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Intern Insights: What are ‘skills’?

Riina Posti – South East Skills Marketing and Events Intern

An ability to do an activity or job well, especially because you have practised it.

Cambridge Dictionary

So you have already heard about the seemingly important skills, and how most job descriptions out there outline specific skill sets. But what are they actually looking for? This post talks about the different skills categories and introduces them to those new to job hunting, and in future posts we will dive deeper into individual skills and how you can advertise them in your next application. The broad categories covered will be soft skills, hard skills, digital skills, and transferrable skills, as well as skills within the job description context.

Most of us possess a wide array of soft skills, which generally can be thought of as skills that describe one’s internal attributes and cannot be measured on paper. This is why these types of skills can also be referred to as personal, or non-technical skills. Some examples of skills in this category are problem-solving, being a good listener, creativity and adaptability. On the other hand, we can also have a range of hard skills, which are more inclined towards our experience in work or education. These cover technical skills such as administrative skills, bookkeeping, construction and labouring, and even the languages we speak. Hard skills are often more job-specific and can even be tested for in the process of the application.

Now you might have seen a job description before, which has a list of bullet points describing their ideal candidate. Especially if you are looking to change careers or try out something that you have no previous experience in, this is where we start looking into transferrable skills. For both soft skills and hard skills, transferability means that you can take an existing skill or experience that you have and be able to use it within the context of the new job. For example, you are thinking of changing careers from customer service to a nursery job: Communication and problem-solving skills which you have used when listening to customers’ issues and resolving them, could be a similar skill you need in order to be able to listen to parents’ concerns about their children’s experience at the day care.

Next, we want to highlight the importance of digital skills. Within the modern world of working, digitalisation is occurring in most industries. Even outside of work, individuals should be able to function in a digital lanscape at least on a basic level. This can mean activities from being able to access the internet, using an email and downloading applications, to using more complex programmes, optimising business in an online setting and using computer systems and technology which require industry-specific knowledge. Depending on the job you are applying for, there should be some indication as to what level of digital skills the applicant should have. Where some jobs may not specifically ask for any technical digital skills, they may still be using online systems for example for salary payments, arranging shifts and communicating important information to employees.

South East Skills offers a range of materials for individuals and business owners to look into in order to familiarise themselves and even do skills training within the digital world. Check out more information about boosting your digital skills here.

Finally, why do employers look for certain skill sets? Essentially you may think that it is only for the employer’s benefit by narrowing down the candidates list, but it can be a very helpful tool for the job seeker as well. Looking at the job description and the person description, you should be able to determine if the role is suitable for you and if you meet the requirements. If you do not hit every single mark however, this should not discourage you, because transferrable skills and the ability to learn new skills can sell your case – you just have to know how to word it all. In the next few weeks of Intern Insights, I will dive deeper into detail in soft skills and hard skills, which ones I have gained from my internship experiences AND how these can be described in a job application.

Meanwhile, references for this text and more information on skills can be found here:

Alison Doyle – The top hard skills employers seek
Rachel Pelta – 15 Transferable skills that companies want: Examples and definitions
Indeed – Soft skills: Definitions and examples