Skills vs. Qualities: Which Are More Important in the Workplace?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 25 June 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Whether you're looking for a new job or wanting to develop in your current role, knowing the key points behind skills vs qualities can be an important part of your progress. When you have a clear understanding of the differences between skills and qualities, you can better focus on the areas you might want to improve and demonstrate your understanding of role requirements on a CV or at an interview. In this article, we look at the core differences of skills and qualities along with examples and examine how to improve your skills and qualities.

Skills vs qualities

It's vital to have a complete grasp of what your skills and qualities are. Being able to define which skills you have and which qualities you have as two distinct groups means you can have a clear focus on how both of these attributes relate to a job you're applying for. This will make it far easier to navigate the competitive and sometimes confusing job market. What exactly do we mean when we talk about skills, and what is the difference between skills and qualities? Both terms can be somewhat abstract, so we'll define them in more detail.

Skills

When we refer to your skills, we reference all your abilities that could potentially be applied in the workplace. Generally speaking, skills are specific pieces of knowledge that you can apply to your work that you will have acquired both during training and your experience throughout your working life. Not all useful skills will have been acquired in connection with your work; for example, the mastery of a language or the ability to drive a vehicle is often not work-specific but can greatly benefit your career prospects.

Skills can be defined as being either 'hard' or 'soft'. Hard skills relate to measurable and learnable abilities, often requiring certification or at least are more easily proven in an aptitude test. Soft skills, on the other hand, are aptitudes that are the less learnable, non-technical skills that are valuable in the workplace.

Qualities

Qualities, on the other hand, refer to those talents and virtues that you bring to the company as part of your personality and attitude. These are sometimes referred to as being 'innate' or 'natural' characteristics of each person, but this perspective is far from being true, and even further from being useful.

Although all people have different qualities innately, it's entirely possible to acquire new qualities or perfect the ones you already have in many different ways. For example, somebody who's naturally shy might learn to project themselves more confidently; this would be considered a quality, but it's something that they have worked to refine. There is some cross-over between soft skills and qualities, though qualities refer more to your character traits while soft skills are the abilities enabled by these traits.

Examples of skills vs qualities

It's more straightforward to differentiate between skills and qualities when we contextualise them with examples that highlight their differences. Here are some key examples of skills and qualities.

Examples of skills

Your skills might include, for example, the mastery of video editing software, your typing speed and accuracy, driving heavy goods vehicles, your knowledge of music theory or your mathematical ability.

Examples of qualities

Your qualities, on the other hand, might include your ability to overcome adversity, your creativity when looking for alternative solutions, charisma, patience when carrying out tedious tasks, your ability to concentrate or a generally optimistic attitude.

When are skills or qualities preferable?

In some situations, the person hiring you will be inclined to prioritise your skills over your qualities, and vice versa. For instance, in some professions, technical knowledge is paramount. In these jobs, the tasks central to the role can't be performed without the requisite skills provable by experience or skills backed by qualifications. In others, a person's qualities may be more important than their skills. Let's go over some examples to better understand this.

Examples where skills are more important than qualities

In jobs such as driving, operating specialised machinery, translation and interpreting, teaching or medicine, there's no doubt that the first thing a recruiter will search for is applicants who possess the relevant skills necessary to fulfil their duties.

In these cases, having a CV that displays a strong, relevant skill set that makes you stand out from your competitors is essential if you want to be hired for a specific role. If you already have a job and your employer thinks you need to acquire or refine certain skills to perform your job even better, you might be able to do this via training courses organised by the company itself.

Examples where qualities are more important than skills

In jobs such as customer service, supervising a team, caring for people or overseeing production, qualities can be just as important as skills, if not more so. In these cases, the employer will be looking for a person who, in addition to possessing the necessary skills, has the right personality for the role. They will want to hire somebody positive, dynamic, attentive, empathetic and charismatic.

In companies with strong training programmes, a prospective employer might feel that your personality is such an ideal fit that specific skills can be acquired later. A job in sales is a further example where personality is the most important aspect of the role and where skills can be refined over time through training and on-the-job experience.

Are skills or qualities more important for a company?

In general, both skills and qualities are important to a company, so you shouldn't prioritise one over the other. Throughout your career, it's important that you improve your skillset and work on your qualities to gain access to your desired profession in an increasingly competitive job market.

Even if the job you're applying for prioritises skills, such as in highly specialised, technical or scientific careers, cultivating your qualities might give you an edge over other candidates. Conversely, even if you have a job where you're valued primarily for your qualities, continuing your education to acquire new skills will allow you to access more specialised and higher-paying jobs. Your qualities will continue to be important, but extra skills will make you a better-rounded employee.

How can you improve your skills and qualities?

The first thing to consider is that both your skills and qualities can improve throughout your life. It's important to let go of the misconception that qualities are innate or that skills are only acquired during your formal education. These notions will only hinder your ability to improve and potentially secure a better job, so ignore them and continue working to improve both your skills and qualities.

How can you improve your skills?

There are two main ways to improve your skills: training and experience. These methods are complementary and both can be beneficial throughout your working life. For example, if you're a software developer, every day that you work you will acquire new knowledge about your speciality, perhaps by researching answers to questions, solving technical problems or by seeking advice from colleagues. This is a way to improve your skills through experience.

However, this doesn't prevent you from accessing more formal training to continue your education. Taking an online course to learn a new programming language that will improve your abilities or gaining a Master's degree specialising in artificial intelligence to apply for a coveted technological job are both examples of ways you can enhance your skills and prospects through continued training. Both experience and training can help you improve your skills, and the result will only be beneficial for your career prospects.

How can you improve your qualities?

To improve your qualities, you have many different tools at your disposal that are less clearly defined, hence the belief that qualities cannot be improved. However, this is far from the truth. As there are so many different ways to improve your skills, your growth potential is far greater. You can improve your qualities, for example, by making a concerted effort to be more patient, more tenacious or more optimistic. You can also improve them by learning from your peers, observing their attitude and assessing which aspects of their personality are the most beneficial.

Artistic activities such as music or painting can also help you boost your creativity, and choosing a positive circle of friends can greatly improve your social skills and your mood. Lifestyle and wellbeing are key components of your personal qualities, and they will be reflected in your work.

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