(To read the 2020 version, click here)
In May, Fortune released its 64th annual Fortune 500 list, which ranks the top 500 U.S. companies based on revenue. Combined, these companies bring in $12.8 trillion in revenue and make up a staggering two-thirds of the U.S.’s GDP. They also employ over 28 million people worldwide.
Given the massive economic impact of these companies, Emsi wanted to know the top skills they are looking for in their employees. Are there any noteworthy similarities or differences between companies? How do the top skills at these companies compare to the top skills in demand by employers nationally?
To figure this out, we took the top 10 companies on the Fortune 500 and explored which skills they mention most frequently in their job postings:
Top 10 U.S. Companies
This year, Walmart takes the top spot for the sixth year in a row, followed by Exxon Mobil, which has been on the list since it started in 1955. Coming in third is Warren Buffet’s holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, which pushed Apple down one spot into fourth.
Health and medical-related companies hold the next three spots. And then we’ve got Amazon at No. 8, making its first appearance in the top 10. AT&T and General Motors round it out at ninth and tenth.
Top 10 Skills at the Top 10 Companies
To find the top skills, we pulled data from millions of online job postings and compared them by company from 2012-2017. This allows us to see how each company’s in-demand skills have changed over time. Here are a few key findings:
- Management is the No. 1 skill nationwide and is one of the top in-demand skills at each of the top 10 companies.
- Other top skills include: communications, operations, leadership, problem solving, and innovation.
- Many of these skills are considered “soft” skills, but are crucial in keeping huge companies functioning.
Here’s a graphic to show which skills appear most frequently in these top 10 companies’ job postings. As you can see, management appears in every single one of the top 10 companies’ top 10 lists. Management is admittedly an extremely broad category, but it’s still relevant. It includes everything from the management of people, to financial resources, to products and projects, to operations, and more.
Figure 1. The Top Skills at the Top 10 Companies, 2017
Now let’s look at each company individually and see what they are prioritizing.
Over the past few years we have seen a considerable increase in Walmart’s job postings, with a particularly large jump in 2017. Unsurprisingly, the top three skills the retail giant is looking for are customer service, sales, and merchandising. What other skills are most needed?
Here are the top 10 skills for Walmart:
- Customer service
- Asset protection
- Leadership ethics
Figure 2. Walmart Skills Over Time
The Sankey (or flow) diagram above shows how Walmart adjusted the skills listed in its job postings between 2012 and 2017. This can often be an interesting look at how companies and their employees evolve. In Walmart’s case, the company is clearly posting more jobs, and becoming more sales and customer service-oriented.
It’s also interesting to note the change in Walmart’s prioritization of leadership ethics. It went from being a top three skill from 2012-2015 to No. 8 in 2017.
At Exxon Mobil, operations and management are critical. You’ll also notice a good mix of other soft skills like communications and leadership and hard skills related to the production of Exxon’s key product, namely valves, pumps, troubleshooting, etc.
Here are the top 10 skills for Exxon Mobil:
- Valves (Piping)
- Microsoft Office
- Troubleshooting (Problem solving)
- Oil and gas
Figure 3. Exxon Mobil Skills Over Time
You’ll notice a spike in Exxon Mobil’s job postings in 2015. Lots of the following graphics will include similar spikes or dips in job postings. These can be caused by several things, including the company opening a new location, going on a hiring blitz, backing off said hiring blitz, standardizing how they post for positions so fewer duplicates show up, stabilizing their workforce, etc.
In Exxon Mobil’s case, 2015 marked a year full of unusual postings. Most years, the company’s postings included mostly engineers, lab technicians, maintenance millwrights, etc. But in 2015, Exxon Mobil posted for a lot of technical writers, international lawyers, lab technicians, tax lawyers, and administrative assistants.
Houston was the top location for job postings in 2015, which was also the case in 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2017. But Los Angeles jumped several spots into second place and accounted for a huge increase in job postings in 2015—the same year an explosion rocked an Exxon Mobil refinery near LA.
Also ranked as the fifth most valuable company, Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway dropped to No. 3 this year after reaching a record high of No. 2 last year. The holding company needs a strong mix of sales, service, marketing, and management/HR.
Here are the top 10 skills for Berkshire Hathaway:
- Customer service
- Selling techniques
- Marketing strategies
- Workers’ compensation
Figure 4. Berkshire Hathaway Skills Over Time
Berkshire Hathaway is a bit of an anomaly. The job postings data before 2016 was too sparse to be useful, which is why we only included 2016 and 2017 data. Most of the skills in the 2016 postings are associated with an upsurge in real estate-related postings. This growth and investment in real estate is likely why Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices became the second largest real estate brokerage firm in the U.S. in 2017.
Based on the job postings, management isn’t as much of a priority for Berkshire Hathaway as it is for some of our other top companies. But it is interesting to note the increase in demand for management from 2016 to 2017.
Despite being No. 4 in overall revenue, Apple is the most valuable and profitable company on the Fortune 500 with $48 billion in profits. In fact, the top four most valuable companies are all tech companies: Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, and Amazon. Over time, management has emerged as the top in-demand skill at Apple, along with skills related to the production of Apple products.
Here are the top 10 skills for Apple:
- Problem solving
- C (programming language)
- Apple IOS
- Apple iPhone
Figure 5. Apple Skills Over Time
2015 was a turning point for Apple. They focused their hiring to their headquarters in the San Jose area, and refocused on design and engineering instead of business and sales. In 2015, Apple’s revenue also jumped to $231 billion from $183 billion in 2014.
UnitedHealth Group’s job postings are dominated by management and always have been. And in general, the top six skills have remained largely the same, but the order now favors product-specific skills like Medicare and Medicaid as opposed to innovation and communications.
Here are the top 10 skills for UnitedHealth Group:
- Microsoft Excel
- Managed care
Figure 6. UnitedHealth Group Skills Over Time
Like the other top companies, UHG’s top skills blend skills like management and communications with technical skills specific to the company’s services, like nursing and Medicare.
McKesson is the U.S.’ largest pharmaceutical distributor with over 64,000 employees, so it makes sense that pharmaceuticals would be the second most popular skill. Again, notice how management has been the top skill at the company over the years.
Here are the top 10 skills for McKesson:
- Order processing
- Medical surgical nursing
- Home care
Figure 7. McKesson Skills Over Time
McKesson’s 2015 hiring spike is likely due to the opening of the $105 million proton therapy center that year in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro. McKesson Specialty Health, a business of McKesson Corporation, was one of three healthcare leaders that established the advanced cancer treatment center. In 2015, McKesson hired significantly more accountants, executive assistants, account managers, administrative assistants, customer service representatives, etc.
CVS had a huge year in 2017, including its $68 billion acquisition of health insurer Aetna. It also fully integrated its acquisition of Omnicare, a pharmacy specializing in nursing homes, and all of Target’s pharmacies and clinics. Perhaps this is why innovation quickly became the No. 2 skill.
Here, management continues to be important, but we have also seen rapid growth in service and innovation needs at CVS.
Here are the top 10 skills for CVS Health:
- Customer service
- Inventory management
- Customer relationship management
- Customer satisfaction
Figure 8. CVS Health Skills Over Time
CVS is a good example of why we shouldn’t necessarily associate job postings growth or decline with company growth and decline. While CVS’ number of postings decreased in 2016 and 2017, its annual revenues increased both years. CVS greatly reduced job postings for sales supervisors and lab technicians and instead focused on pharmacy technicians and clerks.
So with CVS, the company didn’t slow its hiring because it wasn’t doing well. Perhaps the company simply stabilized its workforce.
2018 marks Amazon’s debut in the Fortune 500 top 10. This is not surprising as Amazon is the U.S.’s largest digital retailer with sales that have increased by $70 billion over the last two years. Notice the steady increase in posting activity over time, and how management continues to stay atop the list.
Here are the top 10 skills for Amazon:
- Amazon web services
- Java (programming language)
- Software development
- C++ (programming language)
Figure 9. Amazon Skills Over Time
The graphic above indicates steady growth, which is consistent with Amazon’s rapid rise. With all that growth, there is tremendous need for good people to manage it.
Unsurprisingly, the telecommunications conglomerate requires more customer-facing skills than many of the other top companies. But like CVS, AT&T still clearly values management, even if it’s less sought after than sales-related skills.
Here are the top 10 skills for AT&T:
- Customer experience
- Retail sales
- Customer service
- Selling techniques
Figure 10. AT&T Skills Over Time
AT&T’s annual revenue dropped from $163 billion in 2016 to $160 billion in 2017—the same year the company posted the fewest jobs since 2012.
Like Exxon Mobil, GM has been on the Fortune 500 list every year since the list’s inception in 1955. As America’s largest car maker, GM has surprisingly few car-related skills in its top 10. Instead, it’s dominated by management, communications, and operations—much like the other companies in the Top 10. These skills are vital to maintaining production.
Here are the top 10 skills for General Motors:
- Written communication
- Interpersonal skills
- Problem solving
Figure 11. General Motors Skills Over Time
As you can see, GM greatly reduced the number of jobs it posted in 2017 and focused more on written communication and leadership. In 2014, GM posted more jobs and had more revenue ($155 billion) but enjoyed fewer profits ($13.8 billion) than it did in 2017. In 2017, GM posted fewer jobs, had about $10 billion less in revenue, but nearly $6 billion more in profits.
Top 10 Skills Nationwide
Now that we’ve looked at the top 10 skills at the top companies, let’s look at the top 10 skills across all companies in the U.S. You’ll notice a lot of similarities.
Figure 12. The Top 10 Skills Across All U.S. Companies
When we explored the most frequently mentioned skills in jobs postings, we found that management, communications, sales, and customer service showed up the most. So not only are these skills important to the top dogs in the U.S. economy, but they’re also important across the board.
Note: CDL and nursing are likely appearing in the top 10 because of the sheer number of job postings for nurses and truck drivers. For years, there has been an endless nationwide demand for truckers and nurses.
Given the sheer size of the top 10 Fortune 500 companies, it makes sense that skills like management, communication, leadership, operations, and innovation are consistently sought after. After all, these kinds of skills are the glue keeping these giants together.
Whether it’s recent graduates looking to break into the workforce or experienced workers wanting a career shift, management is clearly a critical skill to have. There is massive demand, and it will take you far in just about any industry. From auto manufacturing or healthcare to software and logistics, management is critical.
Soft Skills Matter
Also, notice that these top companies are looking for a lot of soft (or core) skills mixed with hard (or technical) skills. This mirrors the trend we’re seeing in the rest of the market. Yes, these large companies need workers with skills related to their specific products and services. But they also value the skills more commonly associated with the non-STEM degrees.
It’s important not to discount the importance of soft skills like management, communication, leadership, operations, and innovation. If the job postings from these Fortune 500 Top 10 tell us anything, it’s that these skills are timeless, transferable, and valuable.