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What are key skills? Employability skills to help you get a job    

With so many young people out there looking for jobs, how do you stand out from the crowd and impress employers? This is where key skills come in.

Key skills are employability skills that you need for the world of work – and they're pretty important for life as well! By developing employability skills, you’ll improve your chances of getting a job and thriving in your career.

But how do you gain these employability skills? Luckily, there are lots of different ways to develop them – including lessons or extracurricular activities at school, in a Saturday or holiday job, doing projects in your own time or work experience.

'School, Saturday job, club, society, work experience - just a few ways to gain key skills'

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First, check out this video for a quick overview of key skills:

What are key skills?

You can read more about the specific employability skills further down the article.

Here is a list of key skills that employers typically look out for:

  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Initiative
  • Problem-solving
  • Computer / IT skills
  • Organisation
  • Leadership
  • Hard work and dedication
  • Creativity
  • Numeracy
  • Reliability

How key skills or employability skills can boost your CV

According to jobs board Monster, employers consider key skills to be the most important section of your CV. A solid set of employability skills sets you apart from other applicants and shows the boss what you will bring to the job.

But it’s important to bring this section to life rather than just writing a generic list of keys skills – you need to give specific examples. Don’t worry if you’ve never had a job before – employability skills are transferable from school, clubs and other areas of life.

For example, instead of just having a bullet point saying you have "good communication skills", explain that you are a member of the debating team and have represented your school in public competitions.

Here are some of the top employability skills and ideas for how you can develop them (and then write about them on your CV).


Employers look for people who can speak and write clearly and accurately, so you’ll need to prove that you have good oral and written skills. This is one of the most sought after employability skills according to a number of studies.

Good communication is vital in pretty much every job

Verbal communication skills are particularly important for any job that involves working in a team or directly with people. Written skills are important for things like writing reports or dealing and negotiating with people over email.

It goes without saying that you should make sure your application is well written, without any typos or grammar gremlins. If you get this wrong, the recruiter might not even make it to the key skills section of your CV.

Practical examples you could give include a Saturday job in a shop or café, where you have to communicate with customers, or volunteering during a Duke of Edinburgh Award expedition, in which you have to talk and listen to your teammates.

Examples you could give of written communication include entering writing competitions, blogging and organising a petition for a cause that you’re passionate about, and of course any essays you've written for school, especially if you have the grades or feedback to back it up.


The ability to get on and work with others is really important

to employers

This is an important employability skill because, unless you get a job where you’re not expected to speak to a soul all day (unlikely!), it’s pretty crucial that you can work well as part of a team.

Most jobs involve interacting with colleagues and you’ll do well to prove that you’re confident in a group and that you enjoy working with others. 

Practical examples you could put on your application to demonstrate this employability skill include playing in a sports team, joining an after-school club, or being part of a scheme like Young Enterprise, Scouts or Guides.


Look at a selection of job adverts and you’ll often come across something along the lines of "must be able to work independently and in a team".

While employers want to know that you can work well with your colleagues, they also like to see that you are motivated, proactive and can be trusted to use your own initiative – for example, by keeping your employability skills up-to-date with the latest developments in your area of work.

Show that initiative is one of your key skills by doing a free online course to learn a new skill, forming a new group or club or setting up your own business (e.g. washing cars in the neighbourhood after the local carwash closed).

Key skills banner

Problem solving

Sadly, nothing in life is guaranteed to be plane sailing and your new boss will want to know that you’re not going to run away screaming at the first sign of trouble.

Problem solving is among the most valuable employability skills in any job, and particularly in careers that deal with difficult or constantly changing situations. 

Show that you’re a top-notch problem solver with examples like competing in a maths challenge, being a member of the chess team, building a website or taking part in an orienteering event.

What employers say...

We asked IBM what young people should ask themselves when thinking about their skills. This is what they told us:

  • Teamwork: "How do you work with others to achieve shared goals? Do you easily build relationships with others? Are you a team player?"
  • Communication: "Do you present information clearly, precisely and succinctly? Adapt the way you communicate to your audience? And listen to others?"
  • Problem solving: "Do you solve problems by reasoning through the logic? Can you anticipate problems? Do you put forward innovative ideas?"

Check out IBM's profile for the latest Gap Year and apprenticeship opportunities...

Computer skills

Most bosses will expect basic IT skills - and any coding you can

add on top will be a bonus

Most bosses will expect you to have basic IT (like Microsoft Office), making this is an essential addition to your list of employability skills.

For other jobs you will need to demonstrate that you have practical experience in more specific programmes – common ones include Photoshop, InDesign, content management systems like WordPress and working knowledge of HTML.

If you want to show off your IT and technical skills, make sure you give some good examples of where you’ve used them – for example building your own website or app, or taking part in a coding or programming challenge.


Being well-organised is an invaluable employability skill for most jobs and it’s an absolute must for ones that involve working to a tight deadline, such as print and publishing.

Proving that time management is among your keys skills and showing that you can prioritise your workload will look really good on your CV. Examples of this include taking on a part-time job and managing your work and studies effectively, organising an event or editing the school newspaper.  


While it’s important that you can work well as a team, being able to show you’d make a good leader or manager is an employability skill that will set you apart from many candidates.

Even if you’re going in at an entry-level job that doesn’t involve any line management responsibility at the moment, that could change in the future, particularly if you do well at work and impress the boss.  

Examples that show off your ability to lead include being captain of a sports team, leader of a club or group, or volunteering as a team leader or mentor.

Hard work and dedication

It doesn’t matter what job you do and in what industry – employers all want to know that you will work hard.

Show that you really do want to work for them (not just anyone) and that you care about, and take pride in, what you do, and you’ll be pretty irresistible.

Practical examples to demonstrate these skills include taking after-school classes to improve your grades, studying an extra subject, volunteering, or doing a part-time job.


Creativity is part of a new wave of employability skills

Creativity shows that you can think outside the box – a skill which, with the growth of innovative start ups and the huge world of opportunities that the internet has opened up, is one of a new wave of essential employability skills. 

Practical examples you could give of your creative skills include blogging, taking part in a school play or dance/music concert or talking about a photography or creative writing project you’ve done in your own time.


The ability to understand and work with numbers is important in virtually any job. We use maths every day to understand facts and figures, make decisions, and solve problems.

You don't just use your numeracy skills in maths and science. Subjects like art and design and IT are all about solving problems and making plans based on the information you have at your disposal.

Do you have a part-time job in a shop? Or get pocket money? If the answers yes, you almost certainly use your numeracy skills to tot up the amounts, or put cash aside in your savings. 


Employers need people they can trust and rely on to run a great business. As well as being great at your job, your employers will want you to turn up on time, be there when you're needed, and do what's expected of you (and more!).

You could talk about your school/college attendance record, your commitment to any clubs or societies you're part of, or how your homework is always completed on time and to the highest standard. 

Now you've got employability skills covered, learn about soft skills, which are just as important to many employers.

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Image credits

Communication via Pixnio

Teamwork via Pixabay

Computer skills via Wikimedia Commons

Creativity via Pixabay