Professional Skills: What They Are and How to Use Them

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Interested in improving your professional skills to become more appealing to employers? Read about different professional skills and how to use them.

[Featured Image]:  Co-workers, one wearing a white outfit and one wearing a dark jacket, shaking hands and discussing ways to improve their professional skills.

Regardless of age, profession, or industry, building a solid foundation of professional skills is essential not just for work but also for use in your everyday life. From communication to leadership—and everything in between, these skills can help as you advance through professional spaces.

Professional skills are used in the workplace and beyond. They help boost motivation and productivity while also strengthening relationships. 

What are professional skills?

Any skill that may be useful in a professional setting qualifies as a “professional skill.” Being proficient with technology is not the only skill that will stand out to potential employers. Especially nowadays, it is important to be well-rounded and demonstrate a knowledge of various skills that will benefit you and your employers in the workplace.

Why are professional skills important?

Professional skills will help you stand out to potential employers and assist you in your professional endeavors across the board. To function efficiently and produce quality work, you should be proficient and familiar with a variety of skills. These skills tend to fall into two categories: workplace skills and technical skills.

Workplace skills

Any skill that helps you communicate and work with others would qualify as a workplace skill. These skills may also be called “people skills” (or “soft skills”) because of their impact on how you relate to others professionally. Regardless of the name, these skills will allow you to succeed in the workplace when developed and applied correctly. Acquiring the right workplace skills might allow you to maintain your current position for longer or advance further in a profession.

Technical skills 

Skills that are job or industry-specific qualify as technical skills—some people call them “hard skills”. Potential employers will expect specific technical skills and expertise from any applicant. For example, in an IT position, you may be expected to know computer programming and how to use particular software. For a publishing position, you may be expected to be proficient in literary analysis and editing and may need to know how to use certain word-processing software.

Technical skills typically differ between jobs and industries. Research company expectations to get an idea of what you need to know before applying to a specific position.

What are some examples of professional skills? 

You may be wondering how to improve your professional skill set, set yourself apart from others in the workplace, or take your work to the next level. From job to job and industry to industry, you’ll find certain skills will help you excel professionally.

Communication skills

Every working professional needs to be able to communicate effectively. It can increase motivation and reduce misunderstandings. Clear communication skills pertain to speaking, writing, and listening, which are essential in any productive workplace. An effective communicator will actively listen, respond to specific issues, and express personal ideas or concerns openly and respectfully.

Organizational skills

Organization refers to the management of one’s time, space, and priorities. In order to be a productive member of any professional environment, you must be able to organize your physical, digital, and mental spaces. Good organizers will be better communicators and more efficient workers overall.

People skills

In almost every field, you’ll work for and with a number of different people. To foster a healthy, fruitful working atmosphere, you must be able to get along with others. Having good people skills allows you to build stronger working relationships and help you make a good impression on employers, clients, and peers alike.

Problem-solving skills

The ability to efficiently handle complex or surprising issues will help you greatly in any setting. Employers will appreciate an employee who can quickly and tacitly solve problems. It is inevitable; at some point, we’ll all come face-to-face with a professional challenge or roadblock. Being able to navigate those challenges demonstrates a sense of maturity, dependability, and general professional capability.

Public speaking skills

The ability to navigate public speaking is essential in every professional setting. Whether you are addressing a large audience, a room of five people, or just one other person, you should be able to productively convey your thoughts, opinions, and ideas clearly and concisely. More than anything else, public speaking is a vital communication skill that will benefit your professional endeavors.

Leadership skills

Being a leader means motivating people toward a common goal. Ultimately, a good employer is a good leader, but it is just as important for employees to be leaders in professional spaces as well. Leadership skills are vital for anyone who hopes to grow beyond an entry-level position. Demonstrating qualities of leadership will prove to an employer that you are confident, capable, patient, and reliable—all qualities of a good leader and worker.

Stress-management skills

Everyone faces stress at work, but when work-related stress becomes an overwhelming, regular occurrence, having good stress-management skills is critical in maintaining your mental and physical well-being. Being able to manage your own demeanor and stress levels is an integral part of managing professional tasks. Additionally, if you can manage your stress, you will more easily be able to produce quality work in professional spaces.

How can you improve your professional skills? 

Developing professional skills is an essential part of succeeding professionally, regardless of the industry you work in. However, it is equally important to properly develop these skills. Here are a few tips to develop professional skills:

Research and Training

Learning from a professional may help you further develop your professional skills. You may find resources in various places. For example, you could peruse hundreds of leadership or professional development courses online or through accredited universities or smaller corporations. You might also enroll in informal workshops that welcome any and everyone to learn new skills. Finally, you may consider conducting your own research online or with books.

Collaborate and Observe

Collaborating with others is another great way to learn and develop new skills. For example, consider shadowing an employer at work whose work you admire. You can also work with one or more of your peers to further your skills together. Or you may observe the work of those in positions you hope to obtain. Looking to others as a means of inspiration is a great way to pick up new skills naturally.

Be Open to Feedback

Open yourself up to the opinions and observations of others. By opening yourself up to feedback from peers or higher-ups, you demonstrate a willingness to learn and grow and will start to notice the areas in which you excel and those in which you need improvement.

Next Steps

Training, practice, and feedback can help further develop these essential skills. You can achieve all three when you take an online course. For example, if you’re interested in further improving your professional skills, consider a course in Professional Skills for the Workplace or Communication Skills—both available on Coursera.

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