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Your skills and qualities

Skills development

Have a look at the following employability skills and the suggested tips to develop them.

Achievement orientation

Get into the habit of setting goals or targets in work and general life and make a conscious effort to achieve things. Set some small targets to start with, you may find it useful to plan how you are going to achieve your tasks. If you over run, you should assess what happened. Did you lose interest? If so break the goal down into smaller chunks that feel more achievable.


If something new is happening at work, try to take a role in making the change happen. Try working in a fast paced environment such as customer services, this will expose you to many changes over the course of a working day. If something isn't working for you change or do it differently, what effect does this have on the situation?

Attention to detail

When submitting TMAs make sure you have followed all the instructions and check your work for spelling, grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, style, and tone before submitting it. If you're the sort of person who tends to look at ‘the bigger picture' and miss the detail, try writing down what you did this morning between 9 and 10am, in detail, e.g. what you did, where you went, what you saw etc.


Look out for tasks or projects that require you to work independently such as a research project or fact finding task; volunteer for them. Take advantage of opportunities where you can make your own decisions in the workplace.

Commercial awareness

Talking to the head of department in a company will help you to find out more about that specific area of the business and working in a company will help you understand how that business works. Try taking part in any enterprise activities that involves developing a business idea and setting up a temporary company and detail examples of ethical issues that employers and employees need to be aware of.


Try to focus on your skills and talents as much as possible. Make a list of all your good qualities and don't dwell on what you perceive are your weaknesses. When you do something well or achieve something, don't brush it off. Acknowledge it and give yourself praise, even if is just a small achievement. Also, make sure that your boss knows about any good work that you've done. The way you present yourself to others can also help you feel more confident. Be aware of how you hold yourself and the signals that your body language is sending out.

Coping with complexity

Think about an issue that you feel is complex or difficult. Try to work out why it's complex and the issues involved. Work out your view of the situation, and then consider the arguments from an alternative viewpoint.

Using your OU study as a starting point consider the skills you have developed that help you deal with complex or difficult situations. If you feel you have any gaps or want to develop those skills further work out a plan of action to achieve this. The OU's free course: Extending and developing your thinking skills can help you do this.


Next time you faced with a problem or a project, approach it differently. Question your assumptions and look at it from a different perspective. This might include going to a different location to think or discussing the task with someone who is known for their creative thinking.

Listen to others in meetings and see where their ideas come from or sign up for a training course on creativity.

Critical analysis

Try working with other people as this can be one of the best ways to develop your thinking. As a group you could discuss a topic or assignment from your course, make notes on the ideas and look for links. Use techniques such as mind mapping to explore your thinking and ideas, practice with an issue from your studies.

Research into critical thinking and draw up an action plan of how you can develop this skill. You could start with Critically processing what you read.

Customer orientation

Map your customer service skills and experiences, work out how these relate to the needs of your customers. Draw up a plan to attract new customers from non-traditional areas, identify who are these customers; what are their needs and how you might attract them.

Draw up a list of pros and cons about buying goods and services over the internet. Plan of how you would use this information to improve the customer experience. Has this made a customer's life easier or harder?

Consider working or volunteering with customers to gain experience.


Take advantage of opportunities that arise at work where making a quick and effective decision falls within your remit. Example: you could get involved with projects / teamwork where it would be appropriate for you to settle an issue; producing a definite result.


Next time you have to work with someone you don't know, think about how you can develop your relationship to get the most out of working together.


Take every opportunity to explain things to others such as providing induction for someone new in your office or offering to explain something in a meeting. Get some feedback from others about how you explain things and think about ways you could improve. Try new ways of explaining e.g. diagrams if you normally use words.

ICT skills

Use online resources as part of your study. These could include:

  • accessing material using in the library catalogue
  • taking part in online forums
  • setting up a blog
  • sharing digital photographs.

Local colleges can offer courses such as the European Computing Drivers License (ECDL)which is also available as an online course.


There may be many opportunities where you can influence situations causing change to occur, example: within your studies if there is group work and you have an alternative idea for how to develop a project; or in the workplace where you have discovered good practice and are able to highlight this to your colleagues and/or Line Manager; you may also be able to positively influence an administrative system by helping to streamline it, etc.

Information retrieval

If you have to write a report think about where you look for information, who you need to speak to, and what resources you'd use? Think about how you manage your email inbox. Why not set up some folders in order to help with information retrieval.


Actively engage in a situation and take responsibility for how it runs and the outcome. Then think of ideas as to how it could be improved. Make a habit of asking “what if” instead of accepting the status-quo.

If you see something that needs to be done, go and do it – even if it’s not a part of your responsibility. When something needs to be decided, don’t just worry or think about it and prolong the situation. Do your homework, assess the situation, and then make an informed decision.


Within your TMAs and any project work for your modules there will be opportunities for you to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions. Similarly your day to day job may provide opportunities for this also. Simply raising your awareness of when and how you make decisions will make you realise that you are probably already using your judgement, but haven’t been conscious of it.


Show interest in meetings, and pick out key information. Ask questions to clarify understanding and note key facts. Think about a time when you had to attend a seminar, conference or listen to instructions. Can you recall what was said? Try to actively listen to documentaries on the radio.


There can be a variety of opportunities where negotiation skills can be developed. Example: attending meetings at work where the discussion is aimed at reaching an agreement regarding projects or service delivery; liaising with an external organisation where provision or service is discussed; and/or within the project work for your module where team work is involved you may need to discuss roles / responsibilities.


Everyday life involves numeracy e.g. managing your finances. Read the financial sections of newspapers, try to work out what the statistical data means ajd try mathematical puzzles. If you have children, try to do their Maths homework. Talk to someone who handles numbers and figures and ask them to show you some budgets or financial forecasts and see if you can interpret this information. You could also volunteer to be the treasurer of a club or societies you are part of or study an OU maths or financial management course.

Planning and organising

To plan your OU studies visit the Help Centre. You can develop your organisational skills by thinking about arranging an event or trip. Planning with others will develop your team working and organisational skills.

Presentation skills

Get someone you know to sit in the audience and after the presentation give you some feedback. You may ask them to focus on specific aspects of your delivery. Work with a couple of colleagues or friends: assign each other a topic to talk about impromptu for one to two minutes. Then give each other feedback, and think about how it felt for you. Do a Presentation Skills course so that you can practice public speaking and build your confidence for presenting and communicating in a supportive environment.


Create a study plan early in your course by checking your study calendar and planning ahead. Think about how your study will fit in with other aspects of your life. Identify how you prioritise the tasks you have to do in your job or a similar situation. Work out your own weekly, monthly or annual plan to see the range of activities and pressures you have to juggle.

Problem solving

When faced with a problem, be aware of how you react and what action you take. Try talking a problem through with someone else. You could read up on problem-solving theories or go on a training course.


Attending tutorials is a good way to develop this skill, as it gives an opportunity to speak and ask for clarification. When working on a project try and ask questions to seek clarification from other team members.

Reading effectiveness

Researching information and picking out the salient points of a text will enhance effective reading. To enhance this skill look at other techniques such as speed reading, which you will find on the Study Skills website, along with a range of toolkits. Outside of your study, try reading newspapers, books and journals. Reading reports and extracting the relevant data will help to develop this skill. If you experience barriers to effective reading, such as dyslexia, or being partially sighted, think about the approaches you can take: you could use tapes or a screen reader to help you to develop this skill.

Self awareness

Take time during your course to reflect on and evidence your achievements so far. Generate an up to date personal development plan. Create a CV and keep it up to date. Focus on the sections where you mention your skills and qualities. To help you with this, have a look at Your career planning guide on the careers website, or request a copy via the Careers contacts page.

Request a regular meeting with your line manager to discuss your personal development at work. Identify the targets or goals you want or need to achieve in your personal, academic or career development. Speak to others who know you, and find out how they view you.

Self presentation

Look at the Graduate Prospects website. Research different jobs and identify the self presentation skills that they need. List the skills that apply to all roles and then those specific to the particular job you are interested in.

Use appraisals or progress reviews to explore your strengths or developmental needs in this area. Drawing on your experience of work, your student experience and life as a whole, profile the skills and experiences you bring that help you to build a positive impression to others.This can include:

  • knowledge based skills
  • confidence
  • enthusiasm
  • communication skills
  • body language.

Stress management

Tell friends and colleagues if you are not coping; but you need to listen to them. Be aware of the warning signs and adopt techniques to deal with the feelings of pressure. Find out what stress management tools and courses are available in your workplace. Contact your HR department or talk to your line manager or union representative. Research stress management and work out your strategy for dealing with it. To help you do this you could visit the following websites:

Team working

Try to attend tutorials and residential schools (if your course has one) as these give you an opportunity to meet other students and work together. Participate in online discussion groups and forums. Think about your hobbies and join committees, societies etc. as these give opportunities to work in a team. Share your ideas with others and co-operate fully. Evaluate your performance as a team member to see if you have any areas you need to develop.

Time management

Consider ways of using your limited time to the best advantage. Regularly check your study calendar - be aware of approaching deadlines so there are no surprises. Recognise your commitments and schedule some time to identify what you can allocate to your studies. Be aware of deadlines and how you are going to achieve them. Use tools such as Outlook Tasks or Critical Path Analysis to manage your workload.

Valuing diversity

Within your friendship or family groups, perhaps when you're all together, talk about what qualities you all bring the strengths and differences between and what if any benefits there are for your group. Find opportunities to talk to or interact with people from backgrounds that are different to your own, either in the workplace or outside of work.

Be aware of your own and others cultural norms, values and beliefs.

Willingness to learn

Request training courses to learn about aspects of your job that are changing. Show enthusiasm for new initiatives by asking questions or volunteering to get involved in new projects with new tools, software or other resources.

Workplace understanding

Whilst working in a company you will eventually get to know and understand the internal environment, politics and overall objectives. Make best use of the induction system to find out about systems and processes. Speak to people in human resources to find out some general facts about an organisation. Speak to someone outside of your team/role to gain further knowledge of the company. Try to organise a work experience placement or voluntary work to gain a greater understanding of the workplace and use the internet to research employers and their future objectives and strategy. Compare your current and previous workplaces in terms of the work environment, internal politics, values, objectives etc.

Writing skills

You can develop this skill by writing TMAs - which involves communicating appropriately to an academic audience. Write reports and present your ideas clearly and concisely to others. Think about contributing to a local newsletter or magazine.

Last updated 1 year ago