Top 29 Professional Skills You Should Learn to Skyrocket Your Career
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What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase "professional skills?" You may think of your degrees or certifications, and certainly, anything you've learned throughout the course of your education and career qualifies as professional skills. However, do you also think of the soft skills that have helped you get ahead, such as good interpersonal skills and time management?
The fact is, everything you've ever learned in life, whether hard skills or soft skills, will contribute to your career success. It's all about being creative enough to apply them. Also, being a lifelong learner so that you're constantly learning new skills helps you develop even stronger professional skills.
What Are Professional Skills?
Professional skills are broken down into two basic categories: soft skills and hard skills. Soft skills are the skills that you can carry with you throughout your career, and indeed, your personal life. Hard skills are the concrete skills that you've learned that will allow you to cover the technical aspects of your job.
When employers speak of soft skills, they're referring to the cognitive skills and personal characteristics that make you employable.
Soft skills are extremely personalized and fluid to the individual. Moreover, it's difficult for employers to measure them. However, they are a critical component when it comes to your career success. Soft skills transfer seamlessly to every job you'll ever have. Therefore, these transferrable professional skills are important. If you and another candidate for a position have equal qualifications and credentials, the job will invariably go to the person with the stronger soft skills.
To put soft skills on your resume, you need to be creative and provide a measure to back them up. For example "Excellent Leadership Qualities" doesn't necessarily impress. However "Led 5 Teams to Increase Sales by 200 Percent" will catch the eye of a potential employer.
Don't fill your resume up with soft skills. Add only the ones that are truly huge strengths you have. The interview and cover letter offer the opportunity to highlight your soft skills.
Unlike soft skills, hard skills are easy to measure and define. They include the skills and specialized knowledge that you need to have to work in your chosen industry. Some examples include accounting, plumbing, computer programming, and dentistry. For many hard skills, you'll need to obtain certifications or degrees.
Typically, hard skills apply to specific professions. For example, skills in web design are not applicable to a career as a doctor. Not that these skills aren't useful, but if you want to be a surgeon, your certifications and experience in that will be more important than your knowledge of creating a website.
Methodology: How We Determined the 29 Most Sought After Professional Skills
To identify the top professional skills that are most sought-after by employers, we scoured the web for some of the top articles by business publications, educational institutions, and business leaders themselves. Furthermore, we pulled information from our own years of business leadership and management. We also scanned numerous job postings to find the most-mentioned job requirements. Then, we took to LinkedIn to identify the listed skills of profiles of people who have been hired for high-paying positions. Finally, we compiled all of this into the following sections that will clearly explain which professional skills employers want.
Softs skills are interpersonal skills and ethics that are transferrable from one job to another or from one industry to another. These are all professional skills that employers desire in any potential candidates. Wherever you work, you need to have these skills to be successful and to function as part of a successful team and company.
1. Emotional intelligence (EQ)
Having a high EQ means that you can relate well emotionally to people. It's sort of an umbrella for most of the other soft skills we detail in the rest of this section. If you have a high EQ, you can relate well to both your own emotions and those of your clients and co-workers.
Here's an example: You're having a tough day at work because your boss added a couple of extra tasks to your to-do list, and it's made even worse by the fact that you're battling a persistent headache. On top of that, one of your co-workers is complaining about problems they're having at home. People with a low EQ would snap and perhaps lash out at the people around them. People with a high EQ would take some Tylenol for their headache and say, "Give me a few minutes ... I need to let this headache ease up, and then I'll be with you."
As for that coworker who's complaining about their home life? Because you have a high EQ and good professional skills, you skillfully redirect the conversation back to work topics.
2. Collaboration and teamwork skills
Most jobs today require that people work in both in-office teams and remote teams. Having the ability to work well as a part of a functioning team is a must. Furthermore, if you can easily shift in and out of the role of team leader as needed, you'll be even more valuable to whatever company you work for.
3. Interpersonal skills
These are your people skills. Do you get along well with others? If you don't necessarily like someone, can you still be pleasant and professional when working with that person? If you can answer yes to those questions, you have solid interpersonal skills that will provide a good foundation for your career success. Some examples of interpersonal skills are building ongoing, strong relationships with customers and co-workers and approaching conflict with tact and professionalism.
There are employers who hire people based on their interpersonal skills alone. In non-technical industries, the thinking is that it's easy to teach someone how to complete a task, but interpersonal skills are not typically teachable.
4. Multi-cultural sensitivity
In the modern workplace, there is no room for intolerance of any kind. A bad move by an employee reflects badly on the employer. Furthermore, it can open them up to lawsuits. However, above all, being multi-culturally sensitive is just the right thing to do.
5. Critical thinking and analytical professional skills
Employers value employees who can figure things out. Therefore, having good analytical skills is a desirable professional skill to have. Critical thinking takes analysis a step further. If you're a good critical thinker, you're usually able to see both sides of any issue or argument, and your analytic skills kick in when you can sort out the key points of each side without discounting the quality of the individual arguments.
6. Communication skills
Being able to effectively communicate via listening, writing, and speaking is important. In many cases, you'll be interacting with both internal customers (your bosses, co-workers, and subordinates) and outside customers. Your good communication professional skills should extend to all forms of communication.
7. Ability to adapt
People who can't adapt to change are basically dinosaurs in our fast-moving world. The days of going to work for one company and staying there for your entire life are essentially over. Moreover, change can happen quickly, sometimes weekly or daily in some industries. You need to be able and willing to adapt. Furthermore, you need to be open to new concepts and ideas.
For employers, flexibility is tied to the ability to adjust. They need employees who can change work assignments and duties as required. If you have family obligations, it can be hard to work a flexible schedule. Kids have places to be at certain times, and they need you at home when they're at home unless they're older children. Line out your family obligations to your employer before you're hired. Then, when you get the job, be as flexible as you can be within your parameters.
Flexibility also extends to cognitive flexibility. Can you skillfully interact with both the custodian and the CEO? Can you customize your sales approach for different clients?
9. Leadership and management professional skills
Even if you're in an entry-level position, you should display leadership and management skills. This will ensure your growth in the company and will serve you well if you decide to change jobs. Leadership and management are soft skills because like other soft skills, they're difficult to measure but are transferrable across industries.
Even if you're not currently a manager, you can display leadership skills with project management and problem-solving. Good leaders are typically skilled at performing analytics and research. Also, a good leader can effectively navigate interpersonal issues that arise with the people around them. Furthermore, in most jobs, there will be team projects. Being the person who can effectively lead a team will take you a long way in any job you're in.
Every single job you'll ever have in your life will need good leadership skills if you want to grow and get promoted. If you feel you're lacking in this area, reading some good books on the topic will help you. Unlike many soft skills, leadership and management skills are easily teachable. Here are some of the books we most recommend.
- Any book by John Maxwell, but especially "Leadership 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know"
- "Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don't" by Simon Sinek
- "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie
- "EntreLeadership" by Dave Ramsey
- "Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Led and Win" by Jocko Willink
Personal integrity and honesty aren't traits employers take for granted. In a world that's increasingly transparent and open, having good common decency and honesty about yourself is a sought-after skill. It's easy to decide to be honest and differentiate yourself from those who aren't. This extends to use of an employer's time and resources. Don't steal their time by doing lots of personal stuff at work. Similarly, don't take office supplies home.
11. Strong work ethic
A large part of having a strong work ethic involves genuinely enjoying the work you do. When you love your job, you'll be eager to go the extra mile. The traits of people who have a good work ethic include a willingness to give 100 percent to your job when you're on duty and seeing a job through to completion. Moreover, when you're at work, you should be present. By that, I mean give your employer the time they're paying for. Don't surf the internet, spend time on your phone, or other time-wasting activities that aren't a part of your job.
12. Positive attitude
Human beings can be innately negative. Our survival instincts seem to note all of the things that can go wrong. Because of this tendency, it takes extra effort to maintain a positive attitude. It's worth the effort. Not only will people in every area of your life enjoy being around you, but a positive attitude can take you far in your career.
What makes a person a professional? The response may vary somewhat depending on the industry in which you work. For example, if you work for a company that encourages political debate, heated discussion on your Facebook page may be considered OK. However, the news is full of stories of people making dire mistakes in what they post on social media. Whatever their standard of expected professionalism, your employer will expect you to follow the protocol both in and out of the office.
Furthermore, professionalism extends to how you dress. What is the established dress code at your office? Be sure you're following it. Trust me on this: Your employer probably doesn't care how quirky and eccentric you are. Constantly breaking protocol won't win you any points with your boss, and it's unprofessional.
Professionalism also extends to habits and behavior. You should consistently finish assignments on time, or preferably, ahead of schedule. Furthermore, your boss will begin to rely on you if you're the employee who reliably delivers. Also, submit quality work. Check and double check and triple check your work before turning it in. You'll catch small errors, and presenting your best work is highly professional.
Under-promise and over-deliver. It's a mistake to make big promises, then fall short with the completed work. If you over-deliver on your promises, you'll be highly valued as an employee. Even more importantly, you'll be the first pick when it comes time for promotions.
In most modern office environments, people are expected to work well with others, but they're also required to work well independently. You may even have an opportunity to work from home part of the time. Can you do so responsibly? A good rule of thumb for working at home is to make twice the effort so that there is no question of whether or not you're self-motivated. Another trait of self-motivated people is the ability to lead a project without constant supervision.
15. Eagerness to learn
Being eager to learn is one of the most important soft skills you can have. As an employee, you should jump on any opportunity to learn something new. It may mean accepting the chance to work on a new project or even assist a co-worker for the day. Moreover, your boss may offer to send you to conferences or pay for you to enroll in classes at a continuing ed organization. Never turn down an opportunity to learn.
16. Planning and organizational skills
If you're skilled at planning, and you're an organized person (at least at work), you will have value as an employee. Find a specific organizational system. Your system can be something as multi-layered and thorough as Trello or Getting Things Done, or it can be as simple as a good notebook or calendar, or Evernote. Whatever you use, do it consistently and well.
17. Reliability and dependability
What does it mean to be reliable and dependable? Simply put, it means doing what you say you're going to do. If you say you're going to do something, you need to make every effort to get it done. Moreover, if your boss gives you a deadline, you need to deliver it on time, or even better, early. A key to promotions and job success is being the person that your boss can always count on to do what you say you'll do.
Though the list of soft skills is fairly easy to pull together, there are literally thousands (or tens of thousands) of hard skills. However, in interviews with business leaders, a handful of hard skills that they're looking for keep popping up. We've pulled together the most sought after hard skills based on those interviews.
18. Research skills
Being able to perform research is a valuable skill that employers appreciate. It can entail assessing a situation, gathering information, and identifying possible solutions. Furthermore, you will often be required to seek different perspectives and resolve key issues. You should be proficient at Google advanced search and search operators. Daily Infographic has a great guide on how to get more out of Google. Also, this video is very informative.
19. Project management and planning professional skills
You really don't need to be a certified project manager to know how to plan and manage a project. Project management is simply the application of skills, knowledge, techniques, and tools to project and plan activities to meet the requirement of a project. Projects may be big or small, but they all need to be planned well and executed perfectly.
To understand project management professional skills, give yourself a crash course and learn some key terminology, including:
- Quality assurance
- Quality control
- Task delegation
- Task management
Also, having some experience with some of the most popular project management software is a huge plus. Some of the most used software is Asana, Basecamp, Trello, LiquidPlanner, and Podio. Most of these companies offer a free trial. Your employer probably uses one of them and simply by virtue of playing around with the software, you'll learn how to use it.
Ask in the interview which project management software they use, and tell them you'll be expert in it on day one! That will get their attention.
20. Computer literacy professional skills
We live in a digital world, and employers expect people to have computer literacy. Depending on the job, even entry-level positions in most fields need to be able to perform basic tasks such as using the internet and checking email. Also, some companies require their employees to communicate via smartphone apps like GroupMe, which is where sharing day-to-day communication takes place.
21. Data analysis
Most industries today rely on data. It may be data about clients or data about the success of their products. Technological advances have made it easy to get data. However, data analysis requires a specific skill set. It can be learned, but if you're a good data analyst already, you have a highly marketable skill. If you're not already a data analyst, you don't need to worry. There are plenty of free courses available online.
Specifically, data analysis can include knowledge of algorithms, compiling statistics, data mining, needs analysis, statistical analysis, and quantitative reports, just to name a few. Regardless of the industry in which you work, being good at data analysis is an essential skill.
22. Coding and programming professional skills
If you can write and edit code, you're in an elite group of individuals. And you're highly sought after. There's a bit of mystery surrounding coding. We tend to visualize the nerdy genius guy sitting in the back of a room with a hoodie and a lollipop who suddenly produces something that changes the world and makes him a zillionaire. In reality, coding is an analytical profession that involves the professional skills of logical thinking, integration of different technology, problem-solving, and a broad understanding of various information systems.
If you have coding on your resume, you should be able to proficiently use languages like HTML and C++, among others. You may also need to be familiar with website and software development, infrastructure and networking, operating systems, and more. The requirements for coding jobs vary widely and depend wholly on a company's needs. You can find free courses and websites online to learn to code for free.
23. Social media skills
Do you love social media? Here's a hard fact: If you love social media, GREAT. If you don't love social media (some people don't), then you still have to have a solid working knowledge of it. We live in a socially driven world. Most employers require staff to have a firm grip on how to leverage social media platforms for business.
“Social media literacy is one of the top five skills I see employers seeking in new hires,” says Robin Colner, CEO of DigiStar Media, a digital and social marketing agency based in Harrison, New York. “Job seekers that have developed robust online personal brands using social media and content marketing have a clear advantage over candidates that have limited experience with social marketing. I have seen first hand how individuals of all ages and career stages have obtained better jobs and advanced their careers by demonstrating competency with social media.” (via Monster.com)
24. Technical writing professional skills
In short, technical writing is all about simplifying the process of whatever you need to write about. The goal of technical writing is to convey useful information in a way that can easily be understood by whoever consumes it. Think of textbooks or computer software manuals. More simply (and perhaps a bit more boring), think about the instruction manual that came with your blender or your TV. However, technical writing also extends to a company's SOP or employment manuals.
Beyond technical manuals, however, technical writing also includes policy documents, proposals, reference guides, contracts, and scripts for how-to videos.
If you can convey any kind of technical information in a way that makes it easier for others to understand, you can honestly say you know (or can easily learn) technical writing. Spending a day learning about technical writing will put you ahead of the pack.
25. AP Style
The Associated Press style is the preferred style for news and journalism writing. You'll need to know the fundamentals of AP Style if you're going to be doing blogging or writing on the web. Furthermore, it's the preferred style for press releases used by many companies. The good news is that you don't need to have a journalism degree to conquer AP Style. There are numerous articles online that will give you a good working knowledge of AP Style. Alternatively, you can even pick up The Associated Press Stylebook online.
26. Adobe Creative Cloud
If you have skills with Adobe products, you'll be in high demand. Adobe Creative Cloud is the entire suite of Adobe tools, including apps for design, video, photography, and the internet. Most employers want you to minimally have some basic Adobe Photoshop skills. However, you may be asked to also use Adobe Illustrator and other apps, depending on your industry and your job title. Furthermore, you may need to know how to edit PDF documents. Adobe offers a 30-day free trial so that you can get it to practice. Also, there are plenty of helpful tutorials on YouTube.
27. Blogging and content management systems
Most companies have a blog of some sort, and having a good working knowledge of blogging and content management systems (CMS) is a plus. The more popular ones include WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. However, platforms like Shopify and Wix are considered to be content management systems also. The good news is this: Once you learn one content management system, it's easier to learn others.
All of the ones we've listed have free versions or free trials. So, get out there and create your blog so that you can learn your way around a content management system. We recommend WordPress. It's the most widely used CMS, and if you know how to use it, you'll be golden.
28. Microsoft Office
If you own a computer, you may already have a version of Microsoft Office. If you don't, Microsoft offers a one-month free trial for their Office 365 product. Most employers will expect you to know the basics of Microsoft tools, primarily the ability to work in Word and Excel. However, you may also need to learn PowerPoint, Access, and other programs. As with Adobe, there are plenty of videos on YouTube that can help you gain some expertise in Microsoft programs, or you can take online courses.
29. Public speaking
Don't misunderstand the phrase "public speaking." It doesn't always mean standing in front of thousands of people to deliver a keynote or inauguration address. Being a skilled public speaker could help you lead team meetings. Also, it can help you give presentations at staff meetings or board meetings.
Here are some of the basics of public speaking:
- Clearly articulating your message
- Assessing an audience
- Confidently presenting changes and updates to both executive and front-line staff in a way that's easy to understand
- Controlling your performance anxiety
- Creating PowerPoint slides if needed
- Maintaining eye contact with the audience members
- Memorizing blurbs as needed so that the speech doesn't feel like it is read from notes
- Modulating your vocal tone
- Organizing your notes into a speech
- Thinking on your feet
- Using humor strategically
Whew. That's a lot. Seriously, a LOT. You can see why being able to speak in front of groups of people is a valuable skill to employers. What we suggest is that you practice whenever and wherever you can.
Guess who is easy to speak in front of:
Offer to give short presentations on various topics at your local schools. Even just reading books to groups of children is not only helpful for improving your public speaking skills, but it's also very rewarding. Furthermore, it doesn't look bad on a resume. Other good venues to practice speaking are churches, community events, and non-profits.
Public speaking is one of those skills that once you do it a few times, you feel like a pro. As it becomes more and more natural to you, you'll enjoy it more, too.
Do You Have the Professional Skills You Need to Succeed?
There are numerous free and paid training opportunities available on the web. First, there are countless articles and guides online that will teach you everything you need to know without even stepping into a college classroom. However, if you prefer to learn via video, your first stop should be YouTube, where there are a plethora of educational videos on every topic imaginable. Furthermore, you can enroll in paid courses at respected online training sites like Lynda.com, Udemy, and Creative Live. Creative Live is unique in that all of their classes are free if you watch them at the scheduled times of live viewing. Then, you can always buy them if you want to watch them on your own time.
However you develop or hone your professional skills, remember that the most important thing is to be willing and eager to learn. An interesting thing happens when you start to love to learning -- learning opportunities jump out at you. Happy hunting.