Be a quality employee wherever you work.

It used to be that working adults got a job and stuck with it for years. Now it’s common for employees of all types to shift from job to job and even industry to industry throughout their careers. The job market has changed — workers are looking to use their transferable skills in jobs that fit their lifestyles.

Importance of professional skills.

Whatever your reason is for seeking a new job, excelling at a wide range of skills will help you succeed regardless of industry. Even if you’re simply looking to get better at your current job, developing your professional skills will increase your value as an employee, and you’ll also be better prepared to pivot or switch careers when you’re ready to seek new opportunities.

You might be wondering what types of professional skills you should focus on. The skills you need most are not always specific to your current role or industry — they will likely apply more broadly.

Consider whether you need to work on hard skills or soft skills. Hard skills are usually quantifiable. They involve standardized knowledge and technical expertise. You can gain these skills in formal training courses, but you can also learn through practice and independent study.

Soft skills are just as important. They are usually related to your character attributes or how you interact with other people. Soft skills are not as convincing when listed on a resume — they have to show up in your day-to-day behavior and the impression you make on others. Soft skills can have a huge impact on developing professional relationships and networking.

You might already know whether you are a “people person” or not. Since the professional world is made up of people — even in highly technical or remote jobs — it’s a wise investment of your time and energy to gain practical knowledge in this area too.

Whether you’d like to get better at what you already do or take your career in a new direction, you might also be wondering how to develop professional skills while you’re busy with your current day-to-day schedule. You don’t need to do everything at once. Pick two or three things to work on, and build them into your current routine. Look for projects and professional development opportunities to cultivate the skills that are a priority for you.

A businessperson sits at a desk working on a desktop computer

Hard professional skills help you succeed in any job.

Hard skills are measurable abilities that you gain from education and training, like proficiency with a particular software or the ability to do basic IT troubleshooting.

Because many hard skills are technical, some job-seekers think that only people who have studied certain subjects in college or who have gone through training programs can develop them. However, STEM degrees and technical training are not the only ways to develop hard skills. Professionals can learn new skills on their own time with any number of excellent online resources. Here are a few hard skills to start or continue developing.

Digital literacy

Digital literacy covers knowledge regarding computers and related technology. Knowing how to use a computer, tablet, or mobile device is essential for almost any job. Knowing how to type, use web browsers, and store and transfer data are all components of digital literacy.

Many workers today develop digital literacy skills early in life. However, technology is always changing, and it can be easy to take digital literacy for granted. A worker who came of age in the era of floppy disks, for instance, might have a few bumps when acclimating to a cloud-based work environment. Staying on top of new tech trends will help anyone keep current with the language of technology.

Communication technology

Communication and collaboration are necessary in every job. Knowing how to use email, instant messaging, video chats, and notes in cloud documents will serve you well almost everywhere. With more and more people working remotely, it’s important to know how to use communication technology and be comfortable with it.

Analytical and research skills

You may be tempted to think you have this skill just because you know how to do basic internet research. But to develop concrete analytical and research skills, you need to understand specific techniques and best practices.

Depending on your industry, learn about different methods for collecting data, writing reports and presentations, and making sense of information. Learn about the best sources of information in different fields and how the author, audience, purpose, time, and format of a message might affect its accuracy or relevance to your question. Formulating a research question, gathering data, and analyzing information to produce a new and useful perspective on a topic is a good way to practice and demonstrate this skill.

Two photos: A businessperson works at a desk with a cup of coffee and headphones; A businessperson engages in a video conference on their laptop

Common software and applications

Being able to work with different operating systems (Mac and PC) and software enables people to jump around from job to job without a steep learning curve.

And, with well-developed software skills, you can explore working in various industries, from advertising to IT to accounting, depending on your role and level of expertise. Any widely applicable software skillset is an enormous benefit for your resume because it opens opportunities for growth and development, not to mention additional compensation. Acclimating yourself to new software may take time, but you can flatten that learning curve by familiarizing yourself with the basics like:

Word processing:

Written documents are the most basic ways for you to express your ideas. Microsoft Word is the standard word-processing software, but other companies may use Google Docs or another application entirely. It is a good idea to learn how to work with more than one.


A good presentation holds your viewers’ attention and shows off what you have to say visually. You don’t need to make it fancy — but knowing how to present your work effectively through PowerPoint or Keynote will allow others to see what you have to say better than sharing a text document on screen.


Spreadsheets turn cluttered data into clear information. Basic knowledge of spreadsheet software such as Excel or Google Sheets will give you a leg up in the workplace, even if you don’t use them to crunch numbers.

Media editing:

Audio, video, and image files add depth and insight to presentations and publications. A basic familiarity with common image editing software like Photoshop and files like JPG images and PNGs will help you stay organized when juggling different assets.


Communication software helps you express yourself to your colleagues, no matter where you are. You should be able to effectively communicate your ideas, thoughts, and opinions verbally or in writing with tools such as Slack, Skype, and Zoom when collaborating with others on a project or piece of work.

Document management:

Document management allows you to store and share information with other employees who may be working on a project, or with end users who use your product. Software like Adobe Acrobat can keep you and your team connected through almost any device, and team members can all edit, password-protect, and sign files when needed. You can also conveniently view and access your files from your phone while on the move using the Acrobat Reader free mobile app.

Basic IT troubleshooting

At some point, you’re likely to run into some computer trouble. Knowing how to fix common issues and use basic IT tools will save you a good deal of frustration and demonstrate that you can troubleshoot without missing a beat. Being able to deal with a device crashing will prevent you from calling a technician every time a minor error occurs. One tip: If something goes wrong, try restarting your device. That alone solves a whole lot of IT problems.

A businessperson sits at a desk working on a desktop computer

Soft skills to help drive success in any role.

Soft skills are the abilities that help you interact effectively with other people. Communication, teamwork, adaptability, and interpersonal skills help you collaborate and connect with people, no matter what industry you’re in or what problems you’re trying to solve.


According to Brie Weiler Reynolds, a career development manager and career coach at FlexJobs, “Communication is really the foundation of good remote work.” Virtual communication can be harder than in-person connections, but it’s a necessary skill.

For many employers, good communication skills are a big priority. When not in person with co-workers, how do you convey your communication style? How do you come across on emails, phone calls, or virtual meetings? If you can demonstrate communication skills virtually and in person, it’ll be looked on kindly by potential employers.


Knowing how to avoid unnecessary conflict, resolve disputes when they happen, and move forward amicably is a valuable skill.

Teams can include various personalities, work styles, backgrounds, and opinions. If you can’t work well with people who are different from you, that can stop a project in its tracks. However, if you’re able to see the value in others, understand what everyone brings to the project, and know how everyone’s roles relate, you can avoid frustration and contribute to everyone’s success.

Time management

Time management skills help you make the most of your working hours, meet deadlines, and stay on track. They can also help you cultivate a healthy work-life balance.


Projects change, often at the worst possible time. When a shake-up inevitably comes your way, you need to be ready for it. Being able to figure out a new situation can help mitigate stress, too. If you’re confident in your ability to handle change, you’ll feel better about yourself, your work, and your contribution to the team.

Attention to detail

While it might be one of the most cliché and overused attributes that many people list on their resumes, when you can actually demonstrate this skill, it’s extremely valuable. Whether your role is in finance, marketing, HR, legal, customer service, or any other area, small details can have big impacts on clients, customers, and co-workers.

To develop this skill, work on fostering an attitude of conscientiousness and care for the people impacted by the work you do. In a more practical sense, take time to think critically and work systematically. A responsible attitude and careful practice will help you develop attention to detail as a real and demonstrable skill.

A female business professional develops the professional skill of public speaking by presenting at an event.

Public speaking

Whether or not you need to give a formal speech, public speaking is a valuable skill for the many occasions when you will need to share project proposals or results and lead or participate in meetings. When decisions are being made, your public speaking skills will help you have an influence.

While public speaking is a soft skill, it isn’t simple. It involves being deliberate with your voice and body language while also thinking strategically and critically about the message you’re delivering or the questions you’re asking.

To develop this skill, research and practice confident body language. Practice speaking at the appropriate volume, with good enunciation and a varied, deliberate rhythm. You can find a host of resources on this topic, including in books and YouTube videos.

Whenever you have time to prepare ahead, take the opportunity to rehearse and time yourself. Make notes that are short, memorable, and easy to follow. Keep in mind the end goal, and curate the details to be sure they serve that goal. Don’t forget to be attentive to your audience. If that sounds like a lot to think about at once, that’s because it is — but anyone can do it. The best way to learn is with practice.


Self-confidence is hard to quantify, but others will pick up on it, and it will help you be more successful in all your efforts. You don’t have to be perfectly confident about yourself in every way to practice this skill effectively.

Developing the rest of the skills on this list can contribute to your self-confidence, but there are other ways to improve it too. Get out of your comfort zone to take on new kinds of projects, and take time to reflect after you’ve accomplished something difficult, noticing what you did well and the skills you gained. Ask trusted friends and colleagues to give you positive, specific feedback.

Dress in a way that makes you feel confident. Use positive language about yourself and others. While mildly self-deprecating humor can be an antidote to appearing arrogant, it’s important to express confidence in your own ideas and abilities. Confidence doesn’t mean acting like you’re better than others. Being kind and considerate reflects your feelings about yourself.

Learn about the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. With a fixed mindset, you might feel like your competence and confidence depend on factors you can’t control — you’re either good at something or not. With a growth mindset, you understand that with a little effort and curiosity, you can gain new skills and learn just about anything. Practicing a growth mindset will help you forgive yourself for mistakes and have the patience to keep trying until you develop genuine inner confidence in certain areas.

There are always opportunities to improve, regardless of your knowledge or experience. No one can do everything, but nearly everyone has the potential to leverage their skills, find a job that fits them, and do the kind of work they find interesting and fulfilling. When you know what your strengths and interests are, and when you cultivate them and stay curious about how to grow, you can flourish both professionally and everywhere else.