What’s the difference between skills, behaviours and qualities?

To stand the best chance of being offered an apprenticeship or the job you want, you need to be comfortable talking about your skills and behaviours. But the list of words used to describe what employers are looking for in employees is as long as it is confusing!

Employability skills, transferable skills, life skills, behaviours, qualities, attributes, attitudes… These are just some of the phrases you might have seen in job ads or heard employers use at careers fairs. But what do they all mean? And how can you use them to communicate your own strengths?

Let’s start with some definitions…


What are behaviours?

Behaviours are sometimes also called qualities, attributes, attitudes, or personality traits. Whatever the word used, people are talking about the way you act or conduct yourself. Your personality plays a large part in how you behave, but you can learn or develop other qualities. Employers are looking for people who show positive behaviours, such as commitment, responsibility and willingness to learn.

Exercise: Examples of behaviours

Think about some of the behaviours you demonstrated during the Covid-19 lockdown. Did you show resilience to difficult circumstances, or great adaptability? Perhaps you showed a willingness to learn with an online course? Or responsibility by looking after family members or friends?

Think about how you might tell an employer about this behaviour. How did you demonstrate it? Have a couple of examples up your sleeve, and practise explaining these to family members.

What are skills?

At the most basic level, skills are the specific abilities that you have learned. Most people break skills down into:

  • ‘Hard’ skills - These are recognised qualifications or accreditations, such as GCSEs, Nationals, diplomas, apprenticeships or other formal training courses.
  • ‘Soft’ skills - Sometimes called competencies, these are skills you’ve developed through experience in life and work. Examples might include team working or emotional awareness.


‘Hard’ skills are a way for employers to check you’re qualified for a job – and things like GCSE grades give them a standard by which to evaluate your skills.

But employers are just as interested in your ‘soft’ skills. Since these give employers an idea of how effective you’ll be in your job. So somebody achieving 7-9s in their GCSEs likely has the hard skills an employer is looking for. But they might lack the communication or problem solving ‘soft’ skills they need to thrive in their job.

Arguably it’s also easier to learn ‘hard’ skills or knowledge than it is to develop ‘soft’ skills. Like behaviours, these are often determined more by our personality, outlook and approach to life.

But in most jobs you’ll usually receive a mix of formal and on-the-job training to help with developing both. An apprenticeship is an even more structured learning programme to equip you with the hard and soft skills needed for your trade.

Exercise: Identify your skills

Try listing all of the skills you have. Begin with hard skills like your qualifications and any formal training, then think about what soft skills you have. Are you good at communication, perhaps? If so, can you think of examples you could use to prove it - perhaps you’ve tried public speaking, or written a user guide for a tool?

Talk to your friends and family about your skills, and use your examples to back up what you’re saying. Remember: employers won’t just want to hear a list of skills!  They’ll want to know how you’ve demonstrated these skills. So it’s better to have a list of strong examples for one skill that you can talk about. Than it is to give a long list of skills but no examples to back them up!

What about life skills, employability skills and transferable skills?

Employability skills, transferable skills and portable skills are just three different names for the same thing: soft skills that you might learn and use in the workplace. Examples include time management or problem solving. But also more specific skills that you might acquire in the workplace, like typing or researching.

Life skills tends to refer to soft skills that you might learn and use at work and in life. Examples include communication or emotional awareness.

But in reality, there’s lots of overlap between life skills and transferable skills. Many things you learn in life will help you perform well at work, and vice versa!

Exercise: Divide up your skills

Take the list of skills you wrote down in the earlier exercise and categorise them. Which ones do you think are life skills, and which ones are employability skills? You’ll find that many skills fall into both categories!

How do I show my skills and behaviours?

Your CV is an opportunity to list all of your hard and soft skills. And it’s usually your first interaction with an employer. So make sure that your CV includes:

  • Your name and contact details
  • A personal profile – what drives you at work? What can you bring to the role?
  • Any employment history
  • Your education and qualifications


You could also add a ‘key skills’ section, listing up to 10 soft skills. Be prepared to answer questions about them if you’re invited for an interview or to an assessment centre. So don’t just list the skills we talk about. Think about how you’ve demonstrated each one – ideally, give at least one example – and consider how you might develop it further in your career.

Exercise: Create a LinkedIn profile

If you haven’t already, create a profile on LinkedIn.com. It’s basically an online version of your CV. And, for this reason, it should contain the same information as your CV (although omit your address). Be sure to keep your profile updated alongside your CV as you gain new skills and experience.

Make sure to showcase some of your skills in the Skills & Endorsements section on your LinkedIn profile. At a minimum, add the soft skills you’ve listed on your CV. Connect to any colleagues, fellow students or lecturers who are happy to do so, and over time they’re likely to endorse your skills. If appropriate, ask your lecturers to endorse your skills or write you a recommendation: it helps to get someone else to validate your skills.

Over time, develop your use of the platform – for instance, follow people who inspire you or companies that you want to work for. LinkedIn is a really good platform for establishing professional relationships. So spend some time learning about it and doing tutorials to develop your understanding.

Next steps

To recap, behaviours are the way you act. Skills are the abilities you have learned. Many of the behaviours or skills that you learn in life can help you at work, and many that you learn at work will help you in life. 

Here are some useful links to help you develop your understanding of skills and behaviours further: 

  • Read more about employability skills on Start
  • Complete this activity on Start to demonstrate you’ve learnt about employability skills. Remember: completed activities are included in your profile so employers will know that you’ve spent time on improving yourself
  • Read about these top five life skills identified by Youth Employment