Knowledge vs. Skills vs. Abilities: Definitions and Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 6 December 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Knowledge, skills and abilities are three important areas of professional development, and improving these areas can help you advance your career. Although these terms seem similar, they have important differences. If you want to enhance your qualifications, it's helpful to understand how these qualities differ and connect, and how you can improve each. In this article, we explain the definitions of knowledge, skills and abilities, discuss how these qualities connect to one another, provide tips to help you develop each, and discover real-world examples.

Knowledge vs. skills vs. abilities

Learning more about knowledge vs. skills vs. abilities is beneficial to your career, as they're often used interchangeably, but the three terms have different definitions and career implications. Here are the definitions of knowledge, skills and abilities:

Knowledge

Knowledge is the body of information you possess that you can use to perform your job. It consists of topics you understand and material you've learned. Having knowledge means you comprehend how to do something, but doesn't mean you can actually do it. This differentiates knowledge from skills and abilities. You can develop knowledge through actions like conducting research, listening to lectures and reading books and articles. You can also increase your knowledge as your career experience increases.

Skills

Skills involve handling or manipulating items, data or people, either verbally, manually or mentally to accomplish an objective. There are both hard and soft skills. Hard skills, also called technical skills, usually require practice and training, such as computer skills or business acumen.

Soft skills relate to an individual's personality traits and they can include skills like communication, integrity, empathy and emotional intelligence. Soft skills are transferable skills, as they're often valuable in any position. Most jobs require a mix of core soft skills and job-specific hard skills. You can develop skills by practising them and learning from other people.

Related: 20 Important Life Skills To Support Your Career Success

Abilities

Abilities are similar to skills, but the two qualities have subtle differences. Abilities are the capacity to express a skill or the means to complete an action. Ability is the capacity to perform, where a skill is the act of performing. You can learn skills, while abilities are natural or innate. You can combine knowledge and abilities to perform skills. Although you often don't learn abilities, you can improve your abilities by practising them regularly.

Related: 15 Effective Pieces of Advice for Career Development

How are knowledge, skills and abilities related?

You can consider knowledge, skills and abilities related because you can combine all of them to perform your job. Mixing learned knowledge with natural abilities can help you develop a skill set that helps you excel in your career. These qualities are all important because employers search for each of them when evaluating job candidates.

Employers can also use the differences and connections among knowledge, skills and abilities to create effective employee training opportunities. Identifying which area an employee can improve can help determine paths for professional development. For example, if an employee can increase their knowledge, an employer can provide resources like books by authors in their industry.

Related: Top 10 Qualities of a Good Employee (And How To Develop Them)

Tips for developing your knowledge, skills and abilities

Here are some tips for improving your knowledge, skills and abilities to advance your career:

Set goals

One tip for developing your qualifications is to set goals. Identify which specific knowledge, skills or abilities you want to attain, and then set a SMART goal. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. Setting this type of goal can help you gain new knowledge, skills or abilities within a certain amount of time.

Related: Career Goals: Definition, How-To and Examples

Pursue further education

Pursuing further education is one way you can develop your knowledge, skills and abilities. You can explore different degree options to increase your qualifications in your career field. For example, if you want to expand your knowledge of marketing and pursue a career in it, you can earn a marketing degree.

Earn certifications

Many people also enhance their qualifications by earning certifications. You can research top certifications in your industry to determine the most valuable options for you. Also, research certifications that teach you new skills or expand your knowledge in a specific area. You can also add certifications to your CV to demonstrate your expertise.

Take online courses

Online courses can help you pursue professional development. You can complete many online courses at your own pace from any location, and you can find course options in many subject areas. For example, if you want to improve your writing skills, you can enrol in a professional writing course.

Complete professional development through your employer

Many employers also offer professional development opportunities. You can gain new skills and abilities by completing training, and you can expand your knowledge by attending conferences and speaking events. Taking advantage of opportunities through your employer can help you increase your qualifications in your specific field.

Examples of knowledge vs. skills vs. abilities

Reviewing examples can make it easier to understand how knowledge, skills and abilities relate and differ. Here are some examples of the three qualities:

Examples of knowledge

Some specific examples of knowledge include:

  • Government regulations: You might have knowledge of government laws and regulations that relate to your job.

  • Document preparation practices⁠: You may also have knowledge of how to write documents properly.

  • Engineering practices: Engineers might know how to design and engineer for specific industries or equipment.

  • Mathematical formulas: People who work in math, science, finance or related fields might memorise and understand mathematical formulas that are relevant to their occupations.

  • Construction tools: Construction professionals might have knowledge of which tools are best to use for specific projects and purposes.

  • Grammar rules: Writers might have knowledge of grammar rules that they learned from taking classes and reading books.

Examples of skills

Some examples of valuable hard and soft skills are:

  • Communication: Communication is an essential skill used in a wide range of careers. It can equip you to work effectively with others and relay information clearly.

  • Leadership: Leadership is an important skill for any position, especially those in management. Leadership skills can include delegation and confidence, and you can use these skills to lead a team to success.

  • Computer skills: Many jobs also require basic computer skills, including using word processors and email applications. Some positions may require skills in specific tools, such as spreadsheet applications.

  • Problem-solving: Problem-solving is another core skill that employees in many positions can use. This skill can enable you to find solutions to a variety of problems that arise in the workplace.

  • Critical thinking: Critical thinking skills are skills that allow you to understand, evaluate and apply information. These skills include interpretation, explanation and open-mindedness.

  • Analytical skills: You can use analytical skills to analyse and understand information. Analytical skills include data analysis and research.

  • Public speaking: Many positions require public speaking skills, as employees may give presentations and speak in front of groups of people.

  • Organisation: Organisation skills can help you prioritise work and create plans for projects and assignments. These skills are also useful for delegating work and managing employees.

  • Time management: Time management is a core career skill. It can help you ensure you arrive to work on time and meet project deadlines.

  • Decision-making: People in many positions use decision-making skills to help them make important workplace decisions. Many people create a decision-making process that involves researching an issue and thinking critically.

  • Writing: For many occupations, it's important to have basic writing skills so you can write memos, emails and other written communications. Many professionals also write papers and publish study results, making advanced writing skills useful.

Related: 10 Effective Communication Skills for Career Success

Examples of abilities

Here are some examples of abilities:

  • Adaptability: Adaptability is a valuable ability that allows you to react to different situations and work effectively when changes occur.

  • Motivation: This ability equips employees to do their jobs with passion and enthusiasm. You can improve your motivation by practising gratitude and building healthy habits.

  • Confidence: Confidence is an ability, as it's typically innate rather than learned, although you can learn it with practice. Confidence can enable you to be a strong leader and stay calm in workplace situations.

  • Responsibility: Responsibility is a valuable trait that equips employees to take accountability for their work and meet high standards.

  • Patience: Patience is another innate quality that can help you achieve long-term goals. This ability can also help you reduce stress and make good decisions.

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