How to Develop Your Skill Set to Advance Your Career
Updated June 30, 2023
A skill set is a combination of abilities, qualities and experiences you can apply to perform tasks well. These can include soft skills such as interpersonal skills, organization and leadership as well as technical skills such as research, computer programming, accounting writing and more.
Spending time on improving your skills can help you achieve personal career goals such as earning a promotion or becoming an expert on a certain topic. Your skill set can be applied to progress in your current career or expanded to earn a job in a different field or industry.
What is a skill set?
A skill set is a collection of skills and abilities. Each person has a different skill set depending on their interests, natural abilities, personal qualities and technical skills. Skills can expand your professional competency and allow you to perform your job well.
You can gain and improve skills with education and experience. The more advanced you are in performing certain skills, the more likely you are to get or progress in a job.
Types of skill sets
There are two main types of skills that make up your skill set—soft skills and hard skills.
Soft skills generally pertain to interpersonal skills and other personality traits that allow you to communicate and work with others. Soft skills are also transferable, which means they are valuable for any job no matter the industry.
Examples of soft skills
Hard skills, also known as technical skills, are capabilities you use to perform a task related to a specific job. You can gain or improve these skills through training, tutorials and practice.
Examples of hard skills
Foreign language fluency
Read more: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills
One considerable difference between hard skills and soft skills during the hiring process is that you can list and verify hard skills, while soft skills are typically displayed during in-person interviews. If certain soft skills are relevant and required for a certain job, you might consider listing these on your resume alongside your technical skills.
Hard and soft skills can be further broken down into the following groups:
Hybrid skills are a combination of hard and soft skills—many employers expect individuals to have both to succeed. A good example of a hybrid skill is customer service. While you need to have exceptional soft skills such as communication and conflict resolution, you might also be expected to be proficient with spreadsheets or a specific customer service management system.
Transferable skills are skills that apply to any job, no matter the level or industry. Transferable skills are typically soft skills such as problem-solving and communication, and sometimes hard skills, such as mathematics and writing.
Job-specific skills are the capabilities required for a certain position including both hard and soft skills. You usually gain these through education or on-the-job experience. Pay attention to the job description when searching for jobs to understand what job-specific skills the employer expects from their ideal candidate.
How to determine your skills
When searching for a job, displaying your most advanced, relevant skills on your resume will help employers understand why you are a good fit for the job. If you are not sure what skills you have, consider spending time answering the following questions:
What do you enjoy? The tasks that come easily to you or that you enjoy often translate into useful skills. For example, teaching people or those around you solve problems can translate to strong communication, active listening and problem-solving skills.
Do you receive praise or compliments on certain abilities? Consider the skills your managers or colleagues have noticed or complimented in the past. For example, you may have received high scores for teamwork on a performance review. You should also take note of what people come to you for help on.
What previous accomplishments do you have? Consider the times when you accomplished something at work, big or small. You might have won an award or simply completed a project that had better-than-expected results. What skills helped you to do those things?
How to develop new skills
If you want a job in an industry that requires different skills than those you currently have, there are many ways to expand your skill set or to develop your current skills for a better chance at promotions or raises.
Here are several ways you can develop professional skills:
Set goals for yourself. Setting specific goals to improve your career helps you stay on track with your development. Make sure your goals are measurable, achievable and relevant to your profession or your goals. Then, consider organizing a timeline to achieve your goal by setting a beginning and end date, as well as smaller goals to achieve along the way.
Find a mentor. A professional mentor is typically a superior you respect and trust. Once you find your mentor, you can reach out for informal meetings, which can then naturally develop into a professional relationship.
Seek feedback about strengths and weaknesses. You can ask superiors, colleagues or even friends or family about your strengths and areas for improvement. It is important to seek feedback from people who will give you honest critiques rather than automatic praise. Once you identify your weaknesses, you can focus on developing those skills.
Review job descriptions for positions you want. These job descriptions will give you an idea of the transferable skills you have, as well as the job-specific skills you will need. Once you identify the skills you need, you can research job shadowing or education programs that can provide you with the necessary skill set to transition into that position.
Enroll in an online degree program. Companies often encourage employees to further their education with a degree, and some offer tuition assistance or reimbursement. If you are advancing your career with a related program, such as accounting and finance, you may also find that many of your credits are transferable.
Take continuing education courses in career-related fields. These courses are often taught by professionals with experience in their field. For some professions, continuing education courses are required to stay current in the industry. Many colleges and universities offer continuing education courses in a variety of fields.
Take advantage of company training. Many companies use independent training departments with experts in different fields that train on specialized skill sets. Check in with your supervisor about what your company has to offer and which courses would be especially beneficial for your professional growth.
Participate in job shadowing. Job shadowing is a great way to learn more about the day-to-day responsibilities of another profession and to learn new skills. Generally, it is best to choose individuals who are experienced or perform well in their positions. Job shadowing usually involves following a professional while they perform their job duties and learning about different skills.
Join a professional association in your field. In a group setting, you have the opportunity to converse with colleagues about your industry and to discover skills you may want to develop. These professional associations are usually available on local, state, national and international levels.
Which skills to include on your resume
To determine which skills to list on your resume, carefully review the job description. This will include both the technical and soft skills the employer is looking for in their ideal candidate. It is important that you include the technical skills they list if they align with your own personal skill set. Technical skills show your potential employer that you have the necessary training or education for a particular role. Depending on the role, you might also list relevant soft skills on your resume.
You should also include any skills that you feel set you apart from other candidates. For example, you might include that you have strong relationship-building skills. While this skill might not necessarily be required for an IT job, for example, IT administrators can be even more successful with strong interpersonal skills.
Your resume should only include the most relevant skill sets for the job role you seek. Remember to consider your skills in each of the following categories:
Job posting skills: Skills, qualities and traits listed in the job description. Include accomplishments that verify these skills in your professional history section.
Transferable skills: These are the key skills that can be used in multiple jobs, such as basic computer programs or team building.
Job-related skills: These are the skills that are required for you to perform a certain job, such as accounting or computer programming.
Adaptive skills: These are the personal traits or skills you use in daily life, such as patience or confidence. Example of adaptive skills includes relationship building, the ability to learn quickly, flexibility, coachability, responsibility and more.
Skills from others in the industry: Find more skills by looking at examples of other professionals who are in the same field. This will give you an idea of what skills and abilities are valued by employers.
Universal skills: These may include skills like critical thinking or punctuality. It is typically good to add a few of these, but do not oversell yourself. Only a few universal skills are needed. If you have more technical skills relevant to the position, put those down instead.
Related: Best Skills to Include on a Resume
Resume skills list examples
Here are a few examples of resume skills sections for inspiration as you write your own:
Example 1: Human resources representative
Streamlining and managing payroll and benefits programs
Advanced proficiency in Microsoft Office & QuickBooks
Working well in a fast-paced environment
Informing short and long-term business decisions
Example 2: Data scientist
2nd place at Coral Springs Big Data Hackathon (out of 150 participants)
Java, Python, C++, Hadoop ecosystem, and MySQL
Data cleansing, modeling, and mining
Example 3: Social work case manager
Programming planning and evaluation
If you are missing a certain skill for the job you want, you can still apply, but do not list it on your resume if you do not have it. You also have the option to list a beginner proficiency level if you are still learning.
You also have the option to seek training during the hiring process or the employer might be willing to offer on-the-job training. This is especially true if you also demonstrate excitement about the position and an eagerness to learn, giving the employer confidence that you can develop the skill you are missing quickly.
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