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What’s more important: qualifications OR skills and behaviours?

Posted August 20, 2020

You might think that being top of the class and scoring straight 9s in your GCSEs is the key to success in the workplace. And there’s no doubt that a good set of qualifications will stand you in good stead when applying for jobs.

But qualifications aren’t the only thing employers are interested in. This might be a relief if you didn’t achieve the grades you wanted – or couldn’t take exams due to Covid-19. But that doesn’t mean you should abandon your studies or any further education! Instead, consider that most businesses are looking for staff with the right balance of qualifications, skills and behaviours. And this means all three elements are important.

But let’s start by understanding what the main differences are between qualifications, skills and behaviours…

What are qualifications? What are skills? What are behaviours?

Simply put, skills are the specific abilities that you have learned. Skills include the so-called ‘soft’ skills you develop through life and work – such as communication and team working. They also include ‘hard’ skills: the recognised qualifications or accreditations you gain through studying or training, like GCSEs. In short, qualifications are the skills you’ve been taught.

Behaviours, on the other hand, are more about the way you act or conduct yourself. You can learn new behaviours, and develop and improve existing ones.


Skills are the abilities you have learned.



Qualifications are the skills you’ve been taught.



Behaviours are the way you act or respond.


Why are skills, qualifications and behaviours important?

When you’re at the start of your career, employers use qualifications – most often your school grades – as a baseline to assess whether you’re suitable for a job. There’s usually a minimum grade requirement that you need to meet.

But give examples of the right skills and behaviours too, and you’ll get a head start – since you’re bringing extra value – particularly when there are lots of applicants for a job.

Also, as you progress in your career, the qualifications you gain at school or college will become less relevant. While your experience, and the soft skills and behaviours you develop, become more important.

Read about the 10 skills and behaviours valued by employers.

Qualifications, skills and behaviours are all important in subtly different ways:

  1. Qualification: You need a driving licence to drive a car

  2. Skill: You need to be good at problem solving if you need to manoeuvre into a tricky parking spot

  3. Behaviour: Being responsible means not driving too fast

What if I didn’t get the qualifications I need?

The Covid-19 pandemic made 2020 an exceptional year for students due to sit exams. And you may feel that the grades your school or college recommended  don’t reflect what you might have achieved otherwise. Or perhaps you didn’t achieve the grades you wanted before anyone had even heard of Covid-19!


Did you know… Richard Branson and Simon Cowell both dropped out of school at 16. Deborah Meaden didn’t get any A-levels , and Lady Gaga dropped out of her second year at college .


Either way, don’t panic. You can always retake your exams. Or you may not even need to. Most employers won’t just look at your qualifications; but also the skills and behaviours you bring to a role too. They want to know how you’ll respond to surprising, difficult or challenging situations – much like the Covid-19 pandemic!

So be prepared to talk about any skills or behaviours that you’ve demonstrated – like resilience or adaptability – at an interview or a careers fair, even if it takes place online. Read more about how to prepare for an online interview.

So skills and behaviours can be as important as qualifications?

Yes! Employers will always ask for a minimum number of GCSEs for apprentice positions. BUT some employers are prepared to overlook this for the right candidate. They may be happy to take on someone with outstanding soft skills or behaviours, or who shows an exemplary attitude.

If this is you, it’s important that you show it to the best of your abilities. Consider which skills or behaviours would make you an asset, and make sure you can demonstrate them:

  • Understand the role: Be sure you know what the employer does, and what they’re looking for
  • Update your CV: Make sure you include a personal profile, and your key skills
  • Create/update a LinkedIn profile: Make sure it reflects your CV
  • Demonstrate commitment: Be engaging, enthusiastic, polite, punctual and smart
  • Be prepared: Come equipped with relevant examples to talk about your behaviours and skills
  • And finally… Show that you’re eager to learn and develop

What next?

To recap, skills are the abilities you’ve learned, and qualifications are the skills you’ve been taught. Behaviours are how you act

While qualifications are important, employers recognise that they’re only part of the picture. How you behave, and the other skills you can demonstrate, may paint a much clearer picture of your true potential.

Read more on this topic:

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