Be it in a résumé, an application letter, or a face-to-face interview. We need to be able to sell our skills. Selling a skill does not mean inventing something, but rather showing the skill in a light that is relevant to the position we are applying for.

How many times did you read or write “I am a great team player” or “I am a highly motivated…”? If you are like past me, then the answer is:  too many times. We all think we are good at doing one thing or another, but how to convey this believably when applying for a job? Conversely, we may not even be aware of some of our top skills, let alone know how to sell them.

But… I don’t know what I’m really good at.

Not a problem, let’s figure this out together!

Identify your skills

To get started, draw a table on a piece of paper or make a digital one, if you prefer. It should look something like this:

Skills table template


A little heads-up: When you do this exercise for the first time, it might take a while, as you are creating the basis for all your future job applications. Hang in there, it will be worth it. Once this is done, you can simply add new information bit by bit over time.

Now, write down whatever comes to your mind as we go.

1. Experience

Perhaps you are about to graduate or have just graduated, with one or two internships under your belt. Not much to list on your CV, right? Wrong. Here is the good news: your experience consists of more than just your formal work experience. Think about all the internships, jobs, or hobbies you have had over the years. Keep in mind also any bigger projects you did during your studies and any volunteering activities. List everything in the first column of the table. 

Next, go through each experience and fill in the rest of every row.

2. Organization characteristics

In what type of organization did you gain this experience? Which industry was it part of?

Was the organization large or small, a start-up or more established? Was it a public or privately-owned one? Did you work with other students, collaborate with managers or did your colleagues perhaps have an international background? Write it all down, this information will come in handy later.

3. Tasks and tools

Think about your main responsibilities. Which tasks did you do daily or on a regular basis? Which tools and programs did you use?

4. Highlights and achievements

Were there any special events or happenings during your time there? Any big anniversary celebrations, events or important projects? How were you involved?

5. Mishaps and setbacks

Things don’t always go as planned. These can be bigger or smaller things, just write them down and don’t censor yourself. What happened? How did you solve the problem or overcome the challenge? How did you actively change the course? You can always edit your table later.

6. Learnings

Your learnings can be pretty much anything. For instance, how did you grow personally or professionally thanks to your activities there? Did you discover something about yourself during this experience? What was it? Did you learn to use new tools or programs? And an important one: What did you learn from the mishaps or setbacks you just wrote down? Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently next time?

A young person thinking

At this point, your table could look something like this:

Example of a filled-in skills table

Your table is done, your head is smoking. Now what?

3 Ways to use your skills table

1. Your résumé or CV - highlight your top skills

Take all the skills you identified in the table and categorize them for your CV. There are different approaches to categorizing them. One is to divide them roughly into transferable skills, personal traits and attitudes, and knowledge-based skills.

Transferable skills are all sorts of skills that you have acquired over the years  – at school, at work, or even through your hobbies. This type of skills can be applied in various settings – they are not limited to a specific job. Such skills are, for example, team work, communication, or leadership. 

Personal traits and attitudes could be patience, empathy, self-motivation, or decisiveness.

Knowledge-based skills are usually acquired through education and training, such as, software knowledge or programming languages.

Bear in mind that there is no need for you to add all skills to your CV, nor do all of them have to be listed in a separate skills section. Add a few to each position or experience. Do also mention at least one achievement per position. For example:

Example of an experience section on a CV.

2. Your application letter - showcase your traits and experience

This is the right place to briefly show the recruiter why you would be the right person for this particular job. Go through the job ad and take note of the keywords that are used. Which of your experiences, traits or skills match them? Always provide examples to back up your claims. The company is looking for someone who deals well with tight deadlines? You did organize the scouts’ 10th anniversary within only a few weeks and stayed calm despite the almost-fiasco with the cake, didn’t you? Point that out in your application letter. Some other phrases you could use for providing examples are “Colleagues describe me as (…)” or “In my role as Xyz, I received an award for (…)”.

Highlight your abilities, not only your experience.

In addition to what you uncovered in your skills table, you could consider the times colleagues, family or friends have asked you for help or advice. What was that about? They wouldn’t have come to you if they didn’t think you could help them. You might possess knowledge or skills that you are not even that aware of, but that others clearly see in you.

3. The job interview - know your table

Alright, you got invited to an interview. Congratulations! Now the interviewer asks you to describe a challenging situation from your past and how you overcame it. You remain calm, because you identified some of them in your table and you have an answer at hand. In the next interview round, the hiring manager wants to know your strengths. You know precisely what was listed in the company’s job ad and you connect just that with concrete examples from your skills table to show why they should hire you.

Keep your table up to date

One final piece of advice: whenever you work or volunteer somewhere, whenever you start a new hobby – make it a habit to jot down the things you do and what you learned. This way, you can easily keep your skills table up to date and refer back to it quickly, whenever needed.

Which surprising things did you discover about yourself and your skills while doing this exercise? Did you come up with more ways to use the skills table? Share it with us on Instagram!

Did you find this exercise helpful? Share it with your friends and colleagues!

Looking for a complete roadmap for landing a job at a startup? Download our Guide to Startup Job Hunting and learn everything from how to define your career values to where to apply to, the interview preparation, and contract negotiation – a one-stop-shop for all things startup job hunting.