Qualifications vs. Skills: Definition, Differences and Examples
When you're applying for jobs, you might find employers inquiring about your skills and qualifications for roles. These two aspects of your professional profile serve two different purposes, and knowing the differences between them can help you more easily review job descriptions for what employers need, highlight both your qualifications and skills on your resume and accurately answer questions about them in an interview. In this article, we explore what qualifications and skills are as well as the differences and similarities between them.
What are qualifications?
Qualifications are the requirements a candidate needs to qualify and be successful in a specific role. You typically earn qualifications through experience, education and training in your industry or role. Some qualifications may include:
A certain degree level and major
Years of experience
Goals and interests
Achievements and accomplishments
What are skills?
Skills are your abilities to complete and excel at tasks in a professional setting. You typically learn and develop skills through education, experience or practice. Skills that produce quantifiable results and are used in specific roles are called technical skills or hard skills, while skills that can apply to many professional settings and don't require specific training or education to develop them are called non-technical skills, soft skills or transferrable skills. Examples of skills include:
Use of tools
Core competencies are skill sets made up of behaviors and knowledge that a one uses to achieve results in a professional setting. Some examples of core competencies include:
Qualifications vs. skills
Here are some similarities and differences between qualifications and skills:
Technical and non-technical
There are technical skills and technical qualifications as well as non-technical skills and non-technical qualifications. Technical skills and qualifications are hard skills, education and experience that directly relate to a specific role. For example, a software engineer may need technical skills like programming and technical qualifications like a bachelor's degree in computer engineering. Non-technical skills and qualifications are those that you can develop or earn in any role. For example, a software engineer may also need communication skills and three years of experience working in a team.
Required and preferred
Employers can have both required skills and qualifications as well as preferred skills and qualifications. Required skills and qualifications are the minimum requirements for a role. Though many employers may not consider candidates who don't meet these requirements, other employers are willing to train the right candidate if they meet most of the requirements and have a strong cultural fit with the organization. Preferred qualifications and skills are those that an employer would like a candidate to have. Meeting these preferences can help you stand out as a candidate.
Skills as qualifications
Having certain skills is often a qualification for a role, but not all qualifications are skills. For example, an employer may require retail associate candidates to have the ability to work a cash register and have five years of retail experience. Being able to operate a register is both a skill and a qualification in this scenario, but having five years of experience is just a qualification.
Some employers may accept equivalent qualifications for a role, whether or not they advertise it in the job description. For example, an employer may consider a candidate with three years of experience in a boutique as equivalent experience for a department store role. Or, an employer may accept a bachelor's degree for two years of experience.
However, skills may not be as easy to translate into equivalent alternatives. Some related skills, like communication and customer service, may be accepted for one another, but skills like time management and project management aren't quite the same.
Importance to an employer
Whether your qualifications or your skills are more important to an employer depends on the demands of the role, the industry and the employer's specific needs. For example, an employer looking for an entry-level professional may value a candidate's skills over their qualifications because they have little to no experience. However, other employers seeking entry-level candidates in technical fields may require relevant or equivalent qualifications like volunteer experience or internships.
For leadership roles, however, employers may place more emphasis on qualifications, like relevant experience, previous leadership roles and leadership-related core competencies than overall skills.
Qualifications and skills in a job description
This is an example job description to show you how employers may include qualifications and skills when advertising for roles:
DolceMart is looking to hire an assistant manager who can improve customer satisfaction, in-store advertising and training for all sales floor team members. We're looking for a candidate with at least five years of experience in a retail environment; previous retail management and leadership experience is preferred. The ideal candidate should be interested in pursuing a career in retail or the foodservice industries. They must have excellent customer service, communication and collaboration skills. A keen attention to detail, strong organizational abilities and adaptability also required.
Five or more years of experience in retail or customer service
Exceptional customer service
Knowledge of point-of-service and inventory management systems
Ability to lift up to 30 pounds unassisted
Completed coursework or degree in businesses, management or supply chain logistics
Previous leadership experience in a retail environment
Qualifications and skills on a resume
Here is an example of putting qualifications and skills on a resume:
Retail associate, June 2017–Present
Carter's Wholesale, Topeka, Kansas
Stock shelves with product and create product displays with intuitive in-store advertising techniques
Assist customers with locating products using inventory management system and providing recommendations
Train junior associates on the register, POS and inventory management system
Associate of Arts in business administration, May 2020
Eastern Kansas Community College, Topeka, Kansas
Employee of the Month, March 2020
Employee of the Month, June 2019
Employee of the Month, October 2017
Qualifications and skills in a cover letter
Here is a brief example of including qualifications and skills in a cover letter:
Dear Hiring Manager,
With my five years of retail experience, I am confident that I can improve DolceMart's customer satisfaction through effective product displays and quality team member training as the store's newest assistant manager. I plan to use my knowledge of in-store advertising, leadership abilities and unique approach to customer service to establish a successful career in retail management with your store.
In my four years of experience at Carter's Wholesale, I've grown my responsibilities from just stocking shelves to training team members, designing product displays and establishing high standards for customer service. My hard work designing back-to-school and holiday-themed displays as well as my dedication to quality service earned me employee of the month three times. I also have an associate degree in business administration, which enables me to apply training techniques, leadership policies and supply chain management practices in the store.
I'm ready to take the next step in my career and grow into a leader with DolceMart's team. I encourage you to review my resume, and I look forward to learning more about my future with your company.
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