The Most Important Personal Skills (With Examples)

By Matthew Zane - May. 19, 2021
Skills Based Articles

Find a Job You Really Want In

When it comes to crafting a well-rounded resume, infusing some personal skills can go a long way in making you stand out.

Candidates who are naturally adept at engaging with colleagues and clients are in high demand, regardless of the industry.

An employee with top-notch personal skills makes valuable contributions to whatever project they work on, and positively affects whomever they work alongside. While it can be tricky to show off your strong personal skills when you’re looking for a job, we’ll provide tips on how to hone these skills and how to incorporate them into your resume and cover letter.

What Are Personal Skills?

Personal skills, also called soft skills, people skills, or interpersonal skills, are a person’s attributes or traits that relate to social interaction in a variety of ways. They are also highly transferable, since your attitude, personality, and work style automatically follow you to any and every company you work for.

Personal skills are contrasted by hard skills. Hard skills involve technical knowledge, which includes things like machine skills, multilingualism, and computer programming. You need to study or be taught a hard skill.

Personal skills are more challenging to develop, making them very valuable to hiring managers. Soft skills can complement your hard skills, making you a well-rounded candidate that will be a positive addition to any team.

Why Are Personal Skills Important?

Personal skills are harder to find in candidates than hard skills, as odd as that might seem. As a culture, we spend a disproportionate amount of time upping our technical skills when compared to our interpersonal ones.

Hiring managers and recruiters place great value in candidates who can not only perform their job responsibilities well, but perform them in tandem with a diverse team while improving the experience of everyone around them. A tall order, we know.

But if you can show that you’re the type of person who’s a real asset to an organization, beyond your ability to complete job-specific tasks, you’ll stand out at every stage of the hiring process.

Types of Personal Skills

  1. Communication. Almost every position under the sun involves communication. Whether it’s on the phone, via email, or face-to-face, being a strong communicator makes life easier for everyone around you.

    Communication is a two-way street, so things like active listening, asking good questions, and maintaining open body language all fall under the umbrella of communication skills.

  2. Interpersonal. A close cousin of communication skills, interpersonal skills are essential whenever you need to interact with anyone at work.

    We all know someone who is naturally a “people person,” easily comfortable and compatible with all sorts of different people. For an employer, finding an employee who can fit in with any group and adjust their communication style on the fly is like finding the Holy Grail.

  3. Leadership. Whether you’re in a management position or taking the lead on a project, leadership skills are all about motivating others.

    A leader is self-confident and has strong interpersonal skills. They have to know how to manage the disparate personalities that make up their team and accept responsibility for the projects they lead.

  4. Problem-solving. Employers don’t want to have to hold your hand through every problem that arises in your day-to-day workload. A job is essentially a series of problems to be solved, and those that have the intuition, creativity, and confidence to tackle these problems are highly valued, in any position.

    While some problems require hard skills to solve, being a good problem-solver also means knowing who to collaborate with when issues arise.

  5. Time management. Being able to effectively manage your time is essential for any job. Prioritizing, planning, and scheduling are all facets of time management.

    Being organized and meeting or exceeding deadlines is going to get you noticed by your employer, and you’ll start to see more independence and opportunities come your way after exhibiting strong time management skills.

  6. Flexibility/adaptability. Change is the only constant, in business as in everything else. Being a flexible employee who can adapt to any situation as it arises is a highly-valued trait.

    Sometimes you might need to perform a duty that’s outside of your comfort zone, and being adaptable means nobody needs to babysit you while you’re at it. Being able to acclimate to new environments, technologies, or processes will make you an employee that a company wants around for the long haul.

  7. Critical thinking. Critical thinking involves taking an analytical approach to problems. Strong critical thinking not only helps you perform assigned tasks effectively — it also helps come up with better ways of doing things for all assignments, present and future.

    Being a critical thinker helps the company grow, adapt, and improve, and is valuable in every position in every industry.

  8. Organization. Having strong organizational skills is about more than just keeping a tidy desk and a beautifully laid-out filing cabinet (although that certainly is part of it). It’s also about organizing your time, your team’s tasks, and your schedule so that things get done efficiently and in the proper order.

    Strong organizational skills are highly transferable and will help you succeed regardless of the nature of your work.

  9. Creativity. A business cannot grow or improve without creativity. Being able to think outside-the-box about practices, processes, and problems can save a company loads of time and money.

    Creativity is also important for any job that produces internal or external materials. But really, anyone who is willing and able to challenge the status quo and offer new ideas is an asset to any employer.

  10. Collaboration. Strong collaboration skills are all about teamwork. Most jobs require you to work with people, and being a team player means that you’ll put the project’s success ahead of your personal glory.

    Good collaboration also means listening to others, identifying your and your teammates’ strengths and weaknesses, and knowing when to follow and when to lead.

  11. Attention to detail. Mistakes can be extremely costly for a business. Being a person who has strong attention to detail means that you’ll catch these mistakes well before they become a more serious problem. The best way to show you pay attention to detail while on the job search? Submit a perfectly formatted resume and a mistake-free cover letter.

  12. Dependability/responsibility. The baseline for being a dependable employee is showing up on time every day. Being truly dependable, however, is about being someone whom people (co-workers or clients) can turn to for help in any situation.

    Responsibility is about knowing what’s expected of you and owning up to your actions, even when you make a mistake. Dependability and responsibility are highly sought-after personality traits that make for a strong employee.

  13. Self-motivated. It’s important to be a good teammate and a good listener. It’s equally important to be self-motivated. No boss wants to have to tell you how to spend every minute of your day.

    Taking initiative is going to get you noticed at any job. Being intrinsically motivated to succeed in all of your tasks is essential for a company’s efficiency.

  14. Work ethic. Related to self-motivation, work ethic is the belief that diligence at work has its own inherent virtue. Someone with a strong work ethic doesn’t need a carrot on a stick to be motivated to do their job to the best of their ability. They enjoy their work and take pride in it.

    People with a strong work ethic exhibit many of the traits listed above but tie them all together with a winning attitude.

  15. Professionalism. Last but certainly not least is professionalism. Professionalism involves being mature, self-confident, and responsible in all one’s tasks.

    It also means being honest and exhibiting integrity in every situation. Professional people can still be fun, but they know the appropriate time and place for everything. A professional employee is one you can always count on to do things the right way — procedurally and ethically.

How to Identify Your Personal Skills

“Great,” you’re thinking, “I have all of those skills!” But you can’t just throw a list of skills onto a resume and hope for the best. Narrow down which skills you truly excel at and should include with these tips.

  • Ask people who know you. Oftentimes we have a tough time seeing ourselves accurately. You might be better able (or more comfortable) to describe a friend’s traits than your own. So, as weird as it might seem, reach out to a manager, coworker, mentor, or even just a friend to ask what skills they see most in you.

  • Read the industry. Work backwards here. See what kinds of skills employers are looking for in job postings within your industry or ask other professionals who are currently employed in that industry.

    When you start seeing the same soft skills pop up, consider which you actually possess. Don’t lie just to fit in though — take an honest inventory of your strengths and weaknesses.

  • Look at your achievements. Your resume and cover letter should include some of your top accolades from your professional and/or educational experience. Consider what skills aided you most in your achievements. That way, you already have proof to back up your given skillset.

How to Showcase Your Personal Skills on a Resume

For any job application, your resume and cover letter should be specifically tailored for the job you’re applying for.

For personal skills, that means reading the job description carefully and identifying adjectives they use to describe their ideal candidate. You’ll notice words from the list above come up quite often, with varying regularity depending on the industry and the position.

Next, think of how you can prove you possess these skills. It is not enough to simply state “self-motivated” — employers want evidence, quantifiable if possible, that you really are self-motivated. Saying something like “independently developed a project for XYZ company that increased website traffic by 7%” is going to have much more weight behind it.

For your cover letter, try to work in how some of your best personal skills have served you well on the job. Just like your resume, though, be sure to contextualize your skills with noteworthy achievements.

For example, you could write about how you saved the company money by paying close attention to detail, communicating with relevant departments, and organizing a new budget. This shows that you know how to leverage your skills to get things done on the job.

In an interview, it’s important to know which personal skills you want to highlight most. Again, turn to the job description before the interview to remind yourself which personality traits are emphasized as extra-important.

Then, look for ways to pepper those qualities into your answers whenever possible. Just don’t go crazy and turn every question into a chance to showcase your great organizational abilities. Remember, personal skills are best when they’re varied and complement each other well.

How to Improve Your Personal Skills

Unlike hard skills, we’re always practicing soft skills, day in and day out, at work and at home. However, it never hurts to be deliberate when working towards a goal.

Here are some tips to start improving your personal skills today:

  • Identify weak areas. Start thinking about where you’d like to improve. Maybe you’re a great communicator, but horrible at keeping organized. Or maybe you’ve got a talent for collaboration, but you become easily distracted.

    If you’re unsure where to start improving your personal skills, ask friends, coworkers, supervisors, or anyone who regularly sees your personal skills in action.

  • Take a class. There are online classes for everything these days — even personal skills. There are both free and paid versions on countless e-learning websites, or you can even turn to YouTube to pick up on some tips and tricks.

    Taking a formal class will help keep you accountable and aware of how you’re using your personal skills every day. Even if you take a class to improve your hard skills, you’ll naturally be practicing soft skills like self-motivation, responsibility, and adaptability as a matter of course.

  • Practice self-care. Personal skills are often held back because there’s just too much on our plates and we don’t take enough time to really work on ourselves. Start setting aside time every day for meditation, yoga, or anything that helps you feel grounded and mindful.

    We become more patient, empathetic, and relaxed when we take a few moments out of our day to practice self-care. And that’s the perfect starting ground to improve your personal skills.

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Author

Matthew Zane

Matthew Zane is the lead editor of Zippia's How To Get A Job Guides. He is a teacher, writer, and world-traveler that wants to help people at every stage of the career life cycle. He completed his masters in American Literature from Trinity College Dublin and BA in English from the University of Connecticut.

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