What Are Qualitative Skills?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
The ability to get along with others is considered a qualitative skill.
The ability to get along with others is considered a qualitative skill.

Qualitative skills are those which can be observed, but are not measurable. This is in direct contrast with quantitative skills, which can be measured in an objective fashion. Many jobs require qualitative skills, from working as a researcher in a scientific facility to conducting international diplomacy. There are a number of tools people can use to develop them, including attending formal education and training, taking workshops, and reading texts designed for people in their industry.

Research is considered to be a qualitative skill.
Research is considered to be a qualitative skill.

One example of a qualitative skill might be researching, which is valuable for people like legal assistants and librarians. It is not possible to measure someone's skill with research, although observers can make notes about whether someone is a good or bad researcher. People with skills in this area can uncover a variety of relevant information from good sources, and may be able to do so in a relatively short period of time. They are intimately familiar with accessible resources and can develop a detailed list of potential sources for a supervisor or client.

Supervisors routinely assess their employees' qualitative skills.
Supervisors routinely assess their employees' qualitative skills.

The ability to perform tasks that cannot be measured is key for a wide range of job positions. Qualitative skills can be challenging to acquire, in some cases, and they are more difficult to test for, as it is not possible to use simple, quantifiable measures to assess candidates. A surgeon, for example, can demonstrate knowledge of anatomy and physiology, but actual surgical technique in the operating room is a qualitative skill. It may be measured indirectly through patient outcomes in a long term study, but is not a directly quantitative trait.

Qualitative researchers might take advantage of technology and online information.
Qualitative researchers might take advantage of technology and online information.

In employee evaluations, qualitative skills may come up as a topic of discussion. Workplaces typically want their employees to develop and hone such skills, and need to come up with ways for supervisors to assess employees fairly. This may also be important for improvement plans, as concrete definitions and discussions can help people set and measure goals. Thus, a qualitative skill like getting along with coworkers might be broken down into a series questions about how often the employee experiences conflict, and how coworkers view that person in anonymous surveys.

Surgeon training often requires a large amount of hands-on practice with a dummy or cadaver to build qualitative skills before the student can work with patients.
Surgeon training often requires a large amount of hands-on practice with a dummy or cadaver to build qualitative skills before the student can work with patients.

Job listings typically include a list of expected skills and qualifications, some of which may be qualitative in nature. To demonstrate such skills, applicants may need letters of recommendation as well as a strong performance in an interview to show they are familiar with given subject matter and feel confident in the work environment. For trainees in entry-level positions who may not have qualitative skills, supervisors are responsible for providing training and feedback to help them develop these skills and apply them to challenges in the workplace.

Quantitative and Qualitative Skills

A job applicant must be able to showcase their qualitative skills in an interview.
A job applicant must be able to showcase their qualitative skills in an interview.

Quantitative and qualitative skills are both extremely valuable in the job market. Quantitative skills are those that are objective and can be measured. They can have numbers or yes/no answers attached to them. Examples of quantitative skills include:

  • Sales statistics — Your sales numbers are a matter of record and can be referenced both on your resume and in a job interview.
  • Undergraduate and graduate degrees — The degrees you hold are recorded in the colleges and universities you attended.
  • Analytical skills — Proper analysis of data can be quantified by the conclusions you draw from the raw data. Hiring managers may set tests to measure your abilities in analysis.
  • STEM competencies — If you’re working in science, technology, engineering or math, you have certain skill sets for those positions, many of which can be quantified. Did you successfully design the new widget? Does your new computer program do what it’s supposed to? These questions can help hiring managers quantify your abilities.

Qualitative skills are more subjective and open to interpretation. They’re immeasurable as no numbers can be attached to them. They must be evaluated on an observational basis. Examples of qualitative skills include:

  • Writing ability — If you list writing ability as one of your skills, be prepared to back up that claim with blog posts, website copy or emails that have had a good return on investment or high conversion rate.
  • Getting along with co-workers — Interpersonal relationships can be a key factor in your success or failure at any new job. Calls to references to ask about this skill are key in determining whether you truly get along with your colleagues. 
  • Work ethic — A strong work ethic will go a long way toward getting you the job you want. It’s another question hiring managers will have to ask your references about.
  • Active listening skills — Active listening is listening to understand, then reflecting the information back to the other person to make sure you comprehend what they’re talking about. Hiring managers could test this during your interview.

What Qualitative Skills Can I Put On My Resume?

You can put any qualitative skills you possess on your resume. The hiring parties will have to decide how to evaluate and value those skills. For example, if you put “advanced writing ability” on your resume, the people who may hire you might look at your resume as an example of your writing ability. If you include a link to a personal blog or professional writing portfolio, they can read a selection of what you’ve written and grade you on a variety of metrics.

If you listed a strong work ethic as one of your qualitative skills, the hiring managers will likely ask your references to speak to that topic. They’ll have to weigh what your references have to say about your work ethic against how believable your references were and whether they’re trying to portray you in the best possible light, rather than being completely honest.

You might list “exemplary research skills” on your resume. Hiring managers would have to judge that on a completely subjective basis, having no records of your research abilities available, unless you have a website or blog they can refer to. Even then, it’s difficult to quantify research skills in spite of footnotes or endnotes citing your sources.

Qualitative Skills Examples

There are many examples of qualitative skills and abilities. Some of these include:

  • Creativity — You may be able to demonstrate this on your resume, or you may have to wait until the interview to come up with creative answers to hiring managers’ questions. The ability to look at a problem from all angles and come up with a solution is crucial in many businesses today.
  • People skills — Getting along with co-workers is the tip of the people skills iceberg. Demonstrating leadership abilities and being able to influence other people’s opinions and decisions are both key people skills that not everyone possesses. Working together in a team and forging lasting relationships with your teammates are highly valued as well.
  • Resilience — Resilience is sometimes referred to as bouncebackability. It’s a measure of your ability to face adversity and recover from it stronger than ever before. It’s important to analyze your failures and setbacks so you can move forward in a new direction. Resilience is hard to measure; some people seem to be born with it. People without this innate ability can learn how to be more resilient.
  • Trust — If you can trust others, and others can trust you, you’re in good shape for a promising career. Teamwork and business dealings are built on the ability to trust each other.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PracticalAdultInsights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PracticalAdultInsights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

burcinc

What's interesting and kind of strange is that most of our life until we are adults, we are assessed based on our quantitative skills. We go to school and take lots of tests on knowledge that can be measured. But actually, this is not enough to succeed in life. Qualitative skills are just as important but we are not given as many chances to work on those as we are with quantitative skills. Why do we do that?

SarahGen

@SteamLouis-- I think you're actually talking about people skills and teamwork skills there. People skills is the ability to get along with and influence others. I think that's what you mean by communicating 'effectively.'

Communication and language are quantitative. As you said, they can be tested and measured. But people skills like getting along and working successfully with others, making sure that one's opinion is heard and taken seriously, making sure that everyone coordinates for a common end goal, these are qualitative. They can't be measured but they can be observed.

SteamLouis

Is communication a qualitative skill?

Technically, it is possible to measure someone's knowledge of a language, grammar rules, etc. But communicating effectively and explaining oneself well doesn't always have to do with language knowledge. I think it may be a qualitative skill. Am I right?

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    • The ability to get along with others is considered a qualitative skill.
      By: Adam Gregor
      The ability to get along with others is considered a qualitative skill.
    • Research is considered to be a qualitative skill.
      By: anyaberkut
      Research is considered to be a qualitative skill.
    • Supervisors routinely assess their employees' qualitative skills.
      By: uwimages
      Supervisors routinely assess their employees' qualitative skills.
    • Qualitative researchers might take advantage of technology and online information.
      By: Syda Productions
      Qualitative researchers might take advantage of technology and online information.
    • Surgeon training often requires a large amount of hands-on practice with a dummy or cadaver to build qualitative skills before the student can work with patients.
      By: Paco Ayala
      Surgeon training often requires a large amount of hands-on practice with a dummy or cadaver to build qualitative skills before the student can work with patients.
    • A job applicant must be able to showcase their qualitative skills in an interview.
      By: Rido
      A job applicant must be able to showcase their qualitative skills in an interview.