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Beyond cliches: How to articulate your essential skills on your CV and in interviews

How to make your essential skills stand out on your CV

Thinking about applying for a new role? What skills do you have, and how can you best articulate them? 

Lots of advice suggests looking at job descriptions to see where you can use keywords and buzzwords to evidence skills through your CV and in application. However, when job descriptions lack specificity about what exactly those skills are it can be harder to articulate them in your CV or application and showcase how you have used them. 

This article will take you through the eight essential skills you need to highlight on your CV and some examples for you to consider.

What skills should be included on a CV?

We generally know what our strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to our skills, we don’t always know the best way to showcase or articulate them. There are different types of skills – technical, basic, digital and transferable skills. 

Transferable, or so-called ‘soft’ skills are becoming increasingly important as companies shift to more of a skills-based approach to their workforce composition. There have also been many changes to our working environments and patterns, meaning more of us need to draw on essential skills like collaboration, communication, self-management and creative problem-solving. These are what we will cover in this article.

Why are essential skills so important for employment? 

Essential skills are highly transferable skills such as listening, problem solving and teamwork. They are important for people at all stages of their career, from entry-level right through to C-suite, and support the application of technical skills and knowledge. Importantly, these skills are the human skills that we all need to be able to demonstrate as AI becomes more integrated with our jobs. Being able to specify your essential skills will help show employers that you have evolved and will be able to adapt to any future challenges and workplace change. 

How to use the Universal Framework to articulate your essential skills

The Universal Framework supports the development and measurement of essential skills at any stage of life or career, and breaks each of the eight essential skills down into a sequence of 16 measurable steps. The Framework was developed in partnership with organisations such as The Careers & Enterprise Company, Business in the Community (BITC), The Chartered Institute for Personnel Development (CIPD), the Gatsby Foundation, and more. Evolving since 2008, the Skills Builder approach is now the de facto language and method for building essential skills for millions of individuals across the world. 

An ever-increasing number of businesses are using the language of the Universal Framework with their employees, and using this same language you can gain confidence in articulating your soft skills on your CV, or later on in an interview process. 

Essential skills to highlight on your CV:

  • Listening: The receiving, retaining and processing of information or ideas. 
  • Speaking: The oral transmission of information or ideas.
  • Problem solving: The ability to find a solution to a situation or challenge.
  • Creativity: The use of imagination and the generation of new ideas.
  • Staying positive: The ability to use tactics and strategies to overcome setbacks and achieve goals. 
  • Aiming high: The ability to set clear, tangible goals and devise a robust route to achieving them. 
  • Leadership: Supporting, encouraging and developing others to achieve a shared goal. 
  • Teamwork: Working cooperatively with others towards achieving a shared goal. 

Not sure what level your skills are? You can take a short assessment on Skills Builder Benchmark for free, which will take you through each stage of each skill and give you a skills profile to use. 

Listening skills

Your listening skills will involve actively receiving information from diverse sources. At the earlier stages of development, the focus is on remembering instructions and understanding communication purposes. Subsequent steps include demonstrating effective listening through body language, open questioning, and summarising. Further aspects involve being mindful of speaker influence and progressing to critical listening by comparing perspectives, identifying biases, evaluating ideas, and maintaining objectivity.

Also Known As (AKA) - active listening, communication, interpersonal skills

Example: Listening skills are important in project management, or in client or customer facing roles, for example in step 8 being able to summarise information helps with reporting or understanding more complex ideas such as the introduction of new processes. Another example in HR, where step 13 becomes considerably important – demonstrating how in a recruitment process you were able to identify perspectives and biases. For example, through your listening skills you might have understood and recognised potential bias in an individual’s perspective, and you made informed and objective decisions on who would be best for a particular role.

Speaking skills

Effective speaking involves clear communication with various stakeholders in different settings. Initially, the emphasis is on clear speaking with familiar individuals and small groups, progressing to less familiar audiences. The next stage focuses on logical point delivery, considering the audience's knowledge and employing appropriate language, tone, and gesture. Further advanced examples would include speaking engagingly with facts, examples, visual aids, and expressive gestures. Those with exceptional communication skills are speakers who can show how they adapt to audience responses and diverse scenarios, culminating in influential speaking that persuades listeners using structure, examples, facts, and vision.

Example: Most roles require an element of speaking skills, for example, being able to influence or persuade others, or delivering presentations internally or externally in meetings or with clients. It could also be in customer service, retail or hospitality, for example in choosing the right language for the setting, such as in step 5 of speaking. Those applying for sales or business development roles might have examples of where you have negotiated or used tone to engage an audience

Problem solving skills

Problem-solving skills involve both technical expertise and transferable tools – and in every job, at some point something goes wrong that needs a resolution. Initially, examples of problem solving might involve following instructions, seeking help, and gathering information. The next stage for more senior professionals would involve exploring problems by assessing various solutions, especially for complex issues without a simple technical fix. Further steps include exploring complex solutions, considering causes and effects, generating options, and evaluating them using logical reasoning and hypotheses. Finally, implementing strategic plans, assessing their success, and extracting lessons for the future - where examples will need to fully address problem solving as a main part of the role. 

Example: For any planning or solutions focused role such as analyst, project manager, product manager - step 13 – being able to implement strategic plans – is crucially important to demonstrate. Because the problem may be complex, finding space on your CV to fully explain is probably inappropriate, so you can showcase how you made plans to solve the problem you faced i.e., identifying the tasks, the resources required in terms of time and cost, and importantly who will be carrying out each task and when. Or gathering, analysing and organising information to develop strategies.

Creativity skills

Everyone has creativity skills, and these are highly valued by employers. Often misrepresented and misunderstood as being mainly for roles within the arts sector or for traditional ‘creative industries’, the reality is that creativity can be applied to almost every role. At earlier stages, or where creativity is not principal to the role, examples could involve imagining and sharing ideas, or generating innovative solutions. Those with more advanced creativity skills can demonstrate group innovation and supporting others through tool-sharing and coaching.

Example: For a technology focused role, creativity is not always advertised in the job description, but articulating these skills can help you stand out. Being able to think creatively about various solutions and explore new ways of doing things can drive innovation, for example showing things how you use a success criteria like step 4 of creativity. 

Staying positive skills

All roles encourage new and existing employees to have a positive mindset, so the skill of staying positive is important to highlight. The basic steps include effectively managing emotions, staying motivated, and inspiring others through setbacks. Those with more advanced skills should be able to articulate how they identify and share opportunities, adapting plans, and managing risks. 

Also Known As (AKA) - mindset, growth mindset, resilience, adaptability, emotional intelligence

Example: Any managerial role will be required to support their team or wider colleagues at work, and demonstrating your management skills like staying positive despite setbacks, and encouraging others to do the same will be highly valued. You might have examples of a time you have supported your team, or a particular colleague through listening and acknowledging their feelings about a situation, supporting them to see the opportunities available.

Aiming high skills

Setting goals and planning is required in most roles, ranging from meeting specific targets, or paying attention to detail – at the earlier stages you can articulate your skills in aiming high as setting clear goals and planning effectively for both organisational and personal development targets. At a higher level, you will be able to discern the difficulty of tasks, working carefully, taking pride in success, and approaching new challenges positively. Beyond that, more senior roles will require individuals to set goals, prioritise tasks, secure resources, and involve others. More advanced steps include developing long-term strategies informed by internal and external factors, structured through regular milestones and feedback loops.

Also Known As (AKA) - strategic planning, flexibility skills, adaptability skills, time management, personal effectiveness

Example: In a leadership role, or a role with influence with external stakeholders like politics, fundraising or events, you will need to work together with colleagues and individuals to set goals and involve others along the way. You might have done this in the past where you have had to convince people to support your ideas or plans, so step 9 gives some support in articulating how you have engaged others.

Leadership skills

Management and leadership skills are vital for many roles, not just ones with explicit management accountability or leading others. For roles with less management experience, leadership is about managing your own feelings and understanding that of others. From here you could have experience of managing tasks, then supporting others like through mentoring, coaching, or allocating roles appropriately. At a more advanced level being an adaptive leader reflecting on your leadership style and adapting your approach. 

Example: Most roles will require you to participate in meetings, and this is one area where you could demonstrate your management skills. You could explain how you successfully ran meetings, considering things like the chair, the participants, the agenda and setting it up to be able to efficiently manage group discussions to reach shared decisions, such as in step 5 of leadership. 

Teamwork skills

Being able to work well in a team or with others such as stakeholders, clients or customers is a frequent ask on job descriptions. At the basics of teamwork, it is about the skill of using positive appropriate behaviour for the situation, timeliness/punctuality and reliability, and responsibility. As a role requires working at a more involved level with others, you might need to show examples of contributing to decision-making, managing conflict, and building external relationships. At an advanced level, teamwork skills should include a focus on influencing the team and supporting through evaluation, incorporating expertise, and strengths and weaknesses.

Also Known As (AKA) - team player, reliability, inclusive, relationship management, collaboration

Example: Working with a direct or indirect team, there has likely been a time when you have had to contribute to group decision making. Your contributions might have been based on some of your other strengths, like your creativity skills or that you keep a good schedule when responsible for plans. Examples that cover how you contributed to the group show skills beyond teamwork and therefore can be good examples to use on an CV or application, for example showing how you have been open to different perspectives, learnt from others or changed your perspective

Learn more about your essential skills

To develop and learn more about all eight essential employability skills visit the Skills Builder Universal Framework or take a short assessment on Skills Builder Benchmark.