Whether you’re applying for your first job out of college or prepping for retirement, you need professional skills.
Some are job-specific, and others are transferable from position to position. Either way, the list of professional skills on your resume tells employers your capacity to fulfill your roles and responsibilities, how you interact with coworkers, and your ability to maintain personal well-being on the job. In other words, they explain why and how you’re fit for work.
Professional skills play a vital role in your resume’s anatomy. They don’t set you apart in the job market — they’re the minimum you need for success. The trick is to know which one’s prospective employers are looking for so you can add them to your job skills list.
What are professional skills?
Professional skills are capacities that help you function within a work environment and perform at your highest level. These include everything from hands-on knowledge, like how to analyze data, to interpersonal skills, like how to approach a difficult coworker.
It’s common to confuse professional skills versus technical skills. Professional skills are broader, while technical ones are job or industry specific. If you’re a computer programmer, your technical skills likely include expertise with computer languages like Python or C++. But your professional skills might include time management and conflict resolution as well as those languages. They all directly impact the ability to perform tasks.
Generally, the various types of professional skills fall into two categories: hard and soft skills.
These are more technical capabilities you can earn through training or experience, like technological literacy, data analysis, or copywriting. These vital skills could apply to any role or more specific ones, depending on the specialization.
Soft skills are somewhat intangible, like integrity, punctuality, and attention to detail. They’re more closely related to personality traits than an actual skill set. You can work to develop these abilities, but there’s rarely a formal course of study for them.
In Zip Recruiter’s 2022 Job Market Outlook for Grads, an overwhelming 93% of employers reported that soft skills play a critical role in hiring decisions. That preference makes working on these professional skills to develop all the more critical.
11 examples of professional skills
Determine which professional development skills to learn based on your interests, goals, and career path. Most are easily transferable, so it’s up to you to find what your potential weaknesses are and pinpoint what to strengthen. Here are a few options to consider:
Professional leadership skills teach you how to instruct, guide, and motivate a team to work toward a common goal. It doesn’t matter if you’re currently in a senior position or not. Anyone can help lead a team by listening actively and making sure everyone around you has a voice. Start by developing skills such as:
- Task prioritization
- Goal setting
- Team management
- Project management
- Conflict resolution
Developing the know-how to construct solutions when problems arise will help you respond proactively to changing situations. You’ll create effective action plans and find alternatives to the challenges you encounter on the job. If you want to add problem-solving skills to your resume, consider:
- Emotional regulation
3. Emotional intelligence
Understanding how to relate to your coworkers, effectively express your feelings, and interpret others’ behavior can help improve your productivity in a team setting. These skills reduce miscommunications and conflicts, helping you navigate tense situations and understand others’ feelings. Skills that enhance emotional intelligence include:
4. Lifelong learning
Skill sets for specific jobs have changed by 25% since 2025. No matter what industry you’re in, you need to stay on your toes and be open to learning new things. This helps you respond to an evolving workplace and shows consistent initiative. These skills include:
- Being receptive to feedback
- Engagement with the latest industry trends
- Openness to growth
5. Public speaking
Developing public speaking skills won’t only help you give engaging presentations. It can also increase confidence speaking up in meetings and expressing your feelings. You’ll be more persuasive when offering opinions and have the necessary skills to explain complex concepts to your coworkers. Some areas of study include:
- Non-verbal communication
Knowing you have the skills to do your job and deliver high-quality work, even under challenging circumstances, helps everyone around you thrive. When you prove yourself, your managers are more willing to give you challenging, exciting projects, and coworkers will view you as a reliable resource. You can develop your self-confidence through skills like:
Understanding how to navigate relationships in a professional setting requires different interpersonal skills than those you use with friends and family. You need to approach situations with respect and understanding while keeping a professional distance. To maintain professionalism, consider working on:
- Client management skills
- Time management
Working a consistent job often comes with competing priorities. You need to meet deadlines while developing professionally and maintaining your work-life balance, and that’s no easy task. Here are some organizational skills to improve your efficiency:
- Resource allocation
- Time management
- Stress management
Most jobs require a certain level of interdependency. Even if you don’t regularly work in a team, at some point you’ll need to depend on your coworkers to fulfill some of your responsibilities. Being prepared to work together can help you thrive when that time does come. Learn teamwork skills by developing your capacity for:
This is another essential skill set that can help you regardless of your career path. Professional communication skills enhance information-sharing across any channel, from email and instant messaging to phone calls and body language. They’re also an asset across your personal life. Enhance your communication by working on:
- Active listening
- Customer service
Your employer expects you to match its company values and act with integrity, no matter what your position is. And many specialized jobs have ethical codes of conduct to uphold, like nursing or counseling. You need to practice honesty and earn people’s trust, and you can do that by developing your:
- Code of ethics
How to develop professional skills
There are many ways to build or improve your professional skills, and it depends on who you are and what you want to learn. Some follow a traditional course of study, and others prefer self-directed learning. And some skills, you can only develop through real-world experience and practice.
Base your choice on your preferred learning style. If you’re unsure, here’s a guide to different ways you can develop new skills:
1. Online or in-person studies
Check out your local community college, professional associations, or online upskilling platforms to find courses on the professional skill you want to learn. A quick Google search should point you toward a relevant program. You can also ask your network if they’re familiar with a resource that could help you.
2. Conferences or workshops
Conventions, lectures, and other professional events offer the opportunity to work on professional skills within the context of your industry. They’re also a great chance to network with your peers. Try looking for annual conferences and specialized workshops and ask coworkers if they’re willing to join you.
Books cover a range of business and leadership topics, like imposter syndrome and self-help, and are great resources for learning something new. You can read at your own pace and refer to them again and again whenever you need a refresher.
Sometimes learning requires a personal touch, and that’s where a mentor comes in. Mentorship provides valuable insight into your unique professional challenges, allowing you to learn from someone else’s experience. A long-term relationship has a personal touch that can’t come from a book or online course.
Watch how your peers, teammates, and managers interact and navigate workplace challenges. Take note of what professional skills they’re using, then emulate that behavior in your role. And if you have a 1:1 meeting with your manager, try asking them for advice on how they learned those skills.
Gain insights into aspects of your role, business, and industry by asking questions to the people around you. You’ll learn about the topic from various perspectives that you can apply to your own position. The answers may also provide a further jumping-off point for other professional development activities.
Development doesn’t happen in a bubble. Requesting feedback from your manager or coworkers demonstrates maturity and a desire to learn — two desirable professional traits. And it could point you toward the development opportunities that will best help you progress along your career path.
Sometimes it helps to get an objective overview of your strengths and weaknesses. A coach can provide valuable insight into areas of development and put them into the context of your career goals and progression. And they’ll cheer you on as you improve.
The importance of improving your professional skills
The primary benefit of professional development is to perform better on the job. But learning the types of skills employers prioritize isn’t the only reason to work on your professional development. There are many benefits, including:
1. Job protection
According to the World Economic Forum, 44% of workers’ core skills will change by 2027. To stay relevant in the workplace, keep an eye on emerging technology and hiring trends to see which in-demand skills you should focus on. You’ll future-proof your career and show initiative along the way.
2. Career growth
When you develop your skills, you demonstrate engagement and commitment to your job. That makes you a valuable employee. And if you’re itching for a promotion or higher title, making active steps toward career advancement shows you’re eager to move up.
3. Credibility and confidence
Completing an approved course of study or earning a certification provides formal recognition of your skills. You — and potential employers — will be confident you have the knowledge required to perform your duties or to answer queries. And your qualifications will add weight and credibility to your input.
4. Network building
Professional learning events are great opportunities to meet with others in your industry. You’ll learn new skills and expand your network at the same time, connecting with peers who share your goals and interests.
It’s all about growth
The only thing you can depend on is change. Your work will evolve even if you’re happy with your position and career, and continual professional growth means you’re always ready for shifts.
Investing in professional skills isn’t only about enhancing the skills section of your resume. It puts you in control of your work life. You can pick and choose exactly what your strengths will become, and employers will appreciate the initiative and drive. It’s a win-win.
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