just for himself but also for the benefit of the team who will be working with him.

If you are looking to advance your career to greater heights, we suggest undergoing trainings or workshops that can help you organize yourself and your workspace for peak efficiency. To do this, you need to know how to set smart goals, identify priorities and develop achievable plans, learn how to delegate tasks properly, and control factors that can derail your workplace productivity.

Being a pro in time management can also bring you one step closer to your goal of earning six figures since you have more time and opportunity to pursue freelance work that can add to your income and experience.

These days, a lot of people earn a decent income (or side income) simply by seeking opportunities that match their interests/skill sets from:

Online marketplaces:

Sharing Economy Platforms:

Signing up to these places is definitely a great idea, especially if you are capable of managing your time well enough to deliver your tasks on time.

16. Attention to detail

In today’s fast-paced world where people’s attention spans get shorter by the minute, the ability to focus and pay attention to detail has become a prized skill in many corporate environments.

As Eco Branding CEO Jake Rozmaryn laments, “We see a lot of careless typing and formatting errors in millennial applicant writing and work samples, cover letters, resumes, etc.” As it is, being detail-oriented allows professionals to work better, be more efficient, and minimize the possibility of errors.

This trait is important in all industries but is particularly valuable if you plan to pursue a supervisory or senior-level career in financial services, IT, engineering, architecture, or medicine and healthcare.

If you want to develop your own ability to concentrate and pay attention, you may need to practice and undergo trainings that build your time management, observation, analytical thinking, organization, and active listening skills.

17. Crisis management

In his book Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management, Jonathan Bernstein offers a very concise definition of crisis management as “the art of avoiding trouble when you can, and reacting appropriately when you can’t.” Organizationally speaking, we can say that crisis management is all about preventing loss when possible and minimizing loss when it’s not.

Because emergencies and crisis are a fact of life for many businesses, it’s imperative for a professional to learn how to manage crisis properly. Apart from planning for natural disasters, you’ll also need to plan for other situations and events (i.e lawsuits, loss of investors or clients, negative press, etc.) that might put the business in peril. The ability to stay calm and clear-headed during these times is a precious skill that will serve you well if you want to succeed and eventually move up to a leadership position. If you want to develop this skill, you need to learn stress management, decision-making, and effective communication.

18. Creative thinking and innovation

To put it simply, creativity is the generation of ideas in the attempt to solve a problem or produce something new. On the other hand, innovation refers to the implementation of the ideas generated from the creative process. Innovation transforms a creative idea into something concrete.

In today’s knowledge-based economy, employees and independent agents from all industries are expected to be able to provide fresh, unique, and practical ideas as quickly as possible. This is why folks who want to advance their careers need to develop their creative and innovative thinking skills.

While some people seem to be simply bursting with creativity, others find it a struggle to think outside the box. If you fall into the latter category, it is important to understand that boosting your creative and innovative abilities takes a lot of practice.

Recognizing and honing your own creative potential is a process, which often begins with identifying your best creative environment and working from there. For example, some people need peace and quiet in order to produce creative output, while others thrive on noise and bustle to get their creative juices flowing.

Whatever method you prefer, keep in mind that creative thinking and innovation go together like bread and butter—without one, you cannot effectively harness the other. Having the know-how to unlock these two skills can open new doors to lucrative opportunities in your career and work life.

19. Conflict resolution and negotiation

Success comes from understanding how we behave, as well as how we can influence others. If difficult interactions are necessary, and we approach those conversations with a plan, we will find that we have less difficult people to deal with.

More often than not, we will also have more meaningful and significant conversations. If you want to supercharge your career, you need to learn how to turn difficult situations into opportunities for growth—in short, you’ll need to develop your conflict resolution and negotiation skills.

Now we all know that conflict is a normal part of personal and professional relationships. It’s not possible for everyone to agree about everything all the time, and to do so can squash creativity and innovation.

What is important, then, is to learn how to manage disagreements so that they do not harm relationships. By learning skills to manage conflict, you can approach disagreements with confidence that keeps your personal and professional relationships strong.

One way to manage conflict is by becoming a strong negotiator. Negotiation is a process centered on a discussion that is intended to produce an agreement.

In current business practices, negotiation often leads to compromises, where both sides make concessions to get as close as they can to the best possible solution that is acceptable to both sides. Folks who wish to become excellent negotiators need to improve your communication and relationship-building skills.

20. Persistence

When it all comes down to it, nothing beats good old hard work and persistence. If you really want to start earning big bucks whether as a free agent or as an employee, you must be willing to work harder than ever before, and to continue doing so despite potential problems or setbacks that you might encounter in the future.

In this case, the old adage holds true— winners never quit, quitters never win.


In conclusion

Now that you’ve identified the key skills that you need in order to start earning a six-figure income, it’s time to find out specific ways on how to acquire and develop them. This can include taking advantage of free or paid online or face-to-face courses, volunteering in organizations engaged in the above mentioned industries, or finding your own mentor who can help you on your way to the top.

One tried-and-tested way to develop your skills and gain the necessary experience is by working as a freelance professional. There are a lot of online job marketplaces and community-based platforms that offer ample opportunity for interested individuals.

Having relevant experience as a freelance agent makes your CV more impressive, allows you to hone existing skills, opens up a wider network in your chosen industry, and helps you make a decent amount of money—all of which will contribute to your ultimate goal of earning a six-figure income.

What about you? Can you think of other skills that are indispensable for the modern-day professional? Do you have your own list of tips and tricks on how to make and maintain a six-figure income? Share your thoughts in the comments; we’d love to know what you think.


Author Bio:

Jason Acidre is the Co-founder of Grit and the inbound marketing strategist at SaleHoo. He’s been a digital marketing consultant for several highly-valued startups and enterprise brands in the US, UK and Australia since 2010. You can follow him on Twitter @jasonacidre.

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