Boston University Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation

Boston University Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation


What questions might I have about my skills at work?

How do I know what’s required of me at work?

There can be a lot of things that are required of us in the workplace. Most of the time, these requirements involve skills. A skill is something that you know how to do.  Figuring out what you need to do to be successful can be daunting at times. To keep a job, you will need to be able to do the tasks of the job before you get the job. You may need to learn how to perform tasks on the job. And there may be skills that your employer needs you to know how to do that aren’t on the job description. The reality is that there may be more to keeping your job than doing the tasks in your job description.

There are two, even three kinds of skills that may be required of you (Cohen, et. al., 1985, 2007, Cohen,, 1986).  These are listed, and then described, below:

  • Explicitly required skills
  • Implicitly required skills
  • Personally-important skills

1.  Explicitly-required skills

Explicit means out in the open, or direct. Explicitly required skills are those that the employer is out in the open about, or asks for. You will usually find these skills listed in job descriptions and employee handbooks. Employers may describe them in the interview, ask if you have the skills, or say that you need to show that you can do these skills before getting the job. Explicitly-required skills often relate to job tasks.

2.  Implicitly-required skills

Implicit means hidden, or out-of-sight. These skills are not talked about as much, or at all, in the workplace. Implicitly-required skills are not found in documents or in the employee orientation. Sometimes these skills are calledsoft skills,” as they are thought of as not as “hard” as the skills required to do specific tasks of the job. Implicit skills are required by the employer, but not even the employer may think about them until there is a problem. Implicitly-required skills often relate to the culture and social environment of the workplace. The culture of one office, shop, or warehouse may be different than others. The culture of a workplace may include things like the way the company operates, or how things are usually done. Social environments will vary too. These situations include: how people talk with each other, get together at work and after work. Every workplace is different! Figuring out what the Implicitly-required skills are often takes observation and/or talking to people who work there to find out what they are.

3.  Personally-important skills

Personally-important means that something is valuable to you. Personally-important skills are those things that you do because you think it makes you more successful and happy in the job.  These skills may not be required by the employer, but may be welcome if it makes you better at your job. Examples include such skills as:  Planning outfits, Clearing your desk, Choosing coping strategies, or Scheduling lunch breaks. Notice that these skills are probably not going to be required by a boss (depending on what you do), but may make you more successful, confident, and/or satisfied with your work.

How can I figure out if I’m good at the skills that my workplace requires of me?

There are a lot of ways to figure out if you are good at the skills you need to be successful at work.  We may not be able to know how good we are at the skills we need until we are in the job itself.  The truth is, we may learn skills over time, and so looking at our skills may not be a one-time thing.  Below are some options:

  • Get feedback on your skills from your supervisor.  Ask both what you do well and what you need to improve on.  Your supervisor knows what he or she is looking for. They may know not only the frequency (how often they want it done), but also the accuracy (how well they want it done) of what they are looking for.  In addition, if they know your work, your supervisor(s) may be an excellent source of information about how you’re doing with those skills.
  • Assess your own skill performance.  If you want to know, for example, how often you perform a particular skill, you can track it (Cohen, et. al., 1986, 2007).  If you want to know if you’re using the skill in the right situations, you can observe and track when, where, and with whom you use the skill, during the day, over a week’s time, or during the month.  You may want to start with asking a supervisor or mentor about how often the skill needs to be done, and where, when, and with whom that skill needs to be done before you start to track it, so you are sure what the expectation is.  You may find that you want to know how you’re doing throughout the year, or that you are asked to rate your own performance in a performance review.
  • Ask a supporter to evaluate your ability to do a skill.  Supporters such as mentors, job coaches, peers, or supervisors may be able to not only tell you what they see as your strengths and limitations, but may be able to be an independent observer as you perform skills needed for your job.
  • Go to the experts. There are lots of vocational professionals who are experts in helping to evaluate what your potential and actual skills are.

How do I make the most of my strengths?

If you’re asking yourself this question, you know that you want to capitalize on what you can do for your success and satisfaction on the job.  Making the most of your strengths on the job is a strategy that can help you to be both successful and happy at the job, and may help you keep the job longer. Making the most of your strengths is using the strengths you have, and building the ones you don’t.

Your strengths come from:

  1. What you know:  Consider the knowledge you have, what you know about how to do your job, and what you know outside of the job, that may help you on the job.  Plan to use the information you already have to help you keep your job.  Share that information with supervisors, and use your knowledge to do your job well.
  2. What you know how to do:  What you know how to do refers to the skills you have.  You can look at the rest of this page to learn more about skills. Skills may be out in the open and easy to find such as Greeting customers or Changing Oil, or they might be hidden, and harder to see, such as Asking for more work when you’re done, or cleaning up after yourself after lunch.  Or you may have skills that you like to do to make you more successful, that your employer doesn’t care if you do or not, such as bringing your own lunch, or clearing your desk at the end of the day.  Use the skills that you have to your advantage, and get better and better at them.
  3. The supports you have:  Supports are the people, places, things, and activities that support our success and satisfaction.  Supports can be strengths too, in that they can help you do well and feel happy on the job.  To make the most of your supports, take stock of them.  Make a list.  Think about how you can use your supports to help you in your job.  Think about any that you don’t have, and look at how to gather them.  Ask your people supports to be part of your success in keeping your job.
  4. Who you are:  We don’t often think about this, but who you are, the qualities that make you you, are part of your strengths package.  You might be kind, or thoughtful, or careful, or methodical, or a hard worker, or outspoken, or soft-spoken, or persistent.  These things may make up part of what makes you successful on the job.  Be you on the job.  Bring your whole self, and figure out how what you have to offer will help your employer, and help you meet the expectations of the job

What do I do if I’m not good at everything?

None of us are good at everything we need to do!  If you find that you need to develop some job skills, there are lots of things you can do to get better and better at the things that will make you successful at work.  As they say, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!”  Below are some options:

  1. Gather new information or knowledge:  If there is knowledge or information you do not have, that you need in order to do your job well, then make a plan to gather knowledge.  You can look things up online, ask for training, or study the employee handbook and/or policies and procedures at your workplace. You may want to continue your education in order to learn more about what you need to know in order to do your job well.
  2. Learn new skills:  Every person who is working learns new skills over time.  Learning new things is something you can count on when working, so it’s not outside of the norm to be learning even as you work.  Ask for training in the skills you don’t know.  If training isn’t available, you may be able to get mentoring, coaching, or supervision that can help you learn skills on the job. Off the job, you can enroll in training or education that can enhance your skills.  There are even workbooks available for learning skills yourself. (See the section above on Personally-important skills for some options.) The internet has many resources for learning skills, including videos on YouTube and the like. Remember that people aren’t born knowing all of the skills they need on the job – people learn and practice and learn and practice in order to get good at their jobs.
  3. Get support to use the skills you have:  Sometimes, we know how to do a skill, but we either forget, or for one reason or another, don’t use the skill where, when, and with whom we need to. For example, we may know how to take notes on what our supervisor wants to do, but don’t do it most of the time, and then forget what she asked us to do.  The issue might be resources (you don’t have a pen or pad of paper), knowledge (you’re not sure how to take notes), confidence (you’re not sure if it’s okay to take notes), or preparation (you don’t plan to bring your pen and paper and take them out while the supervisor is talking) (Cohen, et. al., 1985, 2007). If you know what the issue is, you can get support to address it, such as getting a notebook or using the Notes app on your phone, or asking your supervisor if it’s okay to take notes.

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