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Develop Your Core Skills and Traits

Core skills and traits represent broader life skills. They help you work well with others. And they prepare you for the demands that come with every career, no matter what field it’s in.


You already have a number of core skills and traits. Everyone does. You’ve learned them throughout your life—at home, at school, on the job, and as a volunteer.

Take time to learn which core skills and traits are your strengths. Figure out which ones you need to develop. And learn to get better at all of them.

What are core skills?

Canada and many other countries recognize 9 core skills as essential for success in any job:

  1. Adaptability—This means you are flexible. You can learn new skills when you need to. You stay focused, manage stress, and adjust to change. You’re open to feedback. You don’t give up when things get tough.
  2. Collaboration—You’re a good team player. You value the diversity of your co-workers. You respect them. You support them. You know how to work through difficult situations. You build positive relationships to achieve common goals.
  3. Communication—You share ideas and information clearly, so other people can understand. You have good listening skills. You respect other people’s points of view. You develop good working relationships with co-workers and clients.
  4. Creativity and innovation—You are imaginative and curious. You find new and better ways to do things. You inspire other people to be creative, and you support them in their efforts.
  5. Digital—You know how to use digital technology. You use your digital skills to find and share information, solve problems, and communicate. You know how to use social media safely. You know how to keep your online information secure.
  6. Numeracy—You know how to use math and you understand how numbers work. You know how to perform calculations and manage budgets. You can make sense of statistics, and you know how to analyze number-based data.
  7. Problem solving—You’re a good thinker. You figure out what the problem is. You come up with possible solutions and you decide which one is the best fix. You learn from your experiences. And you measure your success.
  8. Reading—You know how to find, understand, and use written information. This lets you work efficiently and stay safe on the job. You can read directions, reports, news articles, emails, and written material related to your work.
  9. Writing—You know how to use written words to share information with other people. You understand what to write and how much to write. You know what style to use to get your ideas across.

Where do core skills come from?

Core skills develop as people move through life.

Sometimes core skills stem from abilities. These are things we’re naturally good at. For example, if you’re born with a gift for languages, you’ll find it easy to develop communication skills.

Sometimes core skills come from the experiences we have at home, at school, and in life. For example, if you play on a sports team, collaboration is probably second nature.

Core skills can be developed through training. And they definitely get better with practice.

What are traits?

Traits are part of your personality. They affect how you deal with people and how you approach day-to-day experiences.

People can tell what traits you have by how you behave. But you can change your behaviour. And you can change your traits.

You can also develop new traits that will help you be more successful at work.

Employers want workers who are:

  • Respectful
  • Responsible
  • Honest
  • Energetic
  • Careful
  • Positive
  • Willing to learn

Take stock of your situation

Let’s face it. We can’t all be good listeners or flexible workers right from the start. We don’t always make sure to understand what someone is saying. And sometimes we have trouble dealing with change.

These are skills and traits we can improve. And we can develop the core skills and traits employers are looking for.

1. Figure out what skills you have

You might be surprised at how many skills you’ve already developed.

Here are some tools you can use to figure out what skills you already have:

  • Do this core skills exercise. Assess your core skills to see which of the 9 core skills you are best at.
  • Take this skills quiz. You can choose from 76 skills grouped in categories. If you have a skill that’s not on the list, you can add it in.
  • Use this exercise to describe your significant experiences. Identifying your experiences is a starting point for identifying your skills. For every experience you record, think back and remember what skills you used.
  • Test your essential skills in 9 areas. You’ll do a brief quiz in each skill area. When you’re done, the app will generate a list of careers that could be right for you.
  • Complete a self-assessment to identify your skills. You’ll need to print a PDF file and fill it out by hand. Self-assessment PDFs are available in the following areas:

2. Figure out what traits you have

Take this traits quiz to identify what traits you already have.

Many employers say a positive attitude is one of the traits they value most highly. Take this quiz to find out how your attitude measures up.

Keep track of your skills and traits on a master resumé.

When you apply for jobs, match your traits and skills with what the employer wants. And remember to market your skills and traits. Be sure to show them off in job interviews.

3. Figure out what skills and traits you need

Once you’ve identified your core skills and traits, take some time to figure out which ones you need to improve.

Start by thinking about what you want to do with your life.

What kind of jobs do you want to have? What kind of career do you want to build? Do have all the skills you need? Are you missing any? Where are the gaps? What new traits and skills do you need to learn?

Do some research before you decide what skills you want to work on. Think about the jobs and careers that interest you. What skills and traits do they require?

Here are some ways you can find out:

  • Look up your desired occupation on OCCinfo. Review the traits and skills this occupation needs.
  • Select a career from the Canada’s Essential Skills profiles. Each career profile outlines the core skills that are needed.
  • Use job banks to find ads for jobs that interest you. Scan the ads for words describing the skills or traits those jobs require.
  • Explore the websites of companies you’d like to work for. Do they describe the company’s values? Do they say how they serve their customers and clients? Such descriptions often hint at the core skills and traits companies look for when they hire.

Develop your core skills and traits

Follow these 4 steps for each skill or trait you want to develop:

1. Set a goal and write it down

Your goal is what you want to do. When you create goals, identify:

  • What your goal is
  • When you plan to reach it
  • Why you’re doing it

For example:

  • What: I want to become more adaptable…
  • When: …by May 31…
  • Why: …because I know I find it hard to deal with change.

2. Watch how others use skills or traits that you want to develop

Watch people you admire and take note of how they do things. Or watch people do things badly to learn how not to behave.

Ask people you admire how they developed the skills and traits you want to improve. For example, if you want to be more innovative, talk to a friend or co-worker who is creative. Listen to the advice they give you.

3. Ask for feedback from people you trust

Honest feedback can be very helpful.

Ask someone you respect to give you an honest assessment of your skill development. The person you ask could be a:

  • Supervisor
  • Co-worker
  • Mentor
  • Counsellor
  • Close friend
  • Family member
  • Teacher

Keep in mind that everyone is busy. Give your observers plenty of time to assess you. Suggest that they use this observers’ checklist to help them in their task.

Use negative feedback to your advantage

Sometimes the person you’ve asked for feedback will say you need to improve a core skill or trait. Ask them why they rated you this way. And ask how they think you can improve. Their comments can become a checklist of behaviours for you to practise.

4. Practise, practise, practise

Keep a list of the skills and traits you want to work on somewhere handy, like your phone. That will help you track your progress. Once you have your list, start practising—wherever and whenever you can.

Try to use the skills and traits you’re developing every day.

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