The first step in career self-assessment is to identify your skills. By definition, a skill is something that you have learned through work experience, education, training or volunteer activities. When employers consider a candidate for a position, they assess whether a candidate’s skills match those required for the position. Knowing your skills is crucial in pursuing and securing the right job.

Career skills generally fall into two categories — hard and soft. The former involve specific knowledge and abilities, such as technical proficiencies and data analysis. The latter focus on emotional intelligence and behaviour, such as communication and problem solving.

Both types of skills are equally valuable. A study by CareerBuilder, a global leader in human capital solutions, which included 2,000 Human Resources professionals and spanned multiple industries, found that 77 per cent of those surveyed believed that soft skills were as important as hard skills.

“When companies are assessing job candidates, they’re looking for the best of both worlds: someone who is not only proficient in a particular function, but also has the right personality,” said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder. Along with responsibilities, it’s important to highlight soft skills that can give employers an idea of how quickly you can adapt and solve problems, whether you can be relied on to follow through and how effectively you can lead and motivate others.”

Defining Hard, Soft and Essential Skills

Hard skills are quantifiable, tangible skills that include technical skills. Hard skill abilities include conducting research on the Internet, using a specific computer application or operating a specific piece of machinery or equipment. For example, a nurse or a doctor will have hard skills in the use of medical equipment.

Soft skills are unquantifiable, intangible skills that are also known as “people skills.” Some examples of soft skills include having a positive attitude, communicating well, creative thinking, teamwork and problem solving.

It’s the combination of hard skills and soft skills that form your overall essential skills, which is what helps you secure and maintain employment. These essential skills vary by occupation or profession. They are determined by analyzing the tasks current workers in that occupation perform on a daily basis and are rated based on their degree of complexity.

Literacy and Essential Skills Checklist

To help define the essential skills needed to work, the Government of Canada developed The Literacy and Essential Skills Checklist. As part of this essential skills system, various skills are rated in terms of complexity from a Level 1 (Basic) to a Level 5 (Advanced).

The areas of skills assessment include:

  • reading
  • writing
  • document use
  • numeracy
  • computer use/digital skills
  • thinking
  • oral communication
  • working with others
  • continuous learning

Additional Resources

Information on profiles

Search a database by occupation

Video on essential skills

Video: The power of soft skills