Computer skills: Definitions and examples
Updated 17 July 2023
A woman sits typing on a computer next to a list with the title "Common computer skills" and these skills:
• Graphic design
• Marketing automation
• Social media
• Microsoft Office
• Email communication
• Data visualization
Most jobs now require that individuals have a basic level of computer skills to perform effectively, with many roles needing employees to have at least an intermediate level of computer literacy to succeed. Wherever you work, using a computer likely forms some part of your day, so understanding what computer skills are and how you can develop them can help you excel in your career. In this article, we provide examples of computer skills and outline the steps you can take to improve them.
What are computer skills?
Computer skills are the skills and abilities which enable you to use computers effectively, including related equipment and computer software. While different industries can require experience using industry-specific software, employers will typically expect a basic level of computer literacy. For example, a basic understanding of word processing programs such as Microsoft Word and the ability to navigate menus and filing systems is often necessary for office-based roles. Other common computer skills include:
Effective email communication
Spreadsheets such as Google Sheets or Excel
Specific software skills are desirable for different industries and job roles. Familiarity with various coding languages, such as HTML, Python and Java, is usually required for those pursuing a career in computer programming. Whereas someone interested in a career in accounting should develop their skills using accounting software, such as Xero or Sage. Take the time to review job descriptions carefully, to understand what skills are necessary for roles you're interested in.
Related: How to become an IT engineer
Hardware skills allow you to physically operate a computer. This includes using a mouse and keyboard, knowing how to turn equipment on and off, and checking that cables are connected correctly. While some basic troubleshooting skills can be helpful, many employers hire technicians or technical support personnel with advanced computer skills to resolve a variety of computer related problems.
Software skills involve using computer programs, which you can often use to help you perform more efficiently and effectively in your role. While employers expect candidates to have basic software skills for many roles, such as understanding how to use word processing software and how to manage an inbox or calendar, some roles require an understanding of job-specific software. For example, experience using software such as Google Analytics, MailChimp and marketing platforms such as SEMrush can be necessary for some marketing positions.
Read more: IT skills: definitions and examples
Why are computer skills important?
For those working in an office environment, computer skills are essential to complete their day-to-day tasks. However, most jobs now require the use of a computer or mobile device in some capacity. For example, restaurants and bars often use tablet computers or mobile POS devices to take orders and process payment. Some employers provide on-the-job training to new employees to prepare them for using unfamiliar software, but having a basic level of computer literacy will help you to pick up new computer skills more quickly.
As the use of technology in the workplace continues to increase, continuing to develop your computer skills will help you to better understand new technology and software as it arises. As employers seek out candidates with strong computer skills, becoming experienced and confident using software that's relevant to your field will help you stand out.
Computer skills examples
The types of computer skills that you need for certain roles will vary depending on your industry or career. However, there are computer skills that are common in a wide range of industries and careers. Developing these common computer skills can help you to excel in your career and they may be beneficial should you choose to change career paths in the future, as you'll already have some transferable skills to bring to your new role. Some of the most important computer skills to learn include:
Familiarity with Microsoft Office, G Suite, or iWork is essential for most office-based roles. These office software suites include various collaboration and productivity tools, which can help you to perform more effectively at work. Word processors are one of the most commonly used productivity tools and employers may assume that candidates are familiar with this type of software, so they may not list it in job postings. Google Docs is a free word processor that's easily accessible, so if you're unfamiliar with this type of tool you can try it out and explore the various functions it offers.
Excel and Google Sheets are just some of the many tools available that can be used to organise and analyse data. Some companies may expect you to have a basic understanding of how to perform data entry, basic formatting and calculation tasks on spreadsheets. However, more technical roles may require an in-depth understanding of how to use more advanced spreadsheet functions such as pivot tables and complex if statements.
Communication and collaboration tools
Being able to correspond via email and manage your inbox are basic computer skills that most employers will expect. However, there are a variety of tools that have grown in popularity since many companies are supporting working from home. Zoom, Google Meets, Slack and Skype are just some of the tools that allow teams to collaborate and communicate effectively whilst working remotely. If your role involves telecommuting, working remotely or if you will be corresponding with colleagues and clients from different locations, being familiar with these type of communication and collaboration tools can be beneficial.
Presentation skills themselves can be a separate strength entirely, however, having the computer skills to utilise presentation software can further improve the quality of your presentations. Software such as PowerPoint or Keynote allows you to create presentations. Becoming familiar with this kind of software allows you to organise and present ideas to your company and clients.
Social media skills
As companies often now have a presence on social media platforms, candidates with social media skills are sought after to manage companies' online image. Skills using platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are most desired for public relations or marketing roles, and in some positions familiarity with social media management software like Hootsuite may also be necessary. If you're interested in pursuing a career in social media, taking on small projects within your company can help you gain experience in this area.
How to improve computer skills
Developing your computer skills can involve elements of formal training, online courses and practise, depending on the specific skills you're hoping to gain. For basic level computer skills, such as operating a computer, navigating menus and sending emails, you may wish to reach out to friends or family to enlist their help. Local libraries offer basic computer skills training, which is an accessible way for you to learn how to operate a computer. If you've already established the basics and are looking to develop some more specialist computer skills, here are some ways that you can do just that:
Enrol in an online training course
Most software providers also offer training to help users get the most out of their product, check out the provider's website for details of available training.
Review online tutorial videos
If there's a specific tool you would like to master or even a particular function that would be useful to your day-to-day tasks, browse YouTube for a free tutorial. Many YouTube channels provide tips and tutorials to teach users how to use tools like Excel, including how to use more advanced functions.
Volunteer for extra projects at work
Learning on the job can be a great way to pick up practical computer skills. Put yourself forward to assist with projects that include an element of computer skills that you don't yet have, and you can develop those skills while contributing to the project.
Enrol in a college or university program
For advanced computer skills, such as computer programming, there are formal training programs available that can prepare you with the relevant skills to become an expert in your field.
Practise at home
Like most skills, you can develop computer skills with practice, trial and error. Exploring the different functions of software like Excel at home will help you feel more confident using it at work. Perhaps you could consider creating a personal budget on Excel to practise using various functions.
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