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Skills vs Qualifications vs Abilities on a Job Application

When you’re looking for new recruits, what’s the difference between skills vs abilities? How are qualifications defined? This guide reviews the definitions of these terms which, while frequently interchanged, refer to different concepts. Understanding the difference can help with your recruitment efforts by keeping you from passing over potential candidates that have valuable traits which can’t be taught or acquired.


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What are qualifications?

Qualifications refer to educational accomplishments and work experience. They are earned through study and a person’s application of their knowledge to their position. Common qualifications may include college degrees, licenses, certifications and tenure at a current role. The main difference between qualifications and skills or abilities is that job candidates can only acquire their qualifications through training, testing and work experience.


Many employers give qualifications high priority when searching for new talent. You may find more success if you’re willing to be more lenient on these requirements when a candidate has skills or abilities that can make up for a lack of qualifications.


What are skills?

Skills are also talents that people learn over time, but they may not have learned them in an educational setting. Being able to change the spark plugs in a car can be considered a skill because it’s something someone learns how to do either from an expert or on their own time. When evaluating candidates for a job listing, some skills you might assess include:


  • How quickly the candidate can type
  • A potential hire’s literacy with certain computer programs
  • Someone’s written and verbal communication skills
  • A candidate’s organizational skills
  • How a candidate works as a member of a team
  • Whether a new hire can code in a specific programming language

Skills can be separated into two categories: hard and soft. Hard skills are also referred to as technical skills because they require specific knowledge and experience such as when a programmer shows the ability to write programs in the coding languages a business uses most often. Soft skills are the type of skills someone can use in multiple roles and aren’t specific to one job, such as the ability to lead a team or communicate effectively.


What are abilities?

Abilities are talents that are naturally occurring, and they’re often confused for skills. While some people can learn how to communicate more effectively, others have natural people handling skills who can motivate those around them. Many abilities can be considered intangible traits because they don’t require training or experience to obtain.


Assessing skills vs abilities when reviewing applications

When you’re looking for the perfect candidate to fill a role at your company, having flexibility can pay dividends down the road. You may prefer applicants that have degrees and experience in their fields, but you could miss out if you don’t pay attention to skills and abilities on peoples’ resumes. While education and experience are valuable qualifications to consider, it may help your recruiting strategy if you focus on intangibles that your candidates can’t acquire through education or work experience alone.


Depending on the role you’re trying to fill, previous work experience, abilities and skills may be considered a substitute for education. This isn’t ideal in every role, so make sure you evaluate your business needs and what the minimum qualifications you’re willing to accept will be. For example, accountants may be required to have some form of degree in business management or finance to be considered viable candidates.


Helping new hires reach their true potential with skills training

As previously mentioned, skills are talents that are acquired through real world application of knowledge. One great way to develop talent is to provide opportunities through entry level positions and to offer comprehensive onboarding and training programs to help them gain skills while they fulfill their duties. A new salesperson with limited experience can learn skills on the job that could help increase their closing rate, or an up-and-coming programmer could learn to type more quickly with practice, for example. Offering programs that help new hires hone their skills can make them more effective in their roles and qualify them for career advancement opportunities in the future.


Abilities and skills can make workers stand out for promotions

If you’re planning to hire for a new position from within, you can offer the role to someone within your organization that has acquired knowledge of the role and displayed the intangible abilities that would allow them to succeed in their duties. A good example of this is when you need to find a new team lead. Rather than recruiting from outside of your business, you can review each team member’s performance and consider whether they have the communication skills, ability to motivate others and organizational skills to handle a leadership role.


You don’t need to invest as much time or money getting someone up to speed if they’re already familiar with your company culture, processes and expectations for the role. This makes promoting from within much more attractive when filling some roles than recruiting from outside of your organization.


Evaluating knowledge, skills and abilities on resumes

Before you post a new job listing, consider what qualities the perfect candidate should possess and how important their qualifications are to the role. When you’re reviewing resumes and narrowing your field of applicants, consider whether their experiences and unique skills could be an asset for your organization. If they lack the qualifications to fill the role you’re looking for, do they have skills that would be useful at another position of need?


One of the mistakes many recruiters make is being too stringent on certain requirements. This can make you overlook a potential new hire that can learn the skills for the position with some training and work experience.


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