Before you begin your job search, it is absolutely vital to take stock of the professional skills you have acquired over the course of your different training courses and/or studies, internships or seasonal work experience. Doing this groundwork will help you get to know yourself better and underpin your career plans.
In this course, we will examine what exactly a skill is, and help you to identify the skills you have learnt from your different experiences. Whatever our backgrounds, we all have skills, from being able to answer the phone in English, to writing a report or repairing a bike ... and we all have our own unique ways of behaving in such and such a situation. Identifying and formalizing this will help you to further define your career plans. It will also be extremely useful when you begin contacting potential employers/recruitment agencies. Let’s get started!
Distinguishing your skills from your qualities
Being able to identify your skills and qualities is a necessary step in defining your career plans. A career plan is unique to each individual. What are the qualities and skills that define what kind of professional you are, and what are the key elements likely to attract the attention of potential employers/recruitment agencies?
What is a skill?
A skill may be defined as a combination of knowledge, expertise and social skills put into practice in a particular context, the results of which can be evaluated by the available evidence or output.
A skill shows what you can do. When you do something, you simultaneously make use of:
Knowledge: the knowledge you have acquired over the course of your educational and professional background and experiences
Expertise or know-how: the implementation of practical knowledge
Social skills: your ability to adapt to different contexts by drawing on the right qualities at the right time
Example: being brave is a quality / knowing how to put that bravery to use on a difficult project is a social skill
This is proof of a skill in use or in action.
Your qualities however, whether these reinforce your skills, are an inherent part of your personality. They are a part of you, but are not enough to show what you can do. To tell a potential employer that you're motivated gives them a clue as to your personality, but says nothing about what you are capable of achieving.
Identify your qualities
We’re all familiar with that famous little interview question: ‘Tell me about three of your qualities and three of your flaws’.
In this course, we focus on skills, but a potential employer will also pay careful attention to your qualities. Here’s a little exercise to help you identify them.
Exercise: using this list of qualities, select the 5 to 10 qualities that resemble you the most. To help you in your selection, think about the feedback you may have had from teachers, parents, friends, employers, etc.
Learn how best to describe your skills
Now you know what a skill is, how can you describe it in such a way that it can be easily understood and attractive to potential employers/recruitment agencies?
Continue reading below to find out more…
A simple way of describing a skill consists in beginning your sentence with a phrase like ‘I can’, then adding a verb, then the object, and finally refer to the context in order to provide your description with specifics, so that it is easily understandable to an interviewer.
‘I can present a report in a general assembly in front of a large group’.
Why is the context so important?
The context determines the circumstances in which you are capable of acting competently.
Let’s take a second example (again making use of the same structure above):
I can > verb > object > context
Here we can clearly see how the context shows what you are capable of doing. In the first example, we understand that you are most likely a good public speaker and that you feel comfortable talking in front of a large audience. In the second example, we can see that you are more than likely to have a good knowledge of activity reports, and a good level of Spanish.
Let’s take a last example:
I can > verb > object > context
In this example, the context highlights your skill: naturally, it would be much easier to have people from the same cultural background working together. The context here allows you to showcase the specific skill.
To find out if you have described a skill in a clear, effective fashion, you should be able to connect it to a specific experience, a professional situation you experienced, or one in which you put your expertise to work.
How can I demonstrate my skills?
In some instances, you might be asked to demonstrate or illustrate your skills by means of concrete evidence. Examples of ‘proof’ are a diploma or certificate, a thesis, an Internet site you created yourself, etc. You can showcase these in an e-portfolio. To go back to the examples cited above, for the first example, you could show the activity report or the video of the presentation, if there is one. For the last scenario, you could show the collaborative output or result produced by the group.
Identify your skills
Here, the aim is to enable you to identify your skills and strengths with regard to a professional project, in order to help you valorise your profile. Such an activity will also allow you to identify your shortcomings in terms of skills sets and help you establish a plan of action in order to improve these.
We suggest you follow the method below, step-by-step, and stack the odds in your favour!
List your personal and professional experiences
Think back over all of your previous personal and professional experiences. These have allowed you to learn more about a particular activity area, a profession, a working method, a product, etc., and to develop your skills.
Below are some examples of experiences you may have had:
Student jobs, summer jobs
Short/long internships, end-of-course internship
Experiences linked to student life (collective projects, tutoring work, etc.)
Travel, leisure and cultural activities, etc.
The table below gives examples of various experiences you might have had:
List of experiences
Cultural and leisure activities
Exercise: Use this example as a model. Click here to fill out the chart with your own experiences and examples.
To go one step further, we recommend you have a look at the e-portfolio course.
Identify experience-based skills
Have a look again at the table where you listed all of your different experiences and now, identify for each of them, the skills that you developed or acquired.
In order to determine which skills you developed, you should work in the following way:
Begin your sentence with ‘following this experience, I am able to / I’ve learnt to’ + verb + object + context: ‘in this place, in these circumstances, in this period,’ + evidence of the skill: ‘because I had to do / I did…’
Here is a list of some of the action verbs you should be using.
Exercise: For each of your experiences, try to determine 3 or 4 skills developed. Use the examples from the table below to help you complete the template.
List of experiences
Exemples of skills developed
Output/Concrete proof of evidence of these skills
Experience as an admin assistant:
The Excel charts produced, for example…
The internship report describing your various activities
Red Cross experience:
First Aid Certificate
Review your skills
Listing and analysing your experiences should have allowed you to think about your skills.
You might have been able to identify 3-4 skills per experience. You should now have a list of between 6 and 20 different skills.
Assess your skills
You may already know what career you would like to have in the future, or maybe not…
That doesn’t matter here: as you fill out the sheets and tables and identify your skills, you should eventually see the professions or activity areas to which you are best suited.
In either case, it is important for you now to take stock of your skills, assessing your level of proficiency (your level of efficiency and confidence in performing set tasks) for each one of them.
Doing this exercise will allow you to get to know yourself better and will make it easier to identify the professional path best suited to you.
To help you do this, we recommend you use this table, and have a look back over your list of skills. You can use the example below as a model.
Assessing your skills in such a fashion allows you to better understand your strengths and reveals which areas need improvement.
If you have one or more ideas in terms of what career you would like to have, you can prioritize your skills according to their importance in relation to the careers themselves. As you can imagine, potential employers will certainly be interested in your experience and qualifications, but they will pay particular attention to your skills in order to assess how ‘employable’ you are: these are the key skills relevant to the position you are targeting.
In order to know what key skills are in relation to the career you are aiming for, it is a good idea to have a look at the job descriptions and profiles on the APEC website (careers in the environmental sciences, civil servants in the business and marketing sectors, analysis or R&D, etc.), or other specialized sites like the ENSSIB for those interested in a career as a librarian or archivist, or the portal of Internet-related careers.
Amongst your list of skills, identify those that are particularly important to your chosen future career. You should try and pinpoint 3 to 5 key skills per career choice or choices.
Make use of the job descriptions and profiles available online and ask yourself the following questions:
What skills do I need to achieve my chosen career?
What skills are more important than others?
What skills are less essential or less directly connected to my career choice?
Each career also requires certain qualities:
discretion is essential for a psychologist
a good writing style is essential for a journalist
Don’t forget to list your qualities and prioritize these based on your career plans and goals.
Identify which areas need improving
Now that you have assessed your skills, you should be able to identify your strengths and your weaknesses. In order to make your profile as a job-seeker as attractive as possible, you may need to improve on certain areas.
Based on your career plans, and your interests, you may need to:
obtain the skills required for the job you are targeting
strengthen certain skills that you already have but which need improving for the career goals in mind
How can you do this?
One of the best ways to gain or improve a skill which you have identified as vital to your chosen career, is experience!
Several possible paths are:
Think about taking a course to improve your skills. There are plenty of online courses (MOOC - Massive Open Online Course). Here is an example of the free online MOOC courses on the portal of the higher learning website. At the end of some of these courses, you can even obtain a certificate. Take the time to find out more!
Look for an internship. To help you with this, we recommend you look at the course Making the most of your internship.
Get involved in a club or association.
Look for a student job or temping work in the sector that would allow you to acquire and develop the skills you need.
Other skills are worth exploring too. Why not assess your Microsoft Office skills?
This course was developed with the support of: