One of the hardest parts of applying for jobs is knowing how translate all the brilliant things you know and have done into a language employers will understand. This language is the language of “skills”.

What are Skills?

“Skills” is just a word used to describe the things you know and are able to do.

They will fit into one of two categories, “Hard Skills” or “Soft Skills”:

Hard skills are more practical things that you can do like speaking a foreign language or using Microsoft Excel. You may have a qualification to show that you have a particular hard skill.

“Soft Skills” are less solid. You will not have studied to gain a soft skill but may have picked it up through your time at school or work. Soft skills are things like being able to talk to customers, being organised or being on time.

Bored professional man in glasses with the technical skills, people skills, communication skills etc, etc. on the image

Image Credit: Fox Searchlight/

What Skills do I Need?

Below is a list of the most commonly asked for skills along with an explanation of what they really mean:

Communication Skills (Soft Skill)

Having good communication skills means that you are good at getting information across to other people. This might be through a letter, a blog post or any other form of writing (written communication skills), or through a conversation or presentation (oral communication skills).

Attention to Detail (Soft Skill)

This skill is fairly self explanatory but what it means in a work environment is that you take care of your work. This may mean anything from checking carefully for typos and grammar mistakes in letters to making complicated cocktails.

Problem Solving (Soft Skill)

This is one of those skills that may seem completely meaningless. What does being a good problem solver entail? When employers ask for this, what they really mean is that they want an employee that can work well in a crisis. They want someone able to work on their own and who won’t get flustered when they have to make decisions.

Computer Skills (Hard Skill)

This skill is fairly self-evident. It is important to note though that having “good computer skills” will normally mean understanding all Microsoft Office programmes, knowing how to create spreadsheets and presentations, and probably having one or two pieces of more specialist knowledge, such as how to use Wordpress or how to use databases.  But you should know that you don’t have to be a computer whiz to have “computer skills”.

Team Work (Soft Skill)

Most jobs involve working with other people so employers want to know that employees can work well in a team. This means they can take orders and get along with people and also that they are happy to do some of the more menial and supportive work, rather than trying to always steal the limelight.

Working Independently (Soft Skill)

This just means that once told how to do something you are capable of getting on with it on your own and that if given your own project you could manage your workload yourself without having to be constantly reminded to get on with things.

Leadership Skills (Soft Skill)

This means that you can take care of your own work and also the work of others. Employers asking for leadership skills want someone who can command respect and organise a team. 

Organisational Skills (Soft Skill)

This means that you can get yourself to places on time. You know what work you have done, what needs to be done and when and how to juggle your time. Organisational skills can be evidenced by the number of activities you might be involved in, along with any outside responsibilities you might have. 

Interpersonal Skills (Soft Skill)

It is quite hard to pin-point whether or not you have “interpersonal skills” but basically, all this means that you are likeable. Do people get on with you or do you rub them up the wrong way? This is just an employer's way of asking, 'are you nice and are you friendly?'

Self-Motivation/ Self-Starter (Soft Skill)

Loads of job advertisements ask for “self-starters” and to most people this means very little. What they are actually asking for is someone who will get out of bed in the morning, come in smiling and get their work done without being asked, someone who will get the job done and who is motivated enough to do it well.

Foreign Language Skills (Hard Skill)

There aren’t a huge number of jobs that will specifically ask for language skills but for some jobs, particularly those in the service industry, even having a conversational level of a foreign language could be useful.

How Can I Get Skills?

The first thing to know is that you probably already have a large number of the skills above just from having been to school, taking up some responsibilities for example looking after a parent or child, and any other previous jobs you might have had. Going to school everyday will have taught you a number of soft skills such as organisational skills, interpersonal skills, communication skills, attention to detail and the ability to work independently .This is aside from the hard skills like computer skills and language skills that you will have learnt in lessons. 

Your hobbies and responsibilities will also have given you skills without you even realising. For example, being a member of a sports team, a band or a theatre production can teach you to work well in a team, to organise your time, to communicate and to get along with people. Doing a hobby on your own like running or blogging can also show that you are motivated and a “self-starter”. Responsibilities such as looking after family members can demonstrate that you are flexible with your time, and can work independently. Hobbies can also give you hard skills. For example, blogging or using social media gives you vital computer skills that are valued by employers. Of course, many of the skills valued by employers can come from work experience but they don’t have to. Lots of skills are transferable.

Two young people from different teams playing hockey

Image Credit: jbarcena/

How to Boost your Skills:

If you still don’t think you have enough skills once you have considered those you have gained from school, hobbies or responsibilities, you don’t need to worry. There are loads of ways to boost the number of skills you have.

Taking up a new hobby or getting a part-time job can provide you with plenty of transferable skills. Volunteering is also a good way to build up skills in a work-like environment, and also gives you the opportunity to try an industry you’ve mapped out for your future career, such as social work. 

Nowadays, so-called ‘functional skills’ are vital, meaning that you can use maths, English and IT in the workplace, and if you are not up to scratch, there are plenty of ways you can gain these vital qualifications to boost your CV. Most employers ask for a minimum of GCSE qualifications or equivalent in English and maths, and as a learner the opportunity to undertake these qualifications as an adult is normally free. For more information please see our Literacy Skills page. 

To improve your skills, home in on those you have and those you think you need. It might be that you’re not quite sure what skills you are missing, but you start going to interviews and find that their feedback suggests that you are lacking e.g. communication skills. To gain the job that you really want you can then improve on this by volunteering in a customer facing role, for example in a charity shop. This might only be for a couple of hours a week, but explaining your story when you go to your next interview will show that you are determined and a self-starter - further valuable assets to an employer. 

How to Use your Skills:

Once you have worked out which skills you have, you need to use them to your advantage in your CV, cover letters and interviews. It is never a good idea to mention having a skill without showing how you learnt it or how you have used it. Many job advertisements will ask for candidates with specific skills. In your interview or cover letter, mention those skills that you have, that relate to the job. Then, show how you gained them or show some evidence that you have them. 

For example, just saying "I have good communication skills" is not enough. You could either say "I have good communication skills, which I learnt while working in a local bar", or "I have good communications skills, as is shown by my A grade in English GCSE". 

Now you know what skills you have, see how you can use them in your CVs, Cover Letters and Interviews.

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