To make the most of your career, you need to focus on the right skills

Without skills, very few people would ever come close to meeting their career goals. Whether you're looking for a job, or you're already employed and trying to keep up with your duties and responsibilities, the skills you possess are vital for success. Unfortunately, many people never really take the time to sit down and think about their skill set and the value that those skills can offer to prospective employers. More to the point, what are skills - and how do you develop and improve them?

In this post, we'll examine those questions in detail and provide some examples of the best skills to put on a resume. We'll also consider some of the best tips you can use to develop your skill set by improving the hard and soft skills you'll need to make a great impression and advance your career.

What are skills?

Skills get a lot of attention from job seekers, especially when they're preparing resumes or practicing for job interviews. But to truly make the most of your job skills, you need to understand them at a more basic level. So, what are skills? Put simply, your skills include all those abilities, competencies, and areas of expertise that you use to perform your duties. They encompass a broad range of abilities and knowledge and can include different types of competencies that help you to add value to your job role.

Skills can also be categorized into two main types: hard skills, that include all those abilities you learn through formal education, on-the-job training, or other avenues of instruction; and soft skills, that you can obtain and enhance over time, through continuous use. Hard skills range from specific job-related competencies to more generic technical abilities like computer expertise. Soft skills encompass everything from the way you think and process information to interpersonal talents that you use as you interact with others.

Resume skills: examples

If you want to fully understand your skills and how they can help you to land a job, or even identify abilities that you need to improve, it's helpful to first understand the different categories of skills that employers may look for in job candidates. To help you in that process, we've identified five broad categories of skills and a host of abilities that fall under each category.

Thinking skills

There are many ways of processing information and making sense of the world. Thinking skills are soft abilities that define how you analyze information, process data and facts, apply reason, and solve problems. We've included several of the most common thinking styles below for your consideration:

  • Analytical thinking

  • Critical thinking

  • Creative thinking

  • Deductive reasoning

  • Inductive reasoning

  • Logical thinking

  • Problem solving

Interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills are incredibly important in business, since employers are always looking for candidates who can communicate and interact with others in a positive way. If your resume qualifications are comparable to another candidate, then soft skills such as these are often the key factor determining who gets the job. Interpersonal skills include a broad array of traits and abilities that help you navigate complex human interactions, function within a team setting, and fit within a company's culture. They include:

  • Verbal and non-verbal communication

  • Teamwork and collaboration

  • Emotional intelligence

  • Active listening

  • Conflict resolution

  • Negotiation

Technical skills

Technical skills include all those abilities involving the use of physical or digital tools. Your specific technical abilities may differ significantly from workers in other industries, due to those industries' distinct needs. In general, however, these are skills that often require at least basic knowledge of mathematics, mechanics, information technology, computer science, and similar technical aptitude. Some examples of technical skills to list on a resume can include:

  • Programming expertise

  • Software proficiency

  • Data analysis

  • Technical writing

  • Digital media

  • Engineering

  • Logistics management

  • Familiarity with POS systems

  • Graphic design

Leadership skills

Leadership abilities include all of those traits and talents that you use to effectively lead and manage other people. Some are acquired through formal education, while others are learned through practice or developed over the course of a lifetime. These essential skills often help to determine the quality of any company's leadership and its ability to enjoy sustained success in the marketplace. Some examples of common leadership skills include:

  • Decision-making

  • The ability to inspire others

  • Team building

  • Negotiation

  • Strategic planning

  • Business acumen

  • Effective delegation

  • Vision

  • Conflict resolution

  • Professionalism

Life skills

Employers also prize useful life skills, since these often help to define a candidate's character and resilience as an employee. Life skills help you to meet challenges in a professional, rational way. Employees with poor life skills often react to events rather than managing problems and overcoming difficulties. Job candidates who possess strong life skills can provide reliable value to any company and may be better positioned to rise to management and leadership positions. These skills can include:

  • Patience

  • Etiquette

  • Empathy

  • Prioritization

  • Time management

  • Punctuality

  • Dedication

  • Focus

  • The ability to provide or handle feedback

  • Accountability

  • Resilience

  • Self-awareness

Tips to help you improve your skills

Career advancement rarely happens by accident. Instead, any serious effort to meet your broader career goals will require a commitment to learning and developing the skills you need to obtain your objectives. Of course, you'll need to have a sound strategy and plan to get the skills you need. To help you with that effort, we've compiled some of the best tips you can use to identify, obtain, and develop abilities that can help you reach your goals.

1.     Take stock of your strengths and weaknesses

Anyone who is serious about their career must be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. After all, without that self-awareness it's almost impossible to know what you need to do to improve your abilities and advance your career. Take the time to sit down and take stock of your skills. What are your strengths? Do you have weaknesses that need to be improved? Are some of your abilities failing to keep pace with changes in your industry?

2.     Identify the skills needed for your career goals

Once you've conducted an analysis of your own abilities, it's time to identify the skills you'll need to achieve your career objectives. One way to do this is to start by reviewing the job description of the position you want to obtain. Take note of any skills that the employer lists as requirements, then compare them to a list of your current abilities. If you see areas that you need to improve, that's where your skill development efforts will need to be focused.

3.     Research your skill development options

Once you've identified which skills you need to learn or improve, the next step is to figure out how you can develop those abilities. Some skills may require you to further your education, either in real-world educational settings or via online learning. Other skills can be improved by participating in workshops, engaging in self-instruction, or by attending seminars and conferences. Many interpersonal and leadership abilities can be cultivated by finding a mentor who can guide you in those areas of development.

4.     Commit to the investment

Make no mistake; developing your skills will require an investment in either time or financial resources - and sometimes both. You'll need to weigh those costs and ensure that you're fully prepared to make that investment in your future. If you're not fully committed before you embark on a mission to bolster your skills, there's a good chance that you'll give up and abandon your broader career goals. You can avoid this by taking the time to compare the costs and potential benefits of skill development before you start that journey. Consider:

  • How much will your skill development cost you in terms of money and time?

  • Will your career goals - including a better job - provide the return you need on that investment?

  • Do you have the family support you need to justify the initial sacrifice of money and time?

  • How much better will your life be once you've acquired these skills and advanced your career?

By asking and answering these types of questions, you can ensure that you're ready for the sacrifices you'll need to make to reach that next level of career success. Be sure to consult with your loved ones too, since they will also be impacted by any decision you make to invest time and money in your own personal skill development.

5.     Create a plan of action

After doing that preliminary work, your next step will be to create a concrete plan of action to develop your needed skills. This plan should include your main goals, short-term objectives that will help you to achieve those broader goals, and detailed strategies for time management, financing, and balancing of your other responsibilities. Oh, and set firm deadlines too. A plan without deadlines is nothing more than a suggested course of action. Deadlines help to keep you focused and on track to achieving your goals.

6.     Monitor your progress and adjust your strategy as needed

The final element of any plan involves continual monitoring and assessment to ensure that the strategy remains on the right track. You may want to schedule regular check-ins to review your progress, identify unexpected challenges, and adjust whenever the circumstances call for a deviation from the plan. The aim here should be to ensure that you continue to make consistent progress toward your goals.

Finally, it's important to note the important role that priorities play in all of this. For example, if you identify three specific skills that you need to learn to reach your career destination, you may need to focus on them one at a time. To prioritize skill development, you will need to decide which skills you need to learn first to keep your career moving forward. 

By adopting a progressive, step-by-step approach to your career advancement and skill development, you can better ensure that you continue to move toward your long-range goals. Remember, your career is a marathon, not a sprint. Take it one step at a time and follow your plan. That approach will help you to maintain focus on your broader career vision.

How to effectively showcase skills on your resume

Naturally, there's more to landing a great job than just developing the right abilities and knowing which skills to put on a resume. After all, even if you have the right qualifications, they won't do you any good if you don't know how to properly present them to prospective employers. That's because every employer will be reviewing your resume to see if your abilities satisfy the core qualifications for their open position and align with their company's needs.

With that fact in mind, you need to learn how to effectively showcase your talents and abilities on your resume. The following tips can help you ensure that your resume properly conveys all your relevant qualifications to any prospective employer.

Tailor your resume to the job

First, recognize that you will need to modify your base resume for every job you seek. You should never send your resume to an employer without first tailoring it to that company and position. That may require you to remove some skills and substitute more relevant abilities, alter your resume summary to highlight core qualifications for the job, or adjust your work experience and achievements to align with the company's stated needs.

Identify keywords from the job posting and use those terms in the resume

As you're tailoring your resume, make sure that you pay attention to the relevant keywords in the job posting and description. Use the exact terms you find in that posting to describe your qualifications - including relevant skills - in the resume. That will help to ensure that employers can quickly see that you have the right qualifications. Even more importantly, using those keywords will help your resume to be selected by any applicant tracking system that the employer might be using to screen for qualifications.

Focus on a balanced mix of 9-12 relevant skills

When you're listing your skills and core competencies, choose between nine and twelve of the most relevant abilities needed for the job. Again, refer to the job posting and any job description that you can find. As we noted earlier, you should use the terminology you find in the posting as you list your skills. Don't forget to include both hard technical skills and vital soft skills in that skill section. List them in bullet point form to ensure that you optimize your use of resume space.

Include key skills in your work history achievements and summary

Of course, you shouldn't limit your mention of skills to just the core competency section of your resume. Those skills can also feature prominently in your summary and work history sections too. As you create your summary section, make sure that you include one or two of your most relevant skills as you describe the type of positive impact you've had at previous employers. Do the same thing for the bullet point achievements you include with the company listings in your work history section.

Don't be afraid to express confidence in your abilities

If your natural tendency is to avoid tooting your own horn, get over it. Your resume is no place for modesty and you can rest assured that your competition will be going out of their way to boast about their skills and achievements. Remember, your resume is more than just a bland document listing your history and abilities. It is a marketing piece with one main purpose: to sell you as the best candidate for a given job. You don't sell products by downplaying their benefits. That same principle is true for your resume and job search too.

The right skills are vital for meeting your career goals

In any career journey, your ability to move forward will always depend on you having the right skills for any job you seek. That's why it is so important to understand the different types of skills that you need for success, the best way to gain and improve those abilities, and how to include them in your resume. By learning and applying the advice and tips in this post, you should be able to manage your own skill development more effectively so that you can land more interviews, receive the job offers you need, and continue to enjoy ever-greater career success.

Are you struggling to find the best way to highlight your job skills on your resume? Get a free resume review from our team of experts today to ensure that your resume makes the right impression on every prospective employer.

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