HW Careers

What’s In Your Skills Toolbox?

Finding and Valuing The Skills You Have

During your working life, you’re likely to have a few different jobs and bosses, each of which teaches you new skills or experiences you can add to your Skills Toolbox. It may take many jobs to achieve your dream career; you may change careers entirely or keep the same work for years. 

Each work experience will give you skills to add to the toolbox that you carry with you during your whole working life. And if you consciously build and take your toolbox with you – and keep track of its contents – you’ll find ways to grow your working life and learn wherever you go

Your toolbox is an imaginary or metaphorical box with all the skills, talents and abilities that you learn and carry from every job. You’ll leave high school with some skills and learning. After working for a few years, you will have practical skills in your box, like learning how to fix an engine or write computer code. You will also gain people-skills like more patience and teamwork, as well as more life experience. Over time, you’ll find that your skills become useful in every job you do – and every job, no matter how fulfilling or awful – will give you the chance to learn.

And like all toolboxes, it works best when things are labelled and organised. 

This is where things get interesting because we often don’t consciously know – and label – the tools or skills that we have. We also often don’t understand how we can use them at work or to find a job.

Start building your toolbox by identifying a few categories that could be valuable in work or the job you want. Here are some examples:


All your formal training qualifications (Matric, diplomas), as well as your other achievements (school prefect, church volunteer)

  • Hard skills – these are specific learned skills usually related to doing a job, and often require training or recognised expertise; ie – operating machinery; having a Code-10 driving license; being a chef, a teacher, etc
  • Soft skills – also known as ‘people’ skills, soft skills are how you relate and interact with people and situations; ie – communication; teamwork; time-management; leadership; creativity, etc
  • People you know – networking and having mentors can be very useful tools for your career
  • Interests – your personal interests might fit your work, so pop your great cooking into your toolbox too.

You can split these categories further or add more. There are real benefits to working out the fine details and multiple uses for your skills and talents – see part 5.




If you search topics like: ‘types of work personalities  / what skills do employers look for ’, you’ll find lots of articles headed: ‘5 types of people at work… / 12 soft skills employers look for… / 7 people you work with…’ and so on. 

It can be useful to read stuff like this, but if you are just starting out in your working life, be careful of giving yourself a label, simply from your limited experience. Work environments, rules, and codes of behaviours can be quite different from job to job. 

If your first job is with a small company where you know everyone, you might think you’re ‘expressive’ or ‘a challenger, a driver’… But then your second job is in a large corporation with strict hierarchies, measurements of achievement and new, complex work – and you might find yourself behaving quite differently.

So in the early parts of your career, don’t specifically label yourself. You’ll probably find that you don’t fit into only one ‘label’ anyway. These lists are typically of common characteristics of people, while your toolbox – and you – are unique. An early “self-diagnosis” of what type of “work personality” you are, can limit what you’re capable of.


At the same time, other people at work will probably label you in some way. This is simply because it’s easy and helps us to make quick sense of what’s around us. So if you think you carry the tools of ‘efficient, good writing, dependable’, you need to show (use your tools) if you want to get awarded those labels by others. 

This is where real self-honesty becomes important. If you think you are dependable, you need to know what that word means to other people if you want them to give you that label.

If dependable to your boss means being on time, he won’t give you that label if you are always late. You might plan to be on time every day with ‘enough time’ to get to work (dependable – in your mind), but if your pattern doesn’t change – you don’t start leaving for work 10 minutes earlier and keep being late – your boss won’t think you are dependable.

We need to know what tools we have, how to use them – and what the labels mean in action.


When you’re just starting out at work, you might think you don’t have a lot of skills that might help you get a job. Here’s where honest analysis and the fine details can really help you. (see part 2)

Start with one skill you know you have, let’s say teamwork. Somehow, you’re always the person that keeps the peace, encourages people to work together and makes everyone feel included, with a contribution to make.

Now identify 3 skills that are part of your team-working talent.  Every skill is a combination of other skills! The more skills you can label in detail, the more you’ll realise you have in your toolbox. And that gives you more confidence in job interviews, gives you more ideas of what kind of work you’d enjoy – and what you can offer as an employee.

teamwork is a skill you can add to your Skills Toolbox

Holding a team together and getting the best out of them needs you to understand the work challenge, understand people and be able to convince them. Immediately, you have found 3 more tools you have – identifying a problem, good with people, good communication.  

Now identify 3 skills that are part of those three. For example, being able to identify a problem and the best solution, means you have big-picture-thinking. This needs leadership, understanding the big details and the little ones or project management and creativity. Understanding people takes empathy, listening skills and adaptability. Good communication skills, on the other hand, mean that you capture people’s attention, can teach, or promote things.


It may be scary to be starting out in the work world – or losing your job or changing careers – but consciously detailing all you have to offer will boost your confidence, help you promote yourself, and keep you receptive to all opportunities that come your way.

Every job will not be your perfect job or necessarily lead you on a straight path to your dream career. But knowing that any work is a chance to learn something new and pop a tool in your box, gives you a bigger perspective on each step you take. 

No matter your work situation, your toolbox of skills, talents, knowledge and experience can always be growing – and as it does, so do your opportunities.