Your ability to find a new job and advance your career depends a great deal on identifying your unique package of skills, how they can be adapted and applied to a variety of jobs and how you talk about them to employers. Unfortunately,  most people tend to under-estimate their skills, abilities and strengths, or aren’t really conscious of what they do on a daily basis and how that connects to what employers are looking for.

Top ten skills and attributes

If you do a quick scan of job ads, employer surveys or even a general web search on this topic, it quickly becomes obvious what skills and attributes employers generally consider the most important. They are:

  1. Communication – written and verbal
  2. Initiative, self-motivation and positive attitude
  3. Innovation and creativity
  4. Self-awareness and confidence
  5. Research and analysis
  6. Teamwork and leadership
  7. Time management
  8. Adaptability to changing situations and environments
  9. Commercial awareness
  10. IT know-how

All of these skills are regarded as transferable skills – that is, they can be applied to a range of jobs. Your particular set of transferable skills is like a personal tool kit which you can add to, develop further, and adapt to the particular requirements of a job. For example, a teenager who works part-time in a local café is likely to develop skills such as customer service, timeliness, teamwork and perhaps pick up an awareness of the commercial world, all of which can be marketed when they apply for their next job. Likewise, an experienced nurse seeking a career change will in addition to his or her substantial technical ability and specialist knowledge, also have developed management, administrative and organisational skills that can be highlighted in their resume tailored to different types of jobs.skills2

Added to these transferable skills are the specialist and technical skills that are specifically required to do a job – for example, writing computer code, fitting gas pipes, colouring hair and auditing accounts. Your skills are a combination of both transferable and technical – it’s essential to recognise both.

Here is an activity to help you to clarify your skills and to do the ground work for preparing good job applications and meeting employers. It can be fun to do with a colleague or friend who knows you well, or you can do it by yourself if you prefer. Either way be as clear and objective as you can be throughout.

First, take a sheet of paper and create two columns by folding the sheet in half or drawing a line in the middle.

Next, your job is to talk about an achievement that you are proud of – like a project you successfully delivered; a great piece of customer or client service you provided; a team that you managed well; an article you wrote; a presentation you did; a community fundraiser that you organised. It can be large or small in scale, anything at all, but ideally will be something you have achieved in the past five years.

Your colleague or friend’s job is to take notes. While you describe your success, the note-taker listens for and is alert to the skills, ideas, expertise, talent, know-how or experience that you are demonstrating through telling the story of your achievement. The note taker can ask questions for clarity of further explanation.

Repeat this activity several times, if you have time. Ideally you should be aiming to come up with six-ten key achievements that demonstrate skills that you can highlight in applications and at interview.

Once your achievement/s are described, review the skills you have listed. What do you notice about them – can you see any patterns? Are there particular skills that you are strongest in such as team work, writing, being creative, business development or trouble shooting?

Then, highlight the skills you like to use most.

Next, in the right hand column write down the list of top ten categories of skills employers are looking for. Then draw an arrow from your skills in the left hand column to the matching category in the right hand column. There may be some of your skills that you listed that don’t fit easily with these categories, which are most likely to be specialist and technical skills. Group these at the bottom of the right hand column as they are equally important in applying for jobs requiring these skills.

Finally, do some analysis.  

What do you notice about where your skills fall in the right hand categories? Are they concentrated in one area or spread out across several?

Where do your really solid capabilities lie?

Do you have any skills gaps for the jobs you intend to apply for now and in the future?

What new things do you need to and/or want to learn?

Unpacking your achievements is one practical way to systematically identify your skills and capabilities. Doing so will help you to be clear about what you value you can offer, write targeted applications; prepare confidently for interviews. It should also provide a boost to your confidence which, let’s face it, we all need from time to time.