What Are Employability Skills and How to Grow Yours

What Are Employability Skills and How to Grow Yours

10 minute read

By Mars Girolimon

There are many skills that can help you succeed in various careers––more than you might expect. Employability skills go beyond a computer programmer knowing certain programming languages or a therapist being skilled in evaluating mental health conditions. Kristen Letourneau, a senior curriculum designer at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), said employability skills encompass habits, traits, and abilities related to how an individual works on their own and with others.  “They are also highly sought by employers because they are often hardest to find in the job market, as well as the hardest to teach on the job,” said Letourneau. Along with your education and experience, certain aspects of your personality can be vital in helping you find work. “In reality, it’s a lot harder to teach someone patience than how to use Excel,” said Andrew Munger, a career advisor at SNHU. Growing your employability skills can improve your resume and interviews as you look for work or change careers. If you develop your skills and learn to articulate your strengths, you can make a good impression on potential employers—no matter what field you’re entering or what ladder you’re climbing.

What Are Examples of Employability Skills? 

According to Danielle Dalton, another curriculum designer at SNHU, there are two categories of employability skills:

Workplace-Specific Skills

Also called technical or hard skills, workplace-specific skills are skills you need to succeed in a certain position. Some examples of these skills include:

  • Coding
  • Conducting research or data analysis
  • Fluency in multiple languages
  • Operating certain machinery or using certain software
  • Video creation

While you’ll likely need coding skills to land a job in cyber security or fluency in multiple languages to become a translator, these skills are not applicable to every position. Your video creation skills could help you get certain content creation or video editing roles, but the skill probably won’t help you while pursuing a role as a nurse.

Common Skills

Common or soft skills are non-technical skills that relate more to your personality, demeanor and approach to work, said Munger. “There can be a misconception that soft skills aren’t as important as ‘hard’ or technical skills, but these skills are essential in any industry,” Munger said. “Don’t be afraid to show your value to employers through these types of skills.” Letourneau and Beth Lippold, also a career advisor at SNHU, noted some common skills that many employers want in their employees, regardless of field:

  • Adaptability or flexibility
  • Collaboration or teamwork
  • Creative problem-solving
  • Organization or attention to detail
  • Time management

No matter what you call them – soft, common or durable – skills like these are extremely valuable in the workplace.

Why Are Employability Skills Important?

The right combination of common skills and workplace-specific skills can help you get hired. “Employability skills are important because they clearly show employers why you can do the job you are applying for,” said Munger. When employers see you’re proficient in certain areas, they trust you’ll be a competent employee. “A company can teach you about their product, systems (and) procedures,” Lippold said. She also noted companies must rely on an individual’s soft or common skills to execute and be successful in the job. These days, employability skills are more important than ever before. “Skills are quickly becoming the language and currency of the workforce,” Letourneau said. “It is not enough to just be able to do a job, but how you do it can be just as, if not more, important.”  If you are an expert in cyber security but you don’t have professional communication skills, you might not be hired to a cyber security position that requires a lot of communication with other departments.

How Can Education Help Advance Your Employability Skills?

Whether through a college degree, a certification or an apprenticeship, your education can be a key step in improving your employability skills and getting hired. A report from the National Assessment of Career and Technical Education (NACTE) notes career training education can prepare you for a modern workforce that requires higher science, math and digital skills as well as better communication and other soft skills (NACTE PDF source). Letourneau said every assignment can be an opportunity to build your employability skills. Suppose you’re asked to do a discussion post for your course.  “In this one activity, (you) are developing writing, communication, planning and critical thinking skills,” Letourneau said. “Considering every facet of your education as a skill-building exercise and leveraging those skills on resumes and during interviews can help (you) become more employable and advance (your) employability skills.” You might find examples of the skills you’ll develop in a course’s syllabus, said Lippold. “Many professors will indicate on a syllabus or in a course description the ‘expectation’ of what you will learn by the end of the course,” she said. Making note of these skills can help you identify the skills you’re building throughout your degree or program. According to Munger, many skills you practice in your education—like time management, multitasking, organization and openness to different cultures—are valuable abilities and perspectives that employers want.  “If you learn how to articulate this, your education will serve you even better in a job search,” he said.

How Else Can You Grow Your Employability Skills?

Letourneau said there are three steps in building your employability skills:

1. Awareness: “In order to grow your employability skills, (you) first need to know what employability skills are and what specific skills are sought by employers,” she said. This allows you to “speak the same skills language.”

2. Identification: Once you are aware of the most sought-after employability skills in your field, you can identify where you’ve demonstrated these skills in your education and work history.

As a student, you should think critically about your assignments and professional experiences to identify where you may have demonstrated employability skills. “Taking an inventory of the skills you have tied to specific assignments and professional experiences will help you see your own skill development and make it easier to discuss these skills with potential employers,” Letourneau said.

3. Development: “Skills need continuous opportunities for practice and feedback in order to grow,” said Letourneau. “If you can determine which skills ... you would like to grow—whether because of a perceived weakness or because it is highly desired by employers—you can then make a conscious effort to seek out opportunities to practice and further develop those skills.”

Lippold said to look at your past experiences both academically and professionally to see your strengths and address your gaps. For instance, she said if you hope to enter a position that requires public speaking and you know that isn’t a strength of yours, you can practice by volunteering to present a group project. There are many organizations and programs that can help you hone your skills, too. Toastmasters is an international nonprofit that offers public speaking and leadership skills training, and the Six Sigma Black Belt Certificate program can help you develop your quality improvement and project leadership skills.

How Can You Leverage Your Skills to Get Employed?

Interviewing and applying for a job can be a skill of its own, utilizing communication, critical thinking, organization and more. Being prepared for the process can make all the difference.

Individualize Each Application

“Tailoring your resume to the role you are applying for is key,” said Lippold. “Be sure to look at the job description and reflect those skills in your resume if applicable.” Dalton recommended documenting everything in a master resume. “This is never going to be the one that you send out to an employer, but rather, it is the one that you go back to and select pieces from when building a customized resume for a specific position,” Dalton said. Letourneau agreed. “I would also add that students should connect the skills on their master resume to memorable assignments, projects and experiences within their academic and professional careers,” said Letourneau. “Not only will you be able to tell a potential employer what skills you have, but you will also be able to show how those skills were developed, refined and practiced using specific examples.”

Represent Yourself Well

As you apply for jobs, it’s crucial to know your skills – and your worth. Lippold said a stock associate at a store might be inclined to describe their work by saying they stock shelves.  “After asking questions like ‘Who monitors inventory? Who collaborates with management on ordering of inventory? Who handles discrepancy in pricing? Who assists customers find product(s), and if the product is not there, offer alternatives?’ (You) might discover that there are many other ways to frame the work and highlight your skills and responsibilities,” said Lippold.  She said product management, collaboration, time management, organization and customer service skills are all needed to stock shelves. To best showcase your abilities on your resume, you should also use action verbs and strong language that will capture a hiring manager’s attention. Rather than “Helped to make more sales,” you might say, “Spearheaded an initiative that increased sales and revenue.” The employment and job search website Indeed lists almost 200 action verbs that can improve your resume. Some strong verbs to use on your resume are:

  • Accelerated
  • Championed
  • Mentored
  • Overhauled
  • Streamlined

Even if you feel confident in your ability to succeed in a certain role, it’s vital to introduce yourself in the best possible light on your resume and in interviews. Your perspective and framing can make all the difference when presenting your skills to potential employers.

Mars Girolimon '21 is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with them on LinkedIn
SNHU does not endorse or sponsor any commercial product, service, or activity offered on this website.

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