Job Skills and Personal Skills: Which is more important?

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Oct 21

Open up a job description and what are the first points you read? All those (thousands and thousands, it seems) job skills you need to be hired. And if you don’t have every single job skill and aren’t exceptional in every single one of them, you won’t get hired. So get working on your job skills.

Then, way down at the bottom of the job description, are casually thrown in the “grade school report card” personal skills: get along with others, teamwork, critical thinking. Pffft! Who needs personal skills?

And yet…

Personal skills, for the most part, will determine your success in a role. Sure, the job skills are needed, but they need to be viewed as a “pass the test” base to get into the really good parts of what you offer a hiring manager.

Personal skills, like understanding a corporate culture, are not hard, fast edges. People’s impressions of what personal skills are needed for a job differ from hiring manager to hiring manager. Let’s look at the ones that I think are critical: the one’s that show “you get it” for the work being done.

When I am doing the hiring, you need to pass the base job skills for the job. If you have the minimum – and show a willingness to continue to learn the job skills – then the most important way to sway the interview is to show personal skills; the ones where you demonstrate you get it.

Analytical thinking

Working for a business means your judgment will be used to solve problems. Whether they are customer problems, inventory problems, software problems…problems being solved is the sign of a great contributor. Analytical thinking – being able to understand problems, break them down into components, find the underlying cause of the problem, then suggesting ways to solve the problem – is key to supporting the business.

Advocate a point of view

If everyone has the same viewpoint, management won’t have opinions on how to make a good solution better. Advocating a point of view is not about disagreeing with everything; it is, instead, showing how your particular solution to something would work. It is being able to use data and logic to show causes of problems, processes that are failing, and customers not being served. It is advocating a test plan to show how a solution could be quickly implemented and tested in a pilot to see if it works. Without being able to advocate a position, you won’t be able to build on others solutions to help make them better.

Working in a team

All job descriptions say “teamwork” in them, right? Well, what, exactly, does that mean? Does it mean willing to help others out in their work? Sure. Does it mean supporting others in their positions? OK.

More importantly, I think, your team must count on you to deliver your portion of the work for the team and be able to raise the team’s level of effectiveness through your work.

Delivering on your portion of the work means people can rely on you to do as you say you will do with quality in the deliverable. If people can’t rely on you to do your work, then the rest of the team has to make up for your poor job.

Plus, the team depends on your work knowledge to contribute to better solutions to the problems presented to the team. If you can’t show expertise in your area (and growing your expertise is a career skill), then you won’t raise the level of your team’s effectiveness.


If you can demonstrate these personal skills in the stories about your work during the interview, you will have a significant advantage to others who simply spout their jobs skills. Given a base of job skills, personal skills will trump job skills every time — because we work with people, not job skills.