Do You Understand the Difference Between Skills and Traits?


The person interviewing you or reading your resume wishes you did!


Today’s topic is an important one that will apply to many and the majority probably won’t even know they are committing this cardinal mistake until after reading this blog. The topic I’m talking about is the distinction between skills and traits. Do you know the difference between the two? A 2015 study stated 50% of Employers felt it was difficult to find candidates with the skills they are seeking. Not representing your skills properly is contributing to this very problem and leaving Employers with the impression you are just not qualified!

I find this to be a very common difficulty among job seekers. When working with resume clients, often you never get enough information from candidates about what they do or their skill set from the initial order request. As a result, I reach out to my clients with many questions including this one: If asked in an interview what your top three or four skills are, what would you list? On occasion, I would get an answer that was relevant to that question but nine out of ten times, I would get answers like these:






People Person

None of these things are an actual skill!

Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines a skill as: “the ability to do something that comes from training, experience, or practice”.


Use those three things to help you suss out your actual skills.

Skills are tangible factors that you actually bring to the table. Things such as HTML, PowerPoint, Tax Preparation, Medication Compounding, Social Media Management, Lesson Planning, Accounts Receivable, Contract negotiations, etc. They are things that require you to develop a certain level of understanding, productivity or efficiency to claim expertise.

A trait is therefore defined as, “a quality that makes one person or thing different from another”. These are the things that make you who you are, that are part of your personality: the things that make you different from other people. The difference is that these are subjective. One person's definition of being hard-working is not the same as another's. Traits come without a quantifiable or standard measure. They are often, but not always, amplifiers of how you do or complete something that is a skill.

Now that both are clearly defined, let’s discuss why the distinction is important in your job search. If someone asked you what your skills are and you give them personality traits you're not displaying any sort of value. They don't know you well enough to determine that when you say you’re loyal or great with people whether your definition of that concept matches with their own. It feels like empty words or fluff. It's about as shallow as you can be in an interview. It carries almost no weight and actually downgrades you in an interview situation. At the crux of the issue is that you did not answer the actual question and, worst of all, it makes you sound like you don’t truly understand what you bring to the role.

It does the same thing for you on a resume or cover letter. By listing your top “skills” or “expertise” as traits, the same clichés that a 100 other people have listed, you're not creating any sense of why they should bring you in for an interview or why you are valuable to the team that you are currently on/were part of. What did you bring to the table other than the fact that you were "personable" and you like to work in a team?

When it comes to your resume you should show, not say. Stating that you have great communication skills or that you are great at problem solving is hollow because it's coming from you. A prime example of this concept is the overused phrase on resumes and cover letters: “I’m a great communicator”. If you were a great communicator you would be able to effectively demonstrate this to an Employer without having to directly state it! Including actual details that support the idea will display the value without you having to articulate it. Tell them your high customer service ranking, that you lead training exercises for your department, or that you were selected as the communication liaison between clients. This illustrates your communication effectiveness in ways that have meaning and weight. Concrete examples bring value to your statements and display a lot more about your actual experience.

Not to mention, preparing value statements or facts in this manner on your career documents shows you know how to communicate in a professional manner without ever needing to state it!

By knowing the difference between skills and traits, you can utilize them properly in the appropriate situation. Making the mistake between the two during your job search will impact your chances of landing an interview or even being hired. Getting them right will make you stand out as a candidate that is prepared to speak about their work and knows their own value. The search for a qualified candidate ends with you!

***Stay tuned for our next blog which will detail the difference between hard and soft skills and how to leverage both in your job search. They can definitely tip the scales in your favor.


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