As the new year begins, we're seeing a small sparkle of optimism about the recovering economy: although growth is slow, any growth is better than decline. Still, hiring is projected to be conservative for the near future. Whether you're one of the nearly 15 million unemployed Americans or you're simply determined to keep growing your career or business, having in-demand job skills is crucial. And 2011 is seeing the rise of some new job skills

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Versatile skills found in high-growth job paths
USNewsUniversityDirectory.com recently published "5 Can't-Miss Ways to Get Noticed and Hired in 2011," in its Fall 2010 University Alliance catalog. The article showcased these five high-growth career paths for 2011:

  • Project management
  • Six Sigma
  • Internet marketing
  • Contract management
  • Human resources

Project-management skills help any career
Although you may not be interested in or ready to earn an MBA or another degree and transition to one of these high-growth fields, the versatile skills in these areas have similar components and are useful to most careers, says executive coach and consultant Khatun Huber, owner of New York City's Executive Stripes. "When you really break [these careers' skill sets] down, they are all teaching you the same thing: how to apply cohesive systems to what you're doing. It's actually hard to think of something that project management wouldn't help you with."

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Project management, explains Huber, involves planning, budgeting, organization, managing resources, implementation, setting goals and objectives, and deadlines. Even Six Sigma, which Huber describes as "hardball" and "intensive" in its statistical approach to solving process problems, can be a great skill set to develop. "[Six Sigma] teaches you how to define a problem, how to measure it, how to analyze it, how to improve it, and how to anticipate obstacles."

Whether you're an entrepreneur or working for an organization that's a few employees down, you're probably wearing more hats than you used to. Huber says that people need additional skills to learn how to manage the transition from a system in which one business division was exclusively responsible for a particular business need, such as contract management or human resources, to a global view in which the big picture is the responsibility of every person. "It's a very different mindset," she explained.

Individual or certificate courses--online and in classrooms--are available in each of these areas, but you might walk away with more than just job skills. "A lot of people go into these courses to meet like-minded people, to meet contacts," says Huber.

Another must-have job skill for the 2011 economy
The skill that will benefit you most in 2011--particularly if you're job hunting--is a bit of a mind-boggler: you need to learn how people think and respond. "It would benefit people to study psychology. Thinking about the economy, people going into interviews are really nervous and are desperate," says Huber, who thinks that a study of psychology could help you not only become more comfortable with the interview process and hidden workplace expectations, but also figure out what the right job for you is.

Skills you don't have to pay for
Don't underestimate the likability factor, cautions Huber, who describes a friend who is absolutely certain he was offered a job because the book in his bag sparked a conversation with the company CEO. "People given two candidates who are just as well qualified--they'll take the one they like the best," she says.

(For more tips on upping your likability, see "The Art of Persuasion in Your Job Search.")

Whether you're actively job hunting or simply interested in shoring up your skills to stay competitive, the best skills for 2011 are those that you are both useful and versatile. "As many skills as you can have in your back pocket, the better. You're trying to make yourself stand out from the other 200 people looking for that job," says Huber. "In this economy, all these skills are great--contract management, project management, Internet marketing--but there's stuff you don't have to pay a lot of money for: doing your due diligence, positioning and communicating, and asking intelligent questions. You know, show up dressed professionally and on time, and use the manners your mother taught you."

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