Do You Understand the Difference Between Skills and Traits?

Resume Tips

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 post. The topic I’m talking about is the distinction between skills and traits.

Do you know the difference between skills and traits? According to the recent Robert half study, 95% of employers say it’s difficult to find skilled professionals to hire. That leads us to the question, are the professionals not skilled, or do they just not know how to properly communicate the skills they do have? Not representing your skills properly on a resume is contributing to this problem and leaving employers with a possibly inaccurate impression that you are not qualified.

As a professional resume writer myself, I find this to be a very common difficulty among job seekers. When working with resume clients, you frequently don’t get enough information from candidates about what they do or their skill set from the initial order request. As a result, our professional resume writing team often has to reach out to our clients to get a list of their skills and traits, which questions such as: If asked in an interview what your top three 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:

  • Hard-working
  • Smart
  • Loyal
  • Dedicated
  • Perfectionist
  • People Person

None of these are skills.

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

Training. Experience. Practice.

Keep those three things in mind to help you determine your actual skills.

professional resume writer typing resume at computer


What Defines a Skill?

In constructing the Skills section of a resume, it’s imperative to present a well-rounded portfolio that demonstrates both your technical prowess and soft skill competencies. This section should not only list your abilities but also provide context, illustrating how these skills have been applied in real-world scenarios to drive results. For instance, rather than simply stating proficiency in a programming language, detail a project where your coding led to a significant achievement, such as enhancing website functionality or improving user experience.

Examples of Skills

To help differentiate between skills and traits, let’s look at some examples of skills. Technical skills might include specific software proficiency, coding languages, and data analysis capabilities, essential in fields such as IT, engineering, and finance. Interpersonal or soft skills, such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving, are universally valued across industries, highlighting your ability to collaborate and lead effectively. Analytical skills showcase your capacity for critical thinking, decision-making, and strategic planning, crucial for roles that demand insight and innovation.

Leadership and project management skills are especially critical if you’re targeting roles with supervisory responsibilities. Demonstrating your ability to lead teams, manage projects from inception to completion, and drive organizational goals forwards can significantly bolster your resume. For creative roles, articulating skills in design, content creation, and innovation can set you apart, particularly if you can link these abilities to tangible outcomes, such as successful marketing campaigns or engaging multimedia content.

Digital literacy is another key area to highlight, given the pervasive influence of technology in all sectors. Showcasing your competence in digital tools and platforms, from social media to specialized industry software, can demonstrate your adaptability and readiness to thrive in modern work environments. For those with international aspirations or experiences, language proficiencies and cultural awareness can be compelling additions, signaling your ability to operate effectively in a globalized business landscape.

Certifications, Education, and Licenses

When listing skills, it’s also beneficial to mention any relevant certifications or continued education, as these can serve as tangible proof of your expertise and commitment to professional growth. Tailoring your skills to align with the job description ensures relevance, making it clear to employers why you’re a strong fit for the position.

It’s crucial to maintain a balance between showcasing a broad range of skills and ensuring that each skill mentioned is backed by specific examples or experiences. This lends credibility and depth to your resume, painting a comprehensive picture of your professional capabilities.

woman typing resume on computer

Relevant Skills are Key

Regular updates to your resume are essential to reflect new skills and experiences, ensuring you’re always ready to present the most current and compelling version of yourself. A thoughtfully crafted Skills section can significantly enhance your marketability, portraying you not just as a candidate with the right qualifications, but as a dynamic professional poised to make meaningful contributions to a potential employer’s success.

What Defines a Trait?

Traits play a pivotal role in shaping an individual’s character and influencing how they interact with the world around them. Unlike skills, which are often learned and measurable, traits are inherent aspects of one’s personality that are subjective and can vary widely in interpretation. For instance, being hard-working in one person’s eyes might involve long hours and relentless dedication, while for another, it might mean being highly efficient and achieving results in less time. This subjectivity makes traits unique and personal, reflecting the nuanced differences in human behavior and perception.

Examples of Traits

Traits can be seen as the underlying drivers of how skills are applied. For example, a person with a trait of perseverance is likely to approach challenging tasks with determination, pushing through obstacles until they achieve their goal. This persistence can amplify the effectiveness of their skills, whether it be in problem-solving, negotiation, or creative endeavors. Similarly, a trait like empathy can enhance interpersonal skills, making an individual more adept at communication, team collaboration, and leadership. While skills and traits often work together, they are not the same.

In the professional realm, certain traits are highly valued for their positive impact on workplace dynamics and productivity. Adaptability, for instance, is a trait that enables individuals to navigate change and uncertainty with ease, making them invaluable in fast-paced or evolving industries. Integrity is another critical trait, fostering trust and ethical behavior in professional interactions and decision-making.

Cultivating positive traits can lead to personal and professional growth. Traits like resilience can be developed through experiences that challenge one’s limits and capabilities, teaching individuals to bounce back from setbacks with increased strength and wisdom. Curiosity, another beneficial trait, drives continuous learning and exploration, leading to innovation and personal enrichment.

professional resume writing services

Traits Can Be a Double Edged Sword

However, it’s important to recognize that traits can have negative aspects as well. For example, excessive perfectionism can lead to procrastination or dissatisfaction, hindering productivity and well-being. Being aware of these tendencies allows individuals to work on moderating their traits to achieve a healthier balance.

In sum, traits are the essence of our personalities, influencing how we perceive the world and interact with others. They shape our approach to tasks, color our interactions, and play a significant role in our successes and challenges. While traits may not be as tangible or quantifiable as skills, their impact on our lives and careers is profound. Understanding and nurturing positive traits, while being mindful of their negative potentials, can lead to a more fulfilling and effective personal and professional life.

Why Are Skills and Traits Important to a Resume?

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 carries almost no weight and actually downgrades you in an interview situation when you are unable to distinguish the difference between skills and traits. 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.

Listing skills and traits inaccurately on your resume communicates a similar message. 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 looking at it through this lens, the difference between skills and traits is clear.

Do you want someone to take away the burden of you having to create a resume? Don’t worry. We’ve got this! It’s what we do!

Communicating an Accurate Picture of Who You Are Using Skills and Traits

Now that both skills and traits are clearly defined, let’s discuss why the distinction between the two is important in your job search. 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!

computer and notebook

The True Value in Knowing the Differences Between Skills and Traits

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!