Before you send in a job application, you will want to assess your own personal and professional strengths and weaknesses. Knowing what areas are your strongest will give you confidence, and that will impress your prospective employer. And knowing your weaknesses will help you avoid coming off as overconfident or cocky – traits that can be a turn-off for employers who are looking to hire someone who will fit in well with their organization.
If you do not know what your skills are, you will have a hard time showing an employer what your skills are. This might seem obvious, but lots of people are so accustomed to being modest about their abilities and accomplishments that they do not even take time to identify their skills, let alone develop the ability to showcase them to others. You can still be modest – in fact it is important to do so – while you show (but not show off) your set of skills and abilities.
You do not want to come off as self-important or thinking you are “all that”, but neither should you downplay your skills in a self-deprecating manner. When you are asked about your strong points, or about what sets you apart from other candidates, be prepared with a confident, straightforward reply. Likewise, your resume and cover letter should display an understanding of your strongest abilities and selling points.
Generally speaking, skills and skill sets can be broken down into two main areas:
“Hard” skills are specific, task-oriented skills that can be measured and quantified. Typing speed, level of qualification or certification with a software application or mechanical equipment, etc.
“Soft” skills are more intangible, but equally important. Being a team player, being able to work without supervision and being a “self-starter” (identifying and doing things that need to be done without being asked) are all examples of soft skills, as are organization, enthusiasm and communication skills.
Here are some suggestions for making an inventory of your skill set:
Make a complete list of all of your past employers and the skills that you have learned at all the positions you held. Include even seemingly trivial details. Did you learn how to fix the copier when it broke down? Put that on the list under mechanical skills. Were you in charge of buying the ice-cream cake when someone retired or had a baby? List that under vendor relations.
It may seem frivolous, but make a list of your hobbies and leisure activities throughout your lifetime and look at the abilities you have acquired from them. If you were in charge of keeping track of averages for a bowling league, or scheduling games for a church or office softball team, that not only shows a talent for organization but also initiative in volunteering to take charge.
And the type of school activities you chose can also tell you (or an employer) a lot about yourself. Were you on the yearbook committee? Writing for the school newspaper? A member of the chess club or planning the homecoming dance? All those activities require specific interests and instill specific skills. And you never know which seemingly tiny detail will mean a great deal to a potential employer.
Take a hard look at the list of things you like to do and things you do well. It may give you some new insights into the sort of career that would be best suited to you. And pick out the skills on your list that apply specifically to the particular job you are seeking. If you can find a way to work those in to your resume, cover letter or interview, you will bolster your ability to sell your suitability for the job to a potential employer.
Knowing your skill set is only the first step. The next step is making sure your prospective employer knows it. After you have gone over your skill set and familiarized yourself with it, you will be in a better position to promptly answer skill-related questions with replies that show the employer that you are in command of your skill set and ready to bring it to bear in your career.