What Is a Skill Set?

Definition & Examples of a Skill Set

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A skill set is the knowledge, abilities, and experience needed to perform a job. Specific skill set areas can include human relations, research and planning, accounting, leadership, management, and computer skills.

Review what a skill set is, types and examples, and how to develop skill sets.

What Is a Skill Set?

A skill set is the combination of knowledge, personal qualities, and abilities that you've developed through your life and work. It typically combines two types of skills: soft skills and hard skills.

Soft skills are interpersonal or people skills. They are somewhat difficult to quantify and relate to someone's personality and ability to work with others. This in-demand skill set includes good communication, listening, attention to detail, critical thinking, empathy, and conflict resolution abilities, among other skills.

Hard skills are quantifiable and teachable. They include the specific technical knowledge and abilities required for a job. Examples of hard skills include computer programming, accounting, mathematics, and data analysis.

How Skill Sets Work

In the workplace, you typically use a range of skills on a given day. Some of these skills are job-specific. For example, hairstylists will use their knowledge of hair-coloring techniques and payroll clerks will use their accounting software skills. You might learn these skills by going to school or through training with an experienced mentor.

You might also use hard skills that aren't job-specific. For example, you might use your written communication skills to craft an email to follow-up on an important project. You might use your verbal communication skills to present a project idea to a manager.

You might also use soft skills you've developed through your work experience, school, and volunteer roles. They might include problem-solving or resolving a conflict with a customer.

One difference between hard skills and soft skills is that you can easily list hard skills on a resume, while soft skills may come across more clearly during an in-person job interview.

Examples of Skill Sets

Below are examples of the skills that employers seek in candidates based on their career focus. Develop these skills and emphasize them in job applications, resumes, cover letters, and interviews.

Skill Sets for Administrative Careers

Administrative skills are those related to running a business or keeping an office organized. These skills are needed for a variety of jobs, ranging from office assistants to secretaries to office managers. This skill set might include:

  • Written and verbal communication
  • Customer service
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Document management
  • Microsoft Office skills
  • Job-specific software
  • Event coordination
  • Organization
  • Time management
  • Problem-solving
  • Collaboration

Skill Sets for Sales Careers

Selling is a multifaceted and demanding line of work. In addition to being able to sell, salespeople must have excellent communication, customer service, and marketing skills. A sales skill set might include:

  • Account management
  • Client acquisition and retention
  • Team management
  • Project management
  • Customer relationship management (CRM)
  • Active listening
  • Negotiation
  • Networking
  • Persuasion
  • Public speaking
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Branding
  • Collaboration

Skill Sets for Education Careers

The skill sets you need to be a great teacher range from leadership and compassion to organization and computer skills. By highlighting these key traits, you'll appeal to the schools to which you are applying. The skills needed for a career in education include:

  • Collaboration
  • Classroom management
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Active listening
  • Written and verbal communication
  • Leadership
  • Time management
  • Organization
  • Flexibility
  • Computer skills
  • Assessment skills
  • Instructional skills
  • Public speaking

Skill Sets for Information Technology (IT) Jobs

There are many different jobs in the IT sector. Employers typically look for a combination of technical skills and soft skills when hiring. Some employers may look for expertise in a specific language or program, while others might look for a more general skill set. Desired IT skills include:

  • Collaboration
  • Written and verbal communication
  • Communicating complex information simply
  • IP setup
  • Wireless modems/routers
  • Cloud computing
  • JavaScript
  • Python
  • Cybersecurity
  • Networking
  • Analytics
  • Project management
  • Multitasking
  • Critical thinking

Skill Sets for Health Careers

Nurses and other healthcare professionals need several skill sets to succeed. They must be able to perform certain procedures (such as giving vaccinations and drawing blood), be tech-savvy, and use soft skills to connect with patients and colleagues. Essential skills for health care professionals include:

  • Adaptability
  • Analysis
  • Applying current research to medical practice
  • Attention to detail
  • Collaboration
  • Diagnosis
  • Care plan development
  • Leadership
  • Active listening
  • Math
  • Multitasking
  • Organization
  • Problem-solving
  • Understanding and applying rules and regulations
  • Research
  • Time management

How to Get Skill Sets

Some skills can only be acquired through formal training. In that case, you may need to obtain a degree or certification to learn the skills you need.

Other skills, like soft skills, are ones that you develop through your experiences. Odds are that you already have some of these skills. Here's how to determine your core skills:

  • Pinpoint what you enjoy doing: Identify tasks that you enjoy doing and with which you feel competent. Perhaps you've enjoyed positions where you can use your knowledge and patiently answer questions. That might be expressed as "communication skills" or "customer service abilities" on a resume or during an interview.
  • Consider the compliments you receive: In a work setting, determine what activities lead to praise. Perhaps you consistently receive acknowledgment for your collaborative abilities during performance reviews. Maybe your previous managers have commented on your timeliness or attention to detail.
  • Evaluate the different jobs you've done: Look at the job descriptions for the jobs you've held. What skills do they highlight? If you were successful in those positions, you may have used those skills and should consider bringing attention to those during a job search.
  • Use a skill assessment tool: Use a free tool to assess your skills. For example, O*NET OnLine's Skill Search Tool helps you identify occupations that match your skills and interests. CareerOneStop's Skill Matcher will show you career options that match your skill ratings. LinkedIn also has skills assessments you can take. You'll be able to validate your skills and add them to your profile.

If you are looking for a job that requires a skill set that you don't currently possess, consider gaining it through skill-sharing: Someone with a particular skill shares their knowledge in exchange for lessons from you in another skill.

Key Takeaways

  • A skill set is the knowledge, abilities, and experience needed to perform a job. 
  • Your skill set includes hard skills and soft skills. 
  • Employees use a range of skills in their work that they've acquired through experience and training. 
  • Employers are looking for combinations of hard and soft skills. 
  • You can learn more about the skills you have by reflecting on your work and using skill assessment tools. 

Article Sources

  1. ASCD. "Essential Skills for New Teachers." Accessed June 21, 2020.

  2. Global Knowledge. "The 10 Most Important IT Skills for 2019." Accessed June 21, 2020.

  3. Nurse.org. "4 Essential Skills That Will Make You The Best Nurse." Accessed June 21, 2020.

  4. CareerOneStop. "Want to Know What Careers You Can Do With the Skills You Already Have?" Accessed June 21, 2020.