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Professional skills: a practical guide

The value of an employee lies in their professional skills. By skills, we of course mean technical and business skills (hard skills), but not only that - an employee's skills and abilities cover a much wider field.


Hard skills are complemented by soft skills, and they involve much more than the technical aspects of a job. Indeed, soft skills refer to the way in which we act, to behavioural skills (or interpersonal skills).


Let us not forget transferable skills, which correspond to skills that can be used in different jobs.


The task of recruiters, HR teams as a whole, but also managers, is to identify all these professional skills. Once these are correctly targeted, it becomes much easier to recruit successfully, by selecting a candidate who is perfectly "aligned" with the position to be filled. In addition, management is greatly improved because the potential of each employee can be used and developed, a guarantee of individual and collective performance.


Check out our skills articles: 


The ultimate guide to soft skills

Hard skills: definition and examples

What are hard and soft skills?

How can we encourage employees to learn new skills

Key skills in a hybrid work environment

How to improve interpersonal communication in the workplace

Categorising skills

The skills gap: what is it and how to close it?

Upskilling: the key to the skills shortage

Reskilling: what it is and why it's set to be a game-changer

Transferable skills: the key to job mobility

Skills as currency

Skills vs competencies: what is the difference?

Improve interpersonal skills at work: an asset for the company

Sales skills: what are they and how can they be improved?

HR Skills: the new challenges of human resources

Top management skills every manager should have

Why teamwork is an essential soft skill in retail?


Rise Up Content: discover our off-the-shelf training offer

What is a professional skill?


How can we define a professional skill?


A professional skill corresponds to a capacity, or an aptitude applied in the context of a position, in order to correctly complete one or more tasks. An individual's professional skill set allows them to make an effective contribution to the company.


They bring together:


  • Hard skills, which correspond to technical and business skills (e.g., proficiency in a computer language, managing a client portfolio).
  • Soft skills, which refer to interpersonal skills and behavioural skills (examples: empathy, adaptability).
  • Transferable skills, which often belong to the soft skills, but not automatically (e.g., mastery of a foreign language, useful in a wide variety of jobs and positions).


These skills are acquired throughout one's school and professional career, but also throughout one's life. They may or may not be recognised by a diploma or a training certificate (this is generally the case for technical and professional skills).


Each ability can potentially be used in a job. There is no such thing as a useless skill.


Love to learn poster


What is the difference between professional skills and qualities?


Professional skills on the one hand, professional qualities on the other: it is not always easy to distinguish between these two concepts.


There is, however, a major difference. A skill is acquired through theoretical training, experience and/or practice, whereas a quality is innate and cannot be learned. In other words, professional competence refers to a technical or behavioural ability that is the result of a conscious learning process, a choice. A professional quality reflects a personality trait.


However, the line between professional skills and professional qualities is not as clear-cut as one might think. Indeed, having certain qualities makes it easier to acquire one or more skills. For example, dreamy and imaginative people will more easily develop their creativity (an extremely popular soft skill right now). Another example: a person who is both sensitive and sociable will easily demonstrate empathy (another highly sought-after interpersonal skill).


It is therefore important for companies to detect not only skills but also professional qualities. These will reveal the full potential of the employee.


3 categories of professional skills


Knowledge: theoretical knowledge


By knowledge, we mean all the theoretical knowledge learned by an individual. Knowledge is acquired throughout one's life by various means: learning at school, university, training courses, etc. This also includes knowledge acquired through professional and personal experience, as well as through individual curiosity, which leads to research into certain subjects.


Knowledge is "moving": it can be eroded, but it can also be enriched over time.


Theoretical knowledge obviously has its place in the field of professional skills. The aim is to recognise and value the knowledge that is relevant to each profession and position.


Here are three examples of knowledge that can be used at work: knowledge of a computer language, knowledge of office tools, knowledge of Spanish.


Know-how: technical skills


This notion of know-how follows directly from the previous one. It relates to implementing knowledge, concretely applying what we know, transforming our knowledge into practical expertise in order to carry out a mission or a task.


If we take the examples of knowledge, the following skills result from it: the ability to build a website, the ability to design a document in PowerPoint, the ability to write the minutes of a meeting in Spanish.


The sandwich course is based on this principle: the student learns at school or university for part of the time and then applies this knowledge in the company.


Know-how therefore corresponds to technical skills (hard skills) or business skills. Developing skills of this type can only be achieved through professional experience.


Soft skills: behavioural skills


The list of professional skills also includes soft skills. These are in high demand and include all individual skills and abilities relating to behaviour and interpersonal relations.


Whether they are innate, transmitted through education or learned through encounters and experiences, soft skills reflect a person's values, personal and behavioural qualities. At work, they determine the ability  of an employee to communicate, their capacity to work independently, and to react appropriately to different situations.


Soft skills refer to the character of each person and are therefore more difficult to develop than theoretical knowledge or know-how. However, it is still possible to develop many soft skills, particularly through professional training.


Here are a few examples of behavioural skills:

  • Ability to organise and prioritise tasks
  • Ability to adapt
  • Autonomy
  • Sense of responsibility, reliability
  • Ability to work in a team
  • Respect of rules
  • Ability to update knowledge
  • Sense of customer relations
  • Capacity to take the initiative
  • Capacity to work under pressure and manage stress


The survey ”Future of jobs” of the Word Economic Forum reveals the list of soft skills that employees consider essential to have by 2025:


  • Ability to solve complex problems
  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Team management
  • Coordination
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Judgement and decision-making skills
  • Sense of service
  • Negotiation skills
  • Cognitive flexibility

Woman improving her professional skills

Adopt an employee-focused skills development strategy


Skills development to optimise internal mobility


Skills development is a crucial issue for employees, and therefore for companies. Employees are looking for fulfilment in their work, they need to feel good at work and find meaning in what they do. They achieve this by developing their professional careers, taking up new opportunities or sometimes even changing jobs.


Companies have a duty to support them in this process. This results in the retention of talent and optimised internal mobility. The first requirement is to promote an excellent quality of life at work. Second obligation: to provide an optimal framework for the development of its employees' skills. In concrete terms, this means proposing training actions that place employees at the centre of their learning. Employees take charge and steer the development of their skills in the direction that they wish. The aim is for each employee to achieve professional fulfilment at any point in their career with the company.


In this context, it is essential to set up upskilling and reskilling mechanisms. Upskilling enables employees to retain their expertise when their job changes. They train to learn the new skills needed. Reskilling, on the other hand, opens up the possibility of a change of profession, since it involves learning skills not previously mastered for a position different from the original one.


Personality, a growing selection criterion


Interpersonal skills are now part of the key skills of any employee. As we have seen, some of these depend directly on the intrinsic personality, the individual's natural way of being and acting.


As a result, personality tends to become a selection criterion when hiring. TTI Success Insights, a company specialised in online HR assessments conducted an insightful study on the subject. The survey reveals that more than a third of HR professionals consulted (34%) rank personality as the number one selection criterion when recruiting.


This is not surprising. In a constantly changing world of work, where technical skills are becoming increasingly obsolete and new ways of organising work are taking hold, interest in soft skills is growing. Certain behavioural skills are becoming indispensable. The ability to adapt, an agile and critical mind, and the ability to work in a team make a profile attractive to recruiters; a profile that offers real added value compared to a profile with a high technical level but weak interpersonal skills.


Furthermore, taking an interest in a candidate's personality is an excellent way of verifying the coherence between his or her vision of the position, his or her image of the company and the real culture of the organisation.


Finally, having a variety of personalities in the workforce brings a human richness that is beneficial to the performance of the teams.


The list of professional qualities (and professional skills) that recruiters need to look at is growing...


Enhancing employee potential and improving talent management


The managers are in the front line here. It is up to them to detect the precise professional skills of each of his employees, to identify both their weaknesses and strengths, as well as their degree of expertise in the position they hold. On this basis, it is much easier to exploit employees' potential, for example by redefining the scope of their job and/or by offering targeted training to fill the gaps.


In addition, clearly visualising the business and behavioural skills of team members is very useful in terms of talent management. This is because it allows talent to be identified and actions to be put in place to develop and retain it.


With this in mind, Rise Up has designed a specific offering for companies to develop their skills and enhance the value of their employees: Rise Up Content. It is a catalogue offering thousands of off-the-shelf contents, resulting from partnerships with leading publishers.


Innovative learning materials, a variety of formats, accessibility on all media: all available off-the-shelf training courses are focused on learner engagement. Many skill areas are covered, including both hard and soft. The objective is simple: to meet the specific needs of each employee and to ensure a rapid rise in competence.


Rise Up content: discover our off-the-shelf training offer