Special skills: What are they, and do you need them to get hired?

What constitutes a special skill can be a moving target, especially so considering the variance in what one employer values compared to another company.

Baton-twirling, opera singing, magic tricks - these may be a few of the special skills that get you into a talent show, but not the ones employers are looking for on your resume.

As more jobs become specialized - whether due to the technology a company uses or the niche market it serves - job applicants have had to keep up by marketing (and in many cases gathering) the skills that make them unique or otherwise highly qualified. Yet what constitutes a special skill can be a moving target, especially considering the variance in what one employer values compared to another company.

Job seekers can begin to understand special skills by first mentally separating that general term into two buckets: hard skills and soft skills. Knowing what particular qualities, traits or accomplishments it takes to impress an employer depends in part on this balance.

Hard skills in demand

Hard skills are the technical, quantifiable aptitude or education a job seeker has. If you have a degree in computer science, your proficiency with software, for instance, is a hard skill. These skills are often the qualifications job seekers list on a resume. In fact, familiarity with computers and applications is an increasingly stressed special skill in job postings. Since most companies rely on technology now, employers look for applicants who know how to operate Adobe or Microsoft products. And that's a basic requirement in many cases – technically demanding jobs will ask applicants to be highly capable in coding or software development.

Another hard skill worth mentioning is fluency in a foreign language. Globalization has been the dominant theme lately, and in the U.S. it's particularly important. Being able to, at the least, converse in Spanish is looked well upon by employers - and may even be viewed as a must by businesses in certain areas where multiple languages are commonplace.

Team in conference room.

Soft skills also valued

Job seekers can interpret soft skills as the less-quantifiable traits that are often tied to one's personality. Some people, like extroverts, just know how to talk to others, which a sales department may value. On the other side of the coin, however, being observant, as introverts often are, may be most appreciated by other employers. Soft skills, by nature, are a bit harder to define than hard skills, but there are a couple areas job seekers should concentrate on, as far as special skills go:

  • Time management: While it may be hard to show on paper, time management is a special skill many employers value. This is a quality you can not only relate in an interview, but in any forum, demonstrating your knack for keeping on task (like if you use browser extensions to block entertainment sites when on the job) can reflect well.
  • Teamwork: No employee is an island, and in an age of increasing collaboration (fueled by technology and cultural shifts) teamwork is an important special skill to have. Employers want applicants who will get on board and be a team player, which can come in different forms, both passive and active.

"My thought process has always been if someone has the soft skills and the right attitude, they can quickly learn and develop the hard skills that are required for a position," says Emily Kaeli, Division Director of Beacon Hill's Associates Division in New York. "If I had two candidates in front of me, one was a PowerPoint guru with a so-so personality and the other was so-so at PowerPoint but had the right attitude and the desire to work, I would always pick the second of the two. I think people weigh too heavily the resume and need to focus on the person behind the piece of paper."

If you're having trouble defining and identifying the special skill most sought by employers, contact the staffing professionals at Beacon Hill Staffing who can assist in refining your job search.

This content is brought to you by the Marketing Team at Beacon Hill Staffing Group.

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