What’s a skill? Do you have the skills employers look for?

Skills are talents or abilities that you possess. They’re also what employers focus on when considering your application. Bottom line, do you have the skills to do the job?

What’s the difference between hard skills and soft skills? 

Hard skills are very specific, teachable abilities, usually based in fact, easier to measure or quantify and often involve technology or equipment. Examples of hard skills:

  • Speaking a foreign language
  • Writing skills
  • Typing speed, operating office equipment
  • Computer knowledge
  • Machine operation
  • Specific certificates or diplomas in specialty areas

Soft skills, also referred to as “people skills,” involve your ability to interact with others. Examples could include:

  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Motivation
  • Time management
  • Problem solving
  • Working under pressure

Which is more important to employers? 

Hard and soft skills are both important to employers. Many hard skills are industry specific. Accounting graduates should be skilled in Peachtree and QuickBooks accounting software. Culinary arts students can reference their knowledge of sanitation and safety procedures.

But graduates of both programs must develop soft skills, list them on their resumes and be prepared to discuss them in job interviews. Don’t dismiss the importance of soft skills. Your talents won’t matter to a company if you can’t demonstrate the ability to work as part of a team, have a positive attitude and think creatively and critically.

Where do you develop soft skills? 

You have opportunities to practice soft skills every day in school, at work, through community or volunteer involvement and in your own home. Think about it:

  • Students with a strong GPA who also work 30 hours per week develop time management skills and the ability to multi-task and prioritize;
  • Employees in the restaurant industry have customer service and communication skills, can remain calm under pressure and can work both independently or as part of a team;
  • Parents develop organizational, decision-making and conflict resolution skills, in addition to being creative;
  • Call center employees possess listening, phone and problem solving skills;
  • Students who take humanities classes (English, history or anthropology for example) can write, research and think critically;
  • Sales employees have presentation skills and can motivate and negotiate;
  • Volunteer youth sports coaches must have enthusiasm, maturity, patience, and organization.

On your resume and cover letterHow do you show employers you have the skills they’re looking for? 

  • Include a separate skills section on your resume.
  • List skills relevant to the particular position.
  • Organize the skills in order of importance – the job description can help you determine the order.
  • Reiterate skills in your cover letter – provide specific examples showing where you developed them.

During your interview

  • Provide additional specific examples when answering questions.
  • Be prepared for behavioral interview questions, which will focus on prior experiences.
  • When asked about your weaknesses, focus on skills not relevant to the job. Also, explain what you’re doing to improve the skills you lack.
  • Research the company and the position to know what skills the employer values. Focus on these skills during the interview.

With your references

  • Make sure your references can talk about your skills rather than your personality. For this reason, select professional references rather than friends or family.
  • Let your references know about the job and skills the employer is seeking. Doing so helps them better prepare for when the reference call comes.

Take the time to assess what skills you have. Think about job duties, classroom assignments, volunteer experiences – anything where you have performed a task. Examine the tasks to determine what skills you used to accomplish them. A skills checklist can help you get started.