One way to think about skills is to consider yourself a product and employers as consumers. What skills are going to be of use in a particular job or company? What product attributes do you bring to the table? What problem can you solve for an employer?
Think hard about your career, life and interests and then examine the lists we've created in the following pages to guide you in your skill-identifying journey.
Take a good look at yourself. Consider your personality. Good at self-management? Are you punctual, dependable, creative, independent, flexible and ambitious? Good for you. You just listed six skills.
Work in an office on a computer? That's not just one skill, it's many: typing, writing, editing and meeting deadlines. A computer programmer troubleshooting a network failure uses proofreading skills to find errors in computer codes. A cook uses slicing and cleaning skills to prepare vegetables. To complete tasks in the course of our daily lives, we balance checking accounts, manage budgets, shop and drive.
Those are skills.
Some of those skills are employed at jobs, others in life. Some can be used in resumes and during interviews. Others will be irrelevant. Blowing square bubbles and telling jokes are great party antics, but not so great for serious job interviews unless, of course, you're applying to a comedy troupe or the circus. Understanding skills improves your ability to identify them.
Job skills are specific to a job or occupation. An administrative assistant is skilled in typing, word processing, filing, answering telephones and drafting correspondence. An accountant's skills include calculating accounts receivable and accounts payable, preparing taxes and using computer accounting programs. A marketer's skills revolve around working with creative teams, developing plans for product rollouts, presenting work in front of clients, working with various vendors and meeting deadlines.
Behind most skills lies a body of knowledge. A graphic designer knows how to create documents using Adobe's InDesign from files created in Microsoft Word. A cook knows about cooking techniques such as basting or baking. An auto mechanic is trained to fix problems in cars from eight or 10 manufacturers or more.
Job skills do not always come from employment. They may be developed through education, hobbies, community activities and life experiences. Common activities such as shopping, managing finances, leading a committee at a school, volunteering or teaching are activities that involve potential job skills.
Job skills are important to employers because they are often looking for individuals with specific talents. They may want someone who is a team player, learns fast, handles little structure, loves challenges, enjoys pursuing goals and has an agreeable personality. They may also want that same individual to have specific skills, such as working with particular software programs or the ability to drive a certain class of vehicle or operate a piece of machinery. Mix those skills together for the right employer and you will find yourself employed.
Many talents can be applied to a variety of activities. They can transfer from one activity to another. Self-management ability and job-specific skills are transferable. If you can operate a drill press, you have skills to operate other types of machinery. If you can balance a personal bank account, you have the math aptitude to balance a business account. If you coordinate events, lead meetings, participate on teams or get involved in community activities, you have several leadership competencies that could transfer to a job.
In essence, transferable skills are proficiencies developed in a profession, previous employment or volunteer or hobby activities. For job seekers who want to try a different career, transferable skills will be a big deal on their resumes because their work histories alone might not convince employers they can flourish in a new environment. The transferable skills they delineate on their resumes will have to offer a compelling argument for their consideration.
That makes transferable skills all the more important for many reasons. Many job seekers are unlikely to find a job identical to their previous employment. Therefore, carefully evaluating how your skills transfer into other opportunities is critical. People seeking their first job, making a major career change or returning to employment after a long absence will mostly use transferable skills in their job search.
These are skills you use day-to-day to get along with others. They are the skills that make you unique. Examples of self-management skills are sincerity, reliability, tactfulness, patience, flexibility, timeliness and tolerance. Alongside those skills are motivation, persistence, drive and cooperation.
Do not underestimate self-management skills, especially if they show motivation and a good work attitude. These abilities are especially important for people who are seeking their first job or returning to employment after an absence.
Are you able to manage your own emotions and instinctively understand or detect those of colleagues, friends and acquaintances? You may be blessed with emotional intelligence, another discipline in the evolving skills toolset that has gained traction ever since Daniel Goleman put the term on the map in his bestselling 1995 book "Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ."
Defining it isn't all that easy. Peter Salovey and John Mayer, two leading experts on emotional intelligence who have authored several books on the topic, put it this way: "We define emotional intelligence as the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one's own and others' feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions."
Emotional intelligence isn't just essential in the workplace. It's also an important trait to possess during the job hunt, especially when setbacks occur. Being able to find the energy to send out one more resume, make one more call, hit that networking meeting another time speaks not only to persistence but to the ability to manage your own emotions and not be defeated by them. Job hunting can be incredibly difficult, and staying positive and engaged in the process can be daunting. Yet it is the key to your success. And it requires emotional intelligence.