Identifying and Defining Your Skills: You Probably Have More than you Think!
By Joe O'Brien, on 25 June 2020
Read time: 3 minutes
Written by Lee Pike, Careers Consultant at UCL Careers.
- What are skills?
This may seem like a silly question but it’s actually something worth clarifying. From some of my discussions with students during their appointments, there seems to be some confusion between ‘skills’ and ‘experience’. They are not the same thing and it’s important to know the difference.
A skill is something that you are good at doing: it could come easy to you or be something you learn. An experience is where you learn skills through work, study or activities you do in your spare time.
When discussing what to put on their CV, lots of students say ‘I don’t have any relevant experience’. They think that recruiters are only interested in experience in a chosen field. Recruiters acknowledge students may not have relevant experience, so they want evidence of skills that you’ve learnt from any type of experience that is transferable for use in their work environment.
(Recruiters are not expecting you to do the job unsupervised from day one so they expect to provide you with on-the-job training.)
- Types of Skills
Skills can be divided into two categories; technical or soft skills.
- Technical (Specialist) Skills
You learn technical skills during your degree, with extra training (such as an online course) or from previous work experience e.g. using specific software packages or specialist equipment.
- Soft (Transferable) Skills
The term ‘soft skills’ under sells what they are; they are better defined as ‘transferable skills’. They are skills you might learn in one experience which you can adapt to another i.e. they are transferable! They are skills that can work in every type of job – and that’s why they’re so important. They go beyond the ability to use a specific piece of equipment or do one specific thing.
Typical transferable skills sought after by recruiters are problem-solving, time management, communication, teamwork and leadership.
- How do I identify my skills?
You already have lots of skills but may not be aware you possess them. There’s a lot to gain from reflecting on your skills and qualities and seeing how these can enhance your career and personal development. To analyse your skills and how they relate to skills employers look for, think about:
- Your personal qualities;
- Skills developed through study;
- Skills developed at work;
- Skills developed outside work.
1. Personal qualities
Attributes such as patience, humour, initiative, and flexibility are relevant to the type of work you are suited to. The better you know yourself, the more likely you are to find a role that suits you. Your personality affects your style of operating in the workplace and the way you respond to situations.
Have you considered your own behaviour, emotions and reactions? Why not ask people close to you – they may be able to identify strengths and qualities that you haven’t considered.
2. Skills developed through study
You develop a wide range of skills as a student, such as commitment, self-motivation, and confidence, all valued by employers. For example, if you had assignments where you worked to strict deadlines, you can show that you have good time management and motivational skills.
3. Skills developed at work
If you have work experience, you’re likely to have skills which are essential in that environment, such as communication, interacting with people, being aware of the ways in which you learn and managing your time. Enhancing your capabilities in these areas can help you make the most of opportunities at work and will look good on your CV.
You may not recognise the wide range and high level of skills and abilities you have. Identify your skills by
- noting down all the jobs you have done (full-time, part-time, voluntary, etc.) and think about what
- you learnt from each one and w
- hat skills you developed.
4. Skills developed outside work
You gain valuable knowledge, understanding and skills from everyday experiences, and through training, hobbies, interests and involvement with voluntary organisations. Think about:
- Your experience and the roles you’ve had outside academia/work;
- The projects you have undertaken;
- Organisations, clubs or societies that you’ve been involved with.
Each of those roles demand different skills.
- If you enjoy DIY, then you’ve no doubt planned a project, set yourself timescales, organised your work and seen it through to completion;
- If you’ve chaired meetings, then you’ve taken a leadership role and been diplomatic yet assertive. You’re likely to have kept to deadlines and ensured that individuals have been included. This demonstrates interpersonal skills;
- If you’ve been in a debating club, you’ll have developed your communication and persuasion skills;
- If you play sport, you’re likely to have teamwork and leadership skills.
Look back over your work, studies or leisure activities and think about the tasks you completed in each. This helps you identify the skills you’ve learned.
- Next steps
It’s not unusual for individuals to compare themselves with others and feel superior or inferior towards them based on their strengths and weaknesses.
The thing is, every individual is different and we all function differently based on our personalities. It is important to know yourself and your capacities. Recruiters similarly look for individual personal strengths in addition to required skills – a workplace full of identical types of people does not function effectively.
Your strengths are things you can use to your advantage, things you can use to push yourself further. But it doesn’t mean that your weaknesses are your downfall. They are areas you can improve, not something you lack. They are things you could develop and build. So it is as important to know your weaknesses as much as knowing your strengths.
- You can try looking up The RichardStep Strengths and Weaknesses Aptitude Test (RSWAT) online. It is a test to identify your strengths and weaknesses designed with simple, straight to the point questions.
- The UCL Careers Online Library is great for searching for a whole variety of resources. For example, after identifying your skills, you could try the ‘Demonstrating your skills’ leaflet. There is a useful table on the last page of this leaflet which describes what different skills are and ways you may demonstrate them on a CV, for example.
- Targetjobs has a helpful resource describing different skills and competencies for graduates typically asked for by recruiters and how you can demonstrate them in a CV or in an interview.
- You can get one-to-one advice by booking a careers guidance appointment to help your analytical thinking and explore your skills or to discuss any of the above exercises you may have completed. Learn how the skills you have can help you with your career planning.
By taking time to analyse your past experiences, you will identify transferable skills you didn’t know you had and will be able to provide evidence of them on your CV. If you identify any weaknesses, this provides focus on what you can improve going forwards. Good luck!