The 5 Types of Skills (Transferrable, Personal, Knowledge)

types of skills, explained below

5 types of skills include: transferrable, personal, knowledge-based, soft skills, and hard skills.

When looking at ‘types of skills’, we usually dissect them into one of two taxonomies:

  • Soft/hard: The first taxonomy skills into two groups: soft skills and hard skills.
  • The 3-skill taxonomy: The second groups skills into three groups: transferrable, personal, and knowledge-based.

This article looks at both taxonomies, providing examples of skills that fit under each category.

The 3-Skill Taxonomy

1 Transferable Skills

Transferrable skills are professional skills that can be used across a range of different careers and professions.

They are valuable because you can take these skills when you change careers. They’re foundational skills that, once you have, you’re a much more desirable employee.

Examples of transferable skills include:

#Transferrable SkillDescription
1.Communication Skills If you can communicate effectively within a team (while being persuasive and achieving compromise).
2. Organization People who are organized are more likely to succeed, no matter the task in front of them.
3. Analytical Thinking Analytical thinkers can identify problems, define them, get key information from a dataset, and develop logical solutions to the problems.
4. Critical Thinking Critical thinkers can critique information by identifying weaknesses, seeing them from various perspectives, and foreseeing problems.
5. Computing People with basic computing skills like word processing and working on computer datasheets can bring this transferable skill to a range of jobs.
6. Writing Strong writers can apply their writing skills to jobs as diverse as journalism to being a virtual assistant.

Related: Types of Critical Thinking Skills

2 Personal Traits and Attitudes

Personal skills are skills that could also be considered personality traits. They require emotional intelligence and reflect how you behave yourself in a range of situations.

They are valuable both at work and in your personal life. They’re obtained through both nature (you were born like this) and nurture (you learned these skills through trial and error).

Examples of personal traits and attitudes include:

#Personal Trait / AttitudeDescription
1. Independence A person with independence can complete a task by doing their own research and only asks for help when they have exhausted their personal research.
2. Integrity A person with integrity does the morally right thing (see also: integrity examples).
3. Patience Patience is a necessary skill for many professions. It’s especially important for mentors, coaches, and leaders.
4. Compassion A person with compassion is in a good situation to ensure their workplace is an inviting place to be.
5. Assertiveness An assertive person can make sure they’re not taken advantage of in the workplace.
6. Resilience Sometimes work gets tough, but a resilient person can persevere through the difficulties.

3 Knowledge Based Skills

Knowledge-based skills are skills developed for your particular profession. They reflect your ability to complete various tasks in your job.

These skills are learned either on the job or through formal education. You often go to university or conduct an apprenticeship in order to obtain these skills.

Examples of knowledge-based skills include:

#Knowledge-Based SkillDescription
1. Computer Programming You need to get training on how to write code to become a computer programmer.
2. Copywriting A journalist knows just how to write perfectly to compel readers to keep on reading.
3. Cannulating A nurse knows how to cannulate a vein in order to execute their job. Most non-nurses have no idea how to do this.
4. Search Engine Optimization An SEO specialist knows how to make articles rank on search engines on Google.
5. Driving Most of us learn to drive, but truck drivers need much more fine-tuned skills to complete their jobs. This skill is what makes them employable.

The Soft and Hard Skills Taxonomy

The ‘soft skills’ vs ‘hard skills’ taxonomy is a different one to the taxonomy above, so put it aside and start afresh here.

Generally, my criticism of the hard skills / soft skills dichotomy is that many skills fit somewhere in-between. In my opinion, those ‘in-between skills’ can generally be categorized into the ‘transferrable skills’ section of the 3-skill taxonomy (above).

1 Soft Skills

Soft skills are subjective skills. They are not measured, taught, or required for any specific job. If you can’t put the skill on a key performance indicator, chances are, it’s a soft skill.

This category generally overlaps with the ‘personal skills’ and ‘transferrable skills’ categories in the 3-skill taxonomy.

Examples of soft skills include:

#Soft SkillDescription
1. Patience Patience is a soft skill because it’s not one that’s measured, but is nonetheless an important skill to help you complete tasks.
2. Communication Communication skills are not measurable, but remain important for achieving your objectives in a range of jobs.
3. Empathy People with empathy are better at connecting with others, which is great in a range of jobs from teaching to sales.
4.Cultural Competence People with cultural competence are able to communicate with, include, and accommodate people from a range of cultural backgrounds.
5. Multitasking People who can multitasks will succeed in a range of different busy and demanding workplace settings.
6. Goal Setting If you can set your own goals, you’re in a better position to succeed in whatever task you set yourself.

Related: Types of Thinking Skills

2 Hard Skills

Hard skills are objective skills. They’re measurable and required for a specific job. They’re usually taught at trade school or on the job and unambiguously measurable (you either have the skill or you don’t).

They generally fit into knowledge-based skills category above (but not perfectly).

Examples of hard skills include:

#Hard SkillDescription

Speaking a second language

You can either speak a second language proficiently for a job or you can’t. When push comes to shove, can you have that conversation in French? (Note that this could also be a ‘transferable skill’ on the 3-skill taxonomy).
2. Writing computer programs To write computer programs, you need to know the coding language required.
3. Building an electric circuit Electricians know how to construct a safe electrical circuit. The rest of us aren’t so lucky and wouldn’t be able to bluff it.
4. Cooking a meal If someone puts the ingredients down in front of you, could you cook the meal? A chef probably could because they have the hard skill of cooking.
5. Touch typing This is measurable through tests that assess the amount of words per minute you can type. This is often required for secretarial and clerk work.
6. Computer animated design You couldn’t just bluff this. If, on the first day of your job, you’re asked to create a 3D animation of a chair, you’d need to know the steps and procedures for getting the job done.
7. Multivariate analysis This is a type of quantitative analysis that you can either do or not do, depending on your past training.


What Types of Skills do you need in the Workplace?

While many people might first think the most important skills for the workplace are knowledge-based and hard skills, people who succeed in the workplace also have the other skills in spades. As you move up the ranks in the workplace, personal skills and emotional intelligence become more and more important.

What Types of Skills do you need in Sports?

Sports are very good at teaching personal and transferable skills. Whenever you accept a decision made by the referee that you don’t like, you’re developing the personal skill of humility. When you work well with teammates to score a goal, you’re developing communication skills. And when you accept a loss and shake hands with your opponent, you’re developing an understanding of grace.

What Types of Skills do you need as a Student?

In school, students develop all 3 types of skills in the 3-skill taxonomy. While the curriculum tends to focus on knowledge-based skills, students also develop the other skills throughout the day.

For example, when placed in teams and groups, students are focusing on developing transferrable skills like communication, negotiation, and delegating.



Personally, I think the 3-skill taxonomy is the best way to look at different types of skills. The three different categories allow space for more nuanced exploration of that grey area between soft and hard skill categories in the hard/soft taxonomy.

These skill taxonomies can help teachers, counsellors, and even job applicants to think through the sorts of skills people need in their work and personal lives.

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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