The best career skills to have for any job

Go above and beyond. Seize every opportunity.
Go above and beyond. Seize every opportunity.


  • Be a problem solver. This will help you build your technical skill set and interpersonal relationships
  • Prioritize kindness and integrity in all your interactions.

Every professional experience can teach you something.Whether you are applying for your first job, trying to get a promotion or switching industries, there is no better way to enter a role with confidence than by identifying transferable skills you have gathered throughout life. The good news is that three of the most important skills you can take into the workplace are strengths you have likely been developing to some degree since childhood. Often known as soft skills, they offer a pivotal starting point for anyone hoping to achieve success in the workplace. You can then learn to develop your professional skills on the job.

1. Become a problem solver.

A willingness to rise to challenges will serve you well wherever you go, says Michele A. Knox, Brooklyn Program Director at The HOPE Program, a New York-based job training program for adults in marginalized and underserved communities. Ms. Knox reminds her students often: If you aren’t sure how to solve a problem, do your research. That could include asking your boss or colleagues for help, especially when it comes to company-specific policy, but often the answer is easy to find.

“We had a student who wanted to be a [building superintendent], and didn’t have a lot of experience. But he was a smart guy," says Ms. Knox. When the student got a job opportunity, he went in search of how-to tutorials online when he needed to learn a new skill quickly, she says. “I remember him coming back to visit and saying, ‘YouTube is my friend.’"

Tips for improving your problem-solving skills:

Be self-sufficient. Use the internet, company resources or completed work to guide you.

Know when to ask for help.Sometimes, solving problems effectively means taking the time to ask the right person the right questions. Your boss or human resources representative may be able to help you determine who the right person is.

Practice managing conflict. You can exercise conflict avoidance and resolution skills with anyone from your parents to your colleagues. Practice addressing concerns directly and productively rather than ignoring conflict or going around the person who disagrees.

Be prepared to compromise. Working through problems with the people you work with will often require you to compromise. “You can be right or you can be employed," Ms. Knox jokes.

2. Prioritize kindness and integrity.

You will never regret treating someone with respect. A co-worker may not remember the ins and outs of a presentation you gave, but she will likely remember your thoughtful compliment when she was having a bad day or a personalized card on her birthday. Just as you should be compassionate with others, it is important to be kind to yourself. This goes for people at all levels of leadership, says Dr. Jim Loehr, a performance psychologist who helps train leaders from different industries on how to achieve success.

Dr. Loehr has noticed a pattern among CEOs and other high achievers in the world of business with whom he has worked at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, which he co-founded. Even for the highest achievers, so-called soft skills are, by their own account, often their greatest indicators of performance.

Dr. Loehr says that while working with leaders, he has often used an exercise that asks them to describe a time when they were most proud of themselves. “Invariably, what they related to was their treatment of others: ‘When I am kind.’ ‘When I am generous.’ ‘When I am humble.’ ‘When I am trustworthy.’" he says. “Virtually none of them put down, ‘When I’m winning.’ ‘When I’m making more money.’ ‘When I’m famous.’"

The psychologist says that, “By itself, extrinsic achievement was really not the scorecard that people really kept to determine their success."

Just as demonstrating integrity can be the skill that sets you apart, showing that you lack it could be your downfall. A 2018 study of incoming CEOs at the world’s largest 2,500 public companies by Strategy&, the strategy consulting business unit of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, found that more chief executives were dismissed for ethical lapses than for financial performance or board struggles.

3. Go above and beyond.

Make “yes" one of your favorite words. Overachievers who are willing to demonstrate an eagerness to learn and contribute (even outside of their job description) often move up quickly, says Ms. Knox, who has witnessed this not only in her students but also in her own work experience.

Ms. Knox, who joined The HOPE Program as an instructor in 2012 and is now a program director, says: “When I first came to HOPE I was really interested to learn more, so anytime they asked if somebody wanted to go to a certain meeting or a certain training, they could barely get it out of their mouths before my hand was raised."

However, you can only go above and beyond if you are given the opportunity to do so. Ms. Knox knows from her experience working with marginalized communities that employees from underrepresented groups aren’t always offered the same opportunities as their colleagues.

Her message to employers is: “Get flexible and creative," and “have an open mind."


The Occupational Information Network (O*NET): This digital database contains thousands of entries about different types of occupations and the skills they require and it is free to access. It allows job seekers to browse by categories including industry, interests and skills.

Career counseling and training centers: Depending on where you live, your local government or public library, such as the New York Public Library, may offer free resources like virtual career coaching to help you determine your strengths.

Skill assessments: Assessment tools like Skills Matcher can help identify your talents and match them to relevant careers.

What to read next

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What to Do if You Can’t Find a Job

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What to do next

Learn why it is important to develop both technical and creative skills in today’s job market.

Understand how companies struggle to get their employees to learn new skills.

Looking for a career change? Watch this to learn how you should look at broadening your skill set remotely.

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