Career Skills

Introduction to Career Skills by Brian Mooney

You might be surprised to know that you already have many of the skills which are essential for employment in the modern workplace.

Just about all occupations are characterised by a particular set of skills. We often associate the idea of skills to specific technical activities, like fine hand-eye coordination, or problem solving. However, there are a range of life skills which are equally important, and often overlooked.

We all have valuable skills we may be unaware of. Skill based self assessments help us to focus on those skills we may have, and identify the skills we may be weak in.

These are not the specific knowledge based skills you would learn during an apprenticeship, in college or at work, but the ‘transferable skills’ which we all need to use when we work with other people, on projects or even by ourselves. You develop these skills simply from being involved in everyday activities. They are not formally ‘taught’ in school, but they may develop there, at home, or through your hobbies, activities, and friendships.

The skills we are talking about are quite ordinary, that’s why we don’t usually notice them. These ‘ordinary’ skills are so taken for granted that we seldom make any effort to improve or develop them. Terms such as ‘communication skills’, ‘people skills’ and ‘organisation skills’ are just some of the many skills which most people develop without even knowing about it.

Why are they important?
Lets put it this way. Two equally qualified people have applied for a job as a scientist. At the job interview, each is asked if they think that they would be good at the job. The first person answers with a simple “yes”, the second one also answers “yes”, and continues to discuss why they think they would be good. Both are well qualified for the job, but the second candidate has better ‘communication skills’, i.e. is simply better able to communicate when asked for information. Both may have honours degrees; but the better developed ‘ordinary’ skill of communication gives the edge to the second candidate.

Chances are, the first candidate thought that having the right qualification was all that was needed to get the job. Big mistake! It’s safe to assume that for every job you apply for, there will also be several others who will have the same or better qualifications. So it is not necessarily the qualifications that win the job contract! More often, it is the ‘ordinary’ skills, and the evidence that you have developed them that counts.

Personal Skills

Personal skills are those concerned with how people manage and express themselves. They are revealed in those attitudes and behaviours people bring to their work, study and daily activities.

Personal management skills include:

  • positive attitudes and behaviours (e.g. taking initiative and doing your fair share of the work)
  • strong sense of responsibility (e.g. setting goals and priorities; fulfills obligations; can be relied upon)
  • adaptability (e.g. carrying out multiple tasks or projects; being innovative and resourceful; being open and responsive to change)
  • an interest in lifelong learning

People with well developed Personal skills are easier to work with and contribute towards a productive and effecient environment. Consider the following:

With whom would you rather work?

 Someone Who...

 Someone Who...

deals honestly with you; says directly what s/he thinks or feels and listens to what you have to say says one thing to your face and another behind your back
behaves in a consistent manner; can be relied upon to be courteous and professional is moody and withdrawn one day and cheerful and friendly the next
is able to balance her/his personal and work life is a workaholic , unable to care or talk about anything except work
is open to your feedback, makes sure s/he understands and works with you to try to resolve the problem gets defensive if you try to give her/him feedback, dismisses what you have to say, and refuses to acknowledge that there is a problem
is flexible and willing to adapt or make changes for the good of the team or organization refuses to consider change; sticks rigidly to the established routines, rules and expectations
is accountable for her/his actions; admits to having made a mistake blames others for or covers up her/his mistakes
recognises your contributions and strengths, both privately and in the group mentions only your weaknesses and problems, both privately and in the group
encourages you, listens to, supports and builds on your ideas finds fault with all your suggestions, explaining why they won’t work

Examples of Personal Skills:

Learning skills Seeks and willingly takes opportunities to learn. Shows interest in personal learning and development. Looks for feedback to improve understanding.
Adaptability Adapts easily to new challenges and shows openness to new ways of doing things.
Effective at changing plans or actions to deal with changing situations.
Goal setting Shows the ability to make a decision about what is wanted, and determine when it is to be achieved. Stays committed to the goal, and deals with setbacks realistically.
Initiative Demonstrates ability to take the initiative in a situation. Shows inclination to find opportunities to make decisions or influence events.
Independence Able to perform tasks effectively with minimum help or approval, or without direct supervision.
Motivation Shows the drive to succeed and excel at tasks. Shows confidence in abilities and expects to succeed at all tasks agreed on.
Dependability Is reliable, responsible and dependable in fulfilling duties. Carefully checks work to ensure all details have been considered.
Professionalism Remains calm and self-controlled under stressful situations. Works to deliver the best interests of the organisation at all times, and maintains appropriate dress code.

Task Skills

Task skills are a range of general skills that are important in order to be able to successfully complete many common tasks found in most work environments. They refer to general situations only - and are to be distinguished from the more occupation specific skills that come from specialist training.

Few jobs exist that would not benefit from a good level of competency in the categories below. Many of these skills can be improved by specific training, or through seeking out opportunities that would require you to gain more experience of the task.

It is reasonable to assume that employers will favor people who can demonstrate successful achievements in these areas.

Examples of Task Skills:

Planning / Organising Creates clear goals, identifies and finds the resources (e.g. time, people, materials) needed to achieve them, and schedules tasks so that work is completed on time.
Time management Takes the time to organise events and tasks carefully so as to use time efficiently. Uses a diary/planner to ensure tasks are undertaken
Practical skills Uses equipment, tools or technology effectively. Easily follows instructions and shows willingness to use whatever tools or technology is required.
Computer skills Confidently uses a computer to write documents, browse the internet or use email programs. Can save files, locate them efficiently and print them.
Problem solving Shows interest in finding the cause of problems, looks for and chooses effective solutions and takes the necessary action to resolve them.
Business awareness Shows understanding of the main business activities of the company/organisation. Has a good sense of the business opportunities available, and the primary competitors.
Customer focus Shows understanding and concern for customers’ needs, is helpful and friendly to them, and deals effectively with any questions or complaints they may have.

People Skills

People Skills (or Social skills) are most often thought of as a set of skills that allow us to communicate, relate and socialise with others. People skills include both verbal and nonverbal forms of communication. They often are the way others determine our status, consider us as potential friends or mates, and consider us for employment or promotions in the workplace. The opposite of good People skills is social ineptitude, which is an inability to use the defined set of social skills that would make one integrate and get on well with others.

People skills are both verbal and nonverbal. Verbal social skills include being able to determine the appropriate thing to say at the appropriate time, being able to communicate in ways that are engaging, have a range of vocal tone and quality, and being able to speak in an educated but reasonably understandable manner.

People with good verbal social skills are thought to speak with a clear voice, have inflection, speak appropriately to a situation, and have confidence in their voice. Poor verbal skills might be read as having a monotonal voice, saying the wrong thing, speaking too softly to be heard or too loudly to be tolerated, or simply speaking on boring topics. The person who can only address one topic is thought to have poor social skills.

The other aspect of social skills is nonverbal. Body language, standing up straight, making eye contact, making appropriate gestures, leaning toward the person one is speaking to, smiling appropriately, and keeping the body open can all define good nonverbal people skills. It should be noted that these things can be overdone. Gestures can be too dramatic, people who smile too much may not be trusted, and leaning too far forward into someone else’s personal space may be considered rude.

In addition, the person with good people skills listens well. Nodding of the head, the occasional quick comment, and clearly taking in someone else’s communications is valuable. People don’t simply wish to be talked to; they want to be talked with. A sense that both communicators are taking equal part in a conversation demonstrates advanced social skills.

Though People skills can be learned, some people seem to have an innate sense of good social skills. Others may struggle because of communication disabilities. For example, those with autism, nonverbal learning disorders and Asperger’s all have an extremely hard time interpreting voice inflection, sarcasm, and body language. They also may have difficulty using voice inflection or sarcasm, and their body language may poorly communicate with others.

Those with social anxiety disorders may be challenged by feelings of panic when in certain social situations that make putting social skills to work very problematic. Though many can conquer social anxiety, those with known language disorders often face an uphill battle in having relationships and learning to be judged by their inner qualities, rather than by their lack of what the culture defines as people skills.

Examples of People Skills:

Sensitivity to others Shows ability to maintain a deep interest in the concerns and feeling of others. Inclined to find ways to help people.
Insight into others Shows an understanding of what makes people do what they do, and tolerance of the actions of others. Good at reading the moods of others.
Openness to others Is open to, and communicates with people at all levels. Inclined to share personal experiences and trust people.
Respect Shows consideration for the feelings, needs, thoughts, wishes and preferences of others (including other cultures and races).
Speaking / Presenting Presents information clearly and confidently to other individuals or groups. Maintains good eye contact and keeps the attention of an audience or individual.
Active listening Pays full attention to what other people are saying, takes time to understand the points being made, asks questions as needed, and does not interrupt inappropriately.
Conversation Speaks clearly and listens attentively. Attends to other people, not to themselves. Seeks clarification where necessary and attends to body language appropriately.
Persuasion Shows ability to influence peoples beliefs and actions. Shows ability to win people’s cooperation and support for ideas or activities.
Team membership Works easily with groups of people and shows loyalty and commitment to the teams’ objectives. Attends to each member’s views equally.
Team participation Openly expresses views and opinions within a group. Shows willingness to take on tasks and responsibilities as appropriate to one’s experience.
Leadership Shows the ability to communicate a vision or goal to others and lead them towards achieving it. Pushes for action and results, and wins the support and help of others.