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What is a Skill Set and How to Develop One: Definition and Examples

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Knowing your skill set is an important part of any job search. It is just as important to communicate your skill set to a potential employer in a compelling manner. Before you start searching for a job, take time to understand your skill set and how to list skills on your resume, in your cover letter and during an interview. In this article, you’ll learn more about skill sets and how to apply them to your resume.

What is a skill set?

A skill set refers to a specific area of competence, knowledge, experience and abilities required to do a job. Some categories for a skill set may include computer skills, communication, time management, research and planning, leadership and accounting. Some people may also call skill sets ‘competencies’ or ‘capabilities.’

Skill set types

There are different kinds of skill sets. They each have their purpose and benefits if you include them on your resume.

Here are some different types of skill sets:

  • Soft skills. These are people-related, interpersonal or adaptive skills, which can be everyday, practical skills. They describe how you work with other people and highlight your personality. Many soft skills relate to emotional intelligence and include critical thinking, conflict resolution and communication skills, among others. You can demonstrate your soft skills during an in-person job interview.
  • Hard skills. These are learned skills and you can quantify them. They relate to how you perform in specific jobs, like technical skills. Hard skills can include data analysis and computer programming. You can learn hard skills on the job or through personal practice.
  • Technical skills. This set of skills includes any hard skills relating to technology. It could also include skills like technical writing or project management. As companies rely more and more on computers and networks, technical skills are becoming increasingly common among all careers. 
  • Transferable skills. These are skills that you can use in many different fields. They could either be hard or soft skills, like typing or problem-solving.
  • Job-specific skills. These are skills related to a particular position. For example, a hairstylist’s job-specific skills would include hair coloring and cutting techniques.

How to identify your skill set

Here’s how you can find out what skills you have: 

1. First, review job descriptions for required skills

You can extract hard and soft skills from the job postings for positions you are qualified for. For example, if you see a job description for sales reporting, then a hard skill might be knowledge of CRM platforms or spreadsheets. You can also look at how you describe roles in your current resume. 

2. Second, consider your current job duties and what skills you use

Think about what you do now or what your responsibilities were in your most recent job. Anything you do on a daily basis could be a part of your skill set. For example, if you operate a cash register for a large portion of your shift, then you have cash-handling skills.

3. Then, think about what you enjoy doing at your current job

There may be parts of your job that excite you. If you excel in any specific area, you can probably translate that into a skill. For example, if you like helping customers, you could have excellent customer service and problem-solving skills. 

4. Next, look at your previous performance reviews

Look at your past performance reviews or any achievements you earned. Your manager may have complimented you on your work, or they could have listed your strengths on your performance evaluation. For example, if a manager complimented you on meeting deadlines, you could add time management to your skill set. 

5. Finally, compile your list of skills

Once you have considered all of your skills, you can make a skill set. Some candidates separate their skill sets into hard and soft skills, or they add the most relevant skills at the top of the list. Make sure your skill set is tailored for each job you apply to so you can highlight the qualifications that make you an ideal match for the position.

Tips to develop your skill set

Generally, a skill set improves with practice. However, if there is a job you are interested in that requires a skill you don’t already have, then there are ways to learn it. You could try skill sharing or take an online course to learn more about the desired skill. With skill sharing, you can share your expertise in a particular skill area with someone else in exchange for lessons based on that person’s knowledge through an online channel, such as a web tutorial. 

Skill set examples

Here are some examples of common skills you can find on a resume:

Soft skills

  • Creativity 
  • Teamwork
  • Adaptability
  • Leadership
  • Conflict resolution
  • Decision-making
  • Analytical
  • Able to work under pressure
  • Self-motivation
  • Detail-oriented
  • Responsible

Hard skills

  • Bookkeeping
  • Data analysis
  • SEO/SEM marketing
  • Copywriting
  • Event planning
  • Foreign languages
  • Graphic design
  • Accounting
  • Mathematics
  • Computer languages

Technical skills

  • Project management
  • Technical writing 
  • Data management and analytics 
  • Computer literacy in specific programs and apps 
  • Information technology 
  • Data management and analytics 
  • Auditing

Transferable skills

  • Time management
  • Computer and internet skills
  • Multitasking
  • Organizational skills
  • Written and verbal communication

You can refer to these categories of skills when you are writing your resume or cover letter. Be sure to customize your resume and cover letter for each job application by comparing your relevant skills to the skill set listed in the job description.

Tips for keeping your skill set relevant

When you apply for a job, you want employers to see you have the necessary skills that match the job listing. A relevant skill set should be well-defined in your cover letter, resume and when being interviewed. As you write your cover letter, include examples of how you have used the skills related to the potential job. For instance, if computer skills are a requirement, your cover letter could point out specific software programs you might have used at other jobs.

Make sure you describe your skill set using keywords that employers would search for when looking for candidates online. When you post your resume on job search websites, depending on the terms employers are seeking, your resume and skill sets will show up in their results. 

When you prepare for an interview, compile a list of your different skills that are relevant to the job. Have a least one example of how you have used each of the skills, and take time to practice an ‘elevator pitch’ as a summary about yourself to share during your interview.