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What Are Skills?

Skills is a word that is too often mis-defined in common culture today. When we think to ourselves before an interview, “How am I going to describe my skills?” we often start down a path that can mis-represent us during an interview and lessen our chances of getting a job all because of how we chose to talk about our professional background and skillset. The words we use and how we use them can often make or break us during an interview, making your vocabulary a key variable when talking to potential employers. How you describe your skills will help avoid any myopic view your resume may provide, if not written by a professional. The ’68 Center For Career Exploration has a comprehensive list of action verbs listed as skills, that can help expand your vocabulary when describing your work history during an interview.

Sidney Fine, a specialist in job analysis, occupational classification, and personal management, breaks down the skills that we, as humans, all have into three categories; Functional or Transferrable Skills, Special Knowledges, and Self-Management Skills (also known as Traits).

Functional (Transferrable) skills can be broken down into three categories, as well, by describing your transferrable skills when working with people, data, or things (physical objects). Fine then goes on to define during his career that Special Knowledges skills are things that you know and love to use. Things that are part of your daily routine or part of who you are. Playing a musical instrument, driving, or cooking are all examples of these special knowledges that we all have. Sidney Fine also defines Self-Management skills, or traits, in terms of how you conduct yourself when you are either alone or with various groups of people. Things like being outgoing or on-time. You can also think of things like being adaptable or innovative. More about how he defines each skill can be found in his book entitled, AN INTRODUCTION TO FUNCTIONAL JOB ANALYSIS A Scaling of Selected Tasks from the Social Welfare Field. You can find it on Amazon for purchase, or online to read free, for a more comprehensive analysis.

As a job seeker, understanding the difference in skills puts you ahead of most candidates from the start. Instead of the traditional “hard and soft” way of describing your skills, you can think in terms of breaking down your skills into groups; people, data, and things. From there, using Sidney Fine’s progression chart, you can determine how high up on the scale of each skill you can legitimately claim when describing yourself. For example, when describing your transferrable skill of being able to “work well with people,” you need to understand that, as a role model of mine once said, “It’s levels to this ****.” When working with people, it starts with simple things like helping and being able to take orders or instruction. The higher up you go in complexity, the more cognitive function is used when simply “working well with people.” A step above taking orders would be speaking or talking to another person, answering basic questions etc. A cognitive step up from this would be persuading or convincing others of your ideas or points of view. This skill has a unique spectrum of its’ own, which we’ll write about in a future blog, and can be looked at as the third step on the “working well with people” skill graph described by Sidney Fine. Next comes supervising, then instructing or teaching, then negotiating, and finally mentoring. These are skills in terms of how we “work well with people.” When interviewing, it is important to be able to differentiate this skill relative to their job description and your specific work history. Remember, “he who gets the job is not the most qualified for the role, but it’s who interviews the best.”

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