Skills vs Attributes – what’s the difference and which are the most important when you’re job-hunting?

Looking for a new job? Find out what the difference is between skills and attributes, and discover which five are the most important of each. 

While it can be pretty easy to get the two confused – and sure, there are a few cross-overs – there’s actually a big difference between your skills and your attributes.

Attributes are qualities which you might naturally have (perhaps you’re a naturally chatty person or have strong resilience, for example) and have used to benefit you in life and work.

Skills, on the other hand, are things you’ve learnt through work, training or education, or general life experience. Skills are tangible and can be backed up by qualifications and real-life examples.

What’s the difference between skills and attributes when job hunting?

When applying for work or pitching for clients, it’s crucial to know the difference and be able to identify the core skills that make you stand out and are relevant to your audience – be that a potential employer or client.

While attributes are important, it’s your skills that can ultimately make you a success in a role, and articulating these well is crucial. You can bring in your attributes once you know a bit more about what the individual is looking for, to help sharpen your case as the ideal candidate.

Once you’ve identified your own skills and attributes, it’s easy to fit them together so they compliment you as a person.

Five of the top career attributes

Here’s a list of some of the top attributes that I discuss with clients and why they’re important in aiding them with their career goals.

1) Initiative

This is quite an important attribute to have, particularly where job searching is concerned. I always hear from clients that they haven’t heard back from applications, but when I ask them what they’ve done to follow up on it themselves the answer is almost always “nothing”.

In the current market, it’s important to take control wherever you can. Use your initiative to reach out to employers or clients you want to work for, before they advertise, and always follow up on applications. This can be crucial in helping you secure success.

2) Motivation

It can be really hard to keep motivated when you keep getting knock backs and rejection. The biggest piece of advice with this is to not take it personally; you have to be able to accept any outcome and stay motivated.

High activity is crucial in getting success in today’s market, and I know of clients who’ve gone from doing 50 applications a week to just five because they felt de-motivated by not hearing back. Don’t let this hold you back – it’s okay to take a day off if you feel it’s all getting too much but don’t let it stop you from keeping at it.

3) Engagement

I honestly believe this is one of the most important attributes to get across. Be engaging! If someone calls you to discuss a job, one word answers aren’t going to create the best impression. I’ve known so many job seekers to be extremely personable, engaging individuals, but once they’re in front of an employer they freeze.

Everyone has a personality. Don’t wait for an employer to call before practicing your best first impression. Get your friends/family/mentor to help you with this continually if you know you struggle and make sure you’re prepared.

4) Positivity

From talking about your previous experience, skills, redundancy, being unemployed, your previous interview experience to why you’re currently sitting in front of an employer/client – be positive!

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve carried out mock interviews and had candidates tell me all the negative things that have happened or focused on the things they can’t do versus what they can. An employer won’t want to hear it, so make sure you focus on the positive.

5) Self-awareness

An employer isn’t just going to make assumptions about you based on your CV and lists of previous employment. They’re going to make decisions based on how you come across at the interview – that is after all the whole point of conducting an interview!

You need to be able to talk confidently about your personal skills and experience and to do this you need to have a high level of self-awareness to make sure you get across all the good stuff employers want to hear about.

Strengths and weaknesses are really common interview questions and this is where your own self awareness of these will really help you excel at this question.

Five important career skills to possess

And to help you identify and work on the skills that will help you in the workplace, here are five of the most important.

1) Communication

Some of my colleagues would argue that this is an attribute, but I personally believe that communication skills can be taught and developed through work and training. You can teach someone excellence in customer service, the principles and skills of what that looks like, and I think communication falls into this as well.

I’ve coached many individuals in communication skills for interviews – from only being able to provide one word answers to detailing fluently their skills for a particular role. It requires a lot of practice and it is the first thing that others will notice about you.

2. Team work

Very few roles won’t require you to negotiate and contribute as part of a team. So employers are very keen on employees who can work collaboratively with their workforce and will add to the existing team environment.

Working as part of a team isn’t necessarily just about helping a colleague out if they’re struggling. It’s also about asking for help and support if you need it and recognising the importance of utilising your colleagues for their strengths – and understanding how this can make a business successful.

3) Time management

This covers everything from committing to and achieving set deadlines for work, to making sure you arrive on time in the morning.

Time management demonstrates an understanding of how your individual performance affects the rest of your team and the business as a whole. Strong time management is a skill all employers will look for in a leading candidate. Make sure you back up this skill with examples from previous work experience.

4) Able to respond to pressure

This can be anything from making sure you get your application in on time, to attending an interview at the last minute. Sometimes the employers I work with want a very quick turn around; from reviewing CVs, to interview, to job start!

Being able to act quickly and decisively is really important and demonstrates that you’re capable and prepared to do what needs to be done.

5) Technical understanding

A very basic and obvious one. In an increasingly digitalised world, having a core understanding of using technology in the workplace is now an essential skill, and it isn’t just about using using a desktop computer.

It’s always worth researching what programs/digital skills are needed when applying for a role, or having a strong list of up-to-date digi skills you can refer to when pitching for work. You don’t need to know the ins and outs of everything you could come into contact with but you need to be able to express confidence in your ability to take these tasks on.

Elaine Mead is a passionate education and careers consultant, and is particularly interested in empowering young women to be their professional best. You can follow her on Twitter and read more of her articles on medium.