What are job-specific skills? (Plus how to identify them)
Updated 1 August 2023
Professionals develop specific career skills that help them perform certain tasks and excel in particular jobs. These skills are usually job-specific, and you generally obtain them through relevant education, training and experience. If you're looking for a job, understanding which of your skills are job-specific can help you organise your CV and prioritise skills for different applications. In this article, we define job-specific skills, list some examples and give step-by-step guides to identifying them and matching them to job opportunities.
What are job-specific skills?
Job-specific skills are any proficiencies, knowledge or training that make an employee good at a certain job. These skills are transferable to some extent but generally help with specific tasks or specialisms. Hiring managers target these skills when they're looking for a specialist who can handle advanced work or already has experience in the field. You can generally acquire these skills through specialist training and qualifications in your field or through experience doing a relevant job for an extended period.
Examples of job-specific skills
Skills specific to jobs are usually hard skills and techniques rather than soft transferable skills that you can develop in multiple occupations. Here are some examples:
Software proficiency: Many administrative occupations in industries such as healthcare use proprietary software that's only relevant to their type of work. Any proficiency with software unique to your field is a job-specific skill and may suggest that you can easily learn new ones.
Technical knowledge: In engineering jobs, knowledge of specific mechanics or electronics that help you to understand different processes and develop technologies is usually job-specific. While technical knowledge of how a particular process you study in your job may be irrelevant in another field, general mechanical and electronic knowledge is transferable.
Technical certifications: Any certificates unique to a specific role that may be superfluous for others are job-specific. Although they may not be relevant for every job you apply for, they do show employers your commitment to learning and development.
Written communication: Certain roles, such as grant writing or medical writing, teach you to write documentation unique to the role. While the specific skill of writing proposals, grants or particular article types may not be relevant for every job, written communication, in general, is a transferable skill.
Related: 12 essential architect skills
How to identify skills for specific jobs
When you're applying for jobs, targeting specific skills in your application can help to distinguish it from others. Here's a step-by-step guide to identifying and targeting specific skills in your applications:
1. Read the job posting carefully
Read the job description thoroughly to identify the job skills that employers are looking for. Most job postings have a section listing the skills required for the role. These skills and qualifications are the most important things to highlight in your material to demonstrate that you meet the minimum requirements. Some postings describe the ideal candidate instead or in addition. Check this for the key skills it mentions to target in your application. Note the keywords and phrasing throughout the rest of the application that describes the approach to work or how the role works.
Related: 6 essential software engineer skills
2. Research the company's mission statement
Another resource for matching your job skills to an application is the company's website, marketing materials and mission statement. Some job descriptions say little about what type of candidate the employer wants. In this case, there's often an expectation that candidates already know about the company or research it themselves. Look at the company's branding to establish what values it promotes and how it talks about its current staff. If you can find a list of current team members, you can get a sense of their typical ideal candidate profile and try to match this as closely as you can.
3. Research the industry
While you may have a good idea of the specific skills that a role requires, that role and its useful skills can vary greatly between industries. Pay attention to what industry the company is in so that you can target the kinds of theoretical knowledge and approaches it values. For example, many industries use coding languages to create solutions, but a client focusing on web development may not value your skills in more programming-focused languages. Research what skills the industry values and highlight the aspects of your profile that use them.
4. Read other job postings
Compare what you found in your target job postings to others for the same role in other companies. Look at the qualities and skills the job postings share to understand what skills are relevant to the job itself rather than just to what the company is looking for. Compare the listings to job postings for other roles in the same companies and see which skills change and which stay the same. Through a process of elimination, you can tell which skills are job-specific and which are transferable.
How to match your skills to the right job opportunity
When looking for jobs, use a hybrid approach of finding a job that suits your skills and developing any fundamental skills you're missing. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to match your skills to the right job opportunity:
1. Analyse your skill set
Make a list of your qualifications and previous work placements and the skills you've learnt from these experiences. Add any useful soft skills. Out of this list, try to identify which skills go well together, group them and overlap those that fit into multiple categories. You can get a good idea of which of your skills are job-specific by following the steps above. Keep this list so you can compare job postings later.
2. Find jobs that match your skills
Using your list of skills, find job roles that use some or all of your specific skills and work well with your soft skills. For example, if one of your specific skills is in finance management and you're also skilled in analysis, look for jobs in financial analysis. Do this for all of your skill groups so that you know what sorts of jobs match your skills. Try to search as widely as possible because companies may value different skills.
Related: 10 essential finance manager skills
3. Ask for advice about your skill set
If you're unsure of what skills you have that are most valuable for particular roles, ask for advice from a family member, colleague or friend. University career services, job centres and recruitment agencies can help you better understand your skill set and find relevant positions. If you can, reach out to people you know in similar industries and companies to your target jobs to establish what they target. You can also look at marketing materials and careers pages for similar information.
4. Build job-specific skills independently
If you're missing some fundamental skills from the most interesting jobs you've targeted, take advantage of training and resources to build your skills. If you're missing some simple proficiencies, such as in software, to meet entry requirements, research online courses that you can use to train. If retraining would require something like going to university or retraining completely, consider looking at other job titles that better suit your skill set before making a decision.
5. Highlight specific skills in your CV and cover letter
Write a CV and cover letter that properly showcase your specific skills and show employers that your profile matches their ideal candidate description. Take your research into both the role and yourself and write documents that align the two. Use your CV to list any specifics that help you seem like the ideal candidate and use your cover letter to convince the employer that they're relevant. Try to mirror the phrasing of their ideal candidate section in how you describe yourself to match yourself to roles effectively.
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