2.3 Understanding Professional Skills & Behaviours

Employers want to work with people who are:

  • Responsible (reliable, accountable, punctual)
  • Willing to learn (resilient; ready and eager to develop new skills and improve)
  • Able to communicate (clearly, respectfully and appropriately)

Employers in Canada consistently identify the following as the skills they want college graduates to demonstrate:

The Top 10 Professional Skills

Skills are like the caramel inside the chocolate, they need to be revealed. You reveal or demonstrate professional skills through your behaviour.

Four headings with examples: Personal skills include initiative and responsibility; interpersonal skills include leadership, teamwork and conflict management; communication skills include written, and presentation; thinking skills include decision making, problem solving and critical thinking
Which of three skills are your strongest?
Which three skills do you thinking you need to work on?
A common interview question we want you to begin to think about is “Tell me about yourself”

Behaviours That Demonstrate The Top 10 Skills

Students demonstrate their skills through course assignments, in-class activities and assessments. Click the tabs below for examples of behaviours that demonstrate a skill.

Behaviours that demonstrate personal skills.

1. Initiative

Employers want people who show ​initiative​ and are ​responsible.

You exercised personal initiative when you…

  • took action that went beyond requirements in order to achieve objectives
  • demonstrated a readiness to try new things
  • implemented new ideas or potential solutions without prompting
  • introduced improvements to the way things are done
  • used feedback to improve your performance
  • looked for opportunities to improve your work practices
  • anticipated potential problems and took action
  • took immediate action when confronted with a problem

You also demonstrated initiative with others when you exercised ​leadership skills​.

2. Responsibility

You exercised responsibility independently when you…

  • planned ahead and managed your time/resources to achieve goals
  • accepted responsibility for mistakes/wrong decisions
  • met deadlines and followed through on commitments
  • remained self-motivated even when things went wrong

You also demonstrated initiative with others when you exercised ​leadership skills​.

You exercised responsibility with another person or in a team when you…

  • showed accountability to the team by following through on your commitments
  • agreed to workload division
  • took advice and acted on it
  • came to team meetings prepared and on time
  • completed your share of the work in a timely manner
  • did a fair share of the work
  • did work that was complete and accurate
Behaviours that demonstrate interpersonal skills.

3. Leadership

You exercised leadership skills when you…

  • took responsibility for the direction and actions of a team
  • introduced improvements to the way things were done
  • provided constructive feedback to others on the team
  • motivated others on the team to do their best
  • made sure that everyone on the team understood important information
  • made sure that everyone was helping with the project
  • helped the team to plan and organize its work
  • assigned tasks and responsibilities that employed/used others’ strengths

4. Teamwork

You facilitated teamwork when you…

  • shifted between a leading and supporting role to help team dynamics and goals
  • responded constructively and respectfully to the opinions/ideas/differences of others
  • worked effectively with different personalities in a team
  • collaboratively adjusted to changing requirements/goals/deadlines
  • collaborated by sharing information virtually/in person that supported the success of the team
  • helped improve communication among team members and facilitate the exchange of ideas

5. Conflict Management

You began to develop the skills necessary to manage conflict when you…

  • managed stress while remaining alert and calm
  • controlled your emotions and behaviour
  • paid attention to feelings being expressed by others
  • were aware and respectful of differences

You managed team conflicts when you…

  • listened carefully to the arguments of both sides and assessed the logic of their reasoning
  • negotiated differences of opinion so all parties felt respected and heard
  • listed all the issues important to both sides and identified the key concerns
  • distinguished between points that could and could not be compromised
  • understood any outside forces that were affecting the problem
  • used tact and diplomacy to defuse tensions
Behaviours that demonstrate communication skills.

6. Written Communication

Communication skills are critical to interacting with others. These include ​written​ and ​oral​ forms of communication.

You effectively communicated in writing when you…

  • planned what you were going to write (clarified your thoughts and the purpose of your communication)
  • decided on a logical order for what you had to say
  • communicated ideas clearly and concisely
  • wrote persuasively to build an argument or defend a thesis statement
  • wrote and edited documents using appropriate grammar, punctuation and structure
  • wrote in a appropriate style for the audience

7. Oral Communication

You effectively communicated in speaking when you…

  • speak clearly to persuade and hold the audience’s attention
  • varied your tone, pace and volume to enhance the communication and encourage questions
  • listened actively and asked questions to understand other peoples’ viewpoints
  • Rephrased what the speaker said in other words to clarify understanding
  • encouraged the speaker to elaborate and to define their problems
Behaviours that demonstrate thinking skills.

These skills are a type of higher order thinking, i.e. “thinking about thinking”, which include decision-making, problem solving​ and ​critical thinking.

8. Decision-Making

You demonstrated decision-making skills when you…

  • clarified the nature of the problem before deciding a course of action
  • collected and summarized the information you needed to make a decision systematically
  • produced a list of all the courses of action you could think of
  • formulated clear decision criteria
  • differentiated between practical and impractical solutions
  • evaluated each of your shortlist of options, considering its advantages and disadvantages
  • evaluated options by considering implications and consequences

9. Problem Solving

You demonstrated problem solving skills when you…

  • examined a problem from a variety of perspectives
  • clarified the nature of a problem
  • defined the objective for solving a problem
  • broke down a problem into smaller, more manageable parts
  • identified further information to be gathered before taking action
  • evaluated solutions to a problem through feedback/reflection in order to make improvements
  • adapted according to changing requirements or context

10. Critical Thinking

You thought critically when you…

  • synthesized and organized information from a variety of sources, perspectives and/or frameworks
  • identified key concepts/ideas/assumptions and provided evidence to support or refute them
  • compared and contrasted to make connections between new and existing information
  • considered the context of sources when analyzing and evaluating information
  • evaluated and applied new information/ideas to a different situation/context
  • sought out and considered alternative explanations
  • distinguished between weak and strong evidence
  • distinguished fact from opinion
  • assessed your assumptions/those of others to determine whether those assumptions were based in sound reasoning and evidence
Can you start thinking of situations where you might have demonstrated some of these behaviours already?

Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

In addition to the above, we strongly suggest that you create a STAR story that demonstrates how you exercised personal initiative regarding Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Employers now require job candidates to demonstrate an ability to work across cultural differences with respect, in addition to an openness to learning about forms of systemic oppression. For example, an awareness of the Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report (2015), of systemic racism, and of ableism.