What Are Key Skills? (Definition, Examples and Tips)
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Key skills describe the abilities within a professional's skill set that appeal to an employer's needs. A professional's key skills can include a variety of competencies and often depend on the field in which they work. If you're in the process of searching for a job or developing new skills, it's helpful to consider which key skills you may want to have. In this article, we answer the question 'What are key skills?' and share a list of examples and tips to help you identify, develop and highlight your skill set.
What are key skills?
The answer to the question 'What are key skills?' is that key skills are abilities that professionals have to help them succeed in their roles. Key skills can comprise technical or soft skills and the specific key skills for a role or professional can depend on several factors, including:
Role: The key skills a professional has often depends on their job title.
Organisation: Organisations often value certain skills that help professionals adapt to the work culture.
Professional: A professional's personal preferences and experiences can shape which key skills they develop, which may mean their key skills differ from their peers in a similar industry.
Having a strong set of skills can help increase your employability. While your key skills can include technical abilities, it's also helpful to develop a set of soft skills, as this type of skill is often transferable. Transferable skills can help you when switching career fields, job titles or earning a promotion.
Related: How To Develop Skill Sets in 9 Steps
Examples of key skills
To understand what key skills are, it's helpful to consider different examples of these professional abilities. Review this list of common key skills to understand why they're important and how to develop them:
Being reliable means that others can depend on you and trust that you act with honesty and integrity. Reliable employees can then handle more responsibilities and can gain the trust of their colleagues and supervisors. This is an important professional ability because reliable individuals can often complete their work tasks in an efficient manner, which allows business operations to function as expected. To develop and display reliability skills, try to be on time and organise your daily tasks well. This can help you increase your efficiency and help you complete consistent work.
Creativity involves the ability to design, imagine and develop new products and ideas. This skill is valuable in many fields, as it often helps professionals address problem-solving scenarios and can inspire a healthier work environment. These skills are especially important in fields such as marketing, engineering, arts and education, as these fields in particular benefit from new ideas.
To develop your creative skills, consider pursuing artistic hobbies and strengthening your problem-solving skills. You might also want to take more short breaks throughout your workday to help ensure you have moments to relax and refresh your mind.
Related: Creative Skills in the Workplace
A professional's work ethic is their willingness to complete work tasks and assume more responsibilities. Your work ethic can often affect your working habits, which is why employers often prefer professionals to have strong work ethics that encourage them to complete their work in a timely fashion. A strong work ethic can also help you collaborate with others and encourage you to find solutions to issues that may arise throughout the workday. Your work ethic often closely relates to your personality.
To further develop and demonstrate your work ethic, consider what your values are. It's helpful to make an effort to always act with integrity and consider helping others in the workplace when you have the opportunity. Supervisors often notice these efforts, which can benefit you while also positively influencing your work environment.
Computer proficiency describes the ability to use computers and other similar forms of technology to help you complete your work tasks. Many employers rely on technology to help their business operations function, so it's helpful to have these skills. You can develop computer proficiency by practising the use of technology and making an effort to learn how to use more programs and software that can help you complete your job duties more efficiently. Consider taking a computer skills course or pursuing certification to display your skill level in certain software.
Leadership skills involve the ability to guide, instruct and motivate others. It's helpful for professionals who have management roles to have strong leadership skills but it's also a helpful skill for various professionals. This is because even in non-management roles, a strong leader can influence the workplace by helping their peers and inspiring others to stay productive. You can highlight your leadership skills by seeking out roles such as team leader or trainer. You can also display them by volunteering for opportunities that allow you to help others or challenge your abilities.
To develop leadership skills, consider identifying your leadership style. This can help you understand how to best apply your skills. It's also important to develop skills related to leadership, such as emotional intelligence.
Related: 10 Types of Leadership Styles
Problem-solving skills describe the ability to think critically about an issue and develop solutions that may remedy the situation. This is an especially important skill to have as it's transferable to many industries. Applying problem-solving skills to workplace issues can help daily operations function and promote a healthier work environment. You may apply your problem-solving skills to issues regarding a work task or use them to help settle a dispute among colleagues. Practising critical thinking abilities is vital in the development of problem-solving skills. This can help you analyse a situation and decide the best way to respond.
Communication skills involve the ability to connect with others through verbal, nonverbal and written communication. Professionals with strong communication skills may be better at relating to their colleagues and can exercise their skills to ensure workplace functions operate well. This skill is also key in problem-solving situations, especially those that involve a conflict between two parties. To develop your communication skills, try to practise skills such as public speaking.
It's also important to ensure that you regularly communicate with your supervisors, clients and colleagues. This can help ensure that you stay well-informed of workplace happenings and can update others on the status of your work.
Employers often seek to hire professionals with teamwork skills as this skill can allow professionals to collaborate with others. Teamwork skills often involve the willingness to help your colleagues and share ideas. When an organisation hires many professionals with teamwork skills, these professionals can often work more efficiently together, promoting a healthier workplace culture. To develop teamwork skills, find opportunities to collaborate with other professionals on a task. Respectfully listen to suggestions they may have and offer some of your own. Combining ideas and delegating work can help you exercise and highlight your skills.
Tips for highlighting your key skills
Key skills are important because they can help you earn employment and promotions. They can also help you become more efficient and effective in the role in which you're currently working. To benefit from your key skills, it's important to highlight them whenever possible. Consider these tips for highlighting your key skills throughout different stages of your career:
In your application materials
It's important to choose the most relevant skills to feature in your application materials such as your resume and cover letter. Many employers use applicant tracking systems to automatically scan application documents for keywords, so it's important to list skills that the hiring manager lists in the job posting.
When creating your resume and cover letter, consider rereading the original posting for the job to which you're applying. This can help ensure that you compare your skill set to the one the organisation expects, allowing you to list the common skills.
When you're interviewing
When interviewing, be sure to use the STAR method when answering questions. The STAR method is a strategy that allows you to answer questions in a more organised fashion, which can help you use your interview time efficiently. When answering questions, it's helpful to provide examples of ways you use your skills while working. For example, you might demonstrate your customer service skills by explaining a time you were able to resolve a customer complaint.
Interviewers may also ask you about specific skills relevant to the position for which you're interviewing. Be honest when explaining your proficiency and if possible, provide examples of when you use the ability.
During performance reviews
Some organisations require employees to perform self-evaluations while a supervisor also evaluates their performance. Self-evaluations are great opportunities to remind your supervisors of your talents. If you acquire a new skill, it's especially helpful to highlight it. Self-evaluations often feature a question that requires you to list achievements or set a goal to achieve before your next performance evaluation. Using this question to mention your key skills can help you show your employer the dedication you have to expanding and maintaining your skill set.
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