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Last updated on 4/28/21

Define a skill

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What is your ‘skills capital’?

Just as you need capital to start a business, you need to have personal capital to launch your career! Before you begin your job search, it is vital to take stock of the professional skills you have acquired over the course of your education, training, internships and previous employment. Doing this groundwork will help you get to know yourself and underpin potential career plans.

In this course, we will examine exactly what a skill is and help you identify the skills you have learnt from your various experiences. Whatever our backgrounds, we all have skills that range from being able to answer the phone in a foreign language to writing a speech or repairing a bicycle. Identifying and analysing these will help further define your career plan. It will also be extremely useful when you begin contacting potential employers or recruitment agencies. Let’s get started!

Being able to identify your skills and qualities is a necessary step in defining your career plan. You should be able to list, explain and correlate them to your personal experience and achievements.

This phase of identification is essential. Your qualities and skills will determine the professional path taken, as they are the key elements most likely to attract the attention of potential employers and recruitment agencies.

Every career plan is unique; your skills and qualities will always be different from someone else’s! Not to mention that this all evolves from year to year: your skill set changes, you refine your qualities, and your career plan will shift. This is what we mean when we say professional development.

What is a skill?

Skills are often talked about in everyday language. They consist of knowledge (understanding), expertise (know-how, or mastery of operational and observable techniques) and social skills (behavioural qualities in professional situations).

A skill may be defined as a combination of knowledge, expertise, and social skills put into practice in any given context, the results of which can be assessed through proof. A skill demonstrates what you can do and accomplish in a professional setting. Skills can, for example, be determining factors in your job responsibilities, the role you play in a social setting and the salary you earn.

Let’s take a closer look at what will help a potential employer or recruitment agency assess your skills!

Your knowledge

Over the course of the years, you have collected enormous amounts of information from the people you have met, your education and your experiences. Your knowledge is the understanding that develops from all of this information.

The real question here is to decide what knowledge is transferable to a professional environment.

For example, the legal profession requires a great deal of knowledge about the code of law and the medical profession, a thorough understanding of the human body. And, of course, many jobs across all sectors require at least a basic knowledge of a range of computer programs.

Your expertise

Your expertise, or know-how, is a practical and technical knowledge that you can use to perform a task or action or complete a project.

We also talk about hard-skills, as these skills produce concrete results that can be observed and are therefore easier to evaluate! For example, a web developer knows how to create a website; a baker will be able to make bread; a nurse can give an injection, etc.

Ask yourself a simple question:

What do I know how to do?

Of course, your expertise is constantly improving because each experience increases your proficiency and thus your expertise.

Your social skills

These are your interpersonal soft skills.

What exactly are 'soft skills' and are they actually that important?

Soft skills are the strengths you demonstrate in the form of attitudes, reactions and behaviour in a professional situation. They are the abilities that come together to build your social and behavioural intelligence. What do we need to know in order to function and thrive in teams and networks of professionals?

Companies increasingly refer to collective intelligence: understanding, inventing, working, problem- solving and transferring skills collectively, in project groups or partnerships. Therefore, the abilities to communicatecooperate and collaborate become essential.

Nowadays we also talk about 21st-century skills, skills that are essential for adjusting to new business models, knowledge transfer and the transformation of what it means to be a professional. In today’s fast- paced world, you might have several jobs during the course of a single career and regularly change working methods and tools. The ability to learn and adapt to change are without a doubt key success factors. Curiosity, being bold, daring to experiment and having self-confidence are all qualities worth nurturing as they will be appreciated by many potential employers or recruitment agencies.

Social skills will reflect behavioural qualities that you have developed and are able to apply to a professional situation. These skills add up to your ability to adapt to different contexts by drawing on the right qualities at the right time to be as effective and efficient as possible.

One way to explore and describe these qualities is to simply make a list of positive adjectives:

Confident

Adaptable

Responsive

Optimistic

Inventive

Communicative

Trustworthy

Energetic

Cooperative   

Tolerant

Organised

Conscientious

Responsible    

Focused

Diplomatic    

Creative

Entrepreneurial

Intuitive

Supportive

Decisive

Flexible

Productive

Dependable 

Courteous 

Open-minded

Identify your qualities

We’re all familiar with that famous interview question: “Tell me about your qualities and your flaws”, but it’s not easy to answer!

Let’s try and answer it now, before you’re in an interview with potential employers or recruitment agencies, and find yourself having to improvise!

Exercise

  1. Select 5-10 qualities from the list above, or think of others, which characterise you best.

  2. Link these qualities to specific situations where you have been able to demonstrate them.

To help you, think about any feedback you may have received from teachers, relatives, friends, employers, etc. 

Another idea is to complete a personality or psychological type questionnaire, such as these ones based on the Big-5 model of personality or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, to give you an idea of your natural qualities as a starting place.

How to best describe a skill?

Now you know what a skill is, how can you describe it so that it can be easily understood and attractive to potential employers/recruitment agencies?

  1. A simple way of describing a skill consists of beginning your sentence with a phrase like ‘I can’.

  2. Then add an action verb. Here’s a list of examples to help you find some inspiration.

  3. Then choose the object. As soon as you use an action verb, it becomes easy to determine the object since it answers the question: "What are you doing?" For example: managing a project, designing a website, chairing a meeting.

  4. Finally, add an element of context. It will provide specifics that go beyond generalities. What type of object? To do what? In what situation? 

Why is context important?

The context determines the circumstances in which you are able to act skilfully.

The same job can be done in different environments that will vary according to:

  • company size

  • sector of activity

  • your level of responsibility

  • type of projects, customers, management

  • country, etc.

It’s important to say in what context you can do this action and use your skill.

Context also helps highlight the skill and shows your level of ability.

Example:

'I can'

Action verb

Object

Context

I can

lead

diversity workshops

for large corporations.

How can I demonstrate my skills?

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; in other words, a professional situation you experienced and in which you used your mastery.

In some instances, you might be asked to prove or illustrate your skills by means of concrete evidence. These are known as ‘examples of proof’.

You will have to think about these questions in advance:

  • When did you use this skill?

  • In what specific situation?

  • What were the results and goals achieved?

For some professions, it will be worth creating a portfolio of your work and achievements. You can choose to include a diploma or certificate, a dissertation, videos, a website you created, etc. Of course, the content should always be related to your skills!

Websites such as Wordpress or Weebly let you create a permanently accessible online ePortfolio.

Summary

  • Skills can be expressed as knowledge (understanding), expertise or know-how (technical & practical mastery), and social skills (behavioural intelligence).

  • Social, or soft, skills will reflect behavioural qualities that you should know how to use in a professional situation.

  • A skill will be expressed by a sentence consisting of: I can + action verb + object + context.

  • You must be able to link a skill to a specific experience, such as a professional situation you encountered, and you should be able to prove it with concrete evidence.

Be in no doubt about it; you have skills!

However, you will need to take the time to review your experiences, background, education and achievements.  It’s crucial to take stock like this if you are to be both accurate and comprehensive, and to know how to explain clearly to potential employers and recruitment agencies exactly why you are qualified for the job.

In the next chapter, we'll take you through this process!

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement