9 Important, Invisible Job Skills You Might Not Realize You Have

Updated: Nov. 16, 2022

It’s not just the bullet points on your resume that make for a successful career. These little workplace habits and attitudes count for more than you think.

invisible job skillsGlobalStock/iStockMost people define the word “skills” too narrowly. They assume it means “subject you have a degree in” or “stuff you can bullet point on a resume.” But to reinvent your work, you need to reinvent your definition. Everything you do at work is a skill. Not just the abilities that show up in progress reports or HR files. How you talk to people in the break room is a skill. Your ability to fix paper jams in the printer is a skill. Remembering a coworker’s birthday is a skill. Keeping your inbox under control is a skill.

Those might feel like tiny, insignificant things, but small skills have the tendency to add up to big careers. And thinking about learning new skills feels intimidating—what if we could just tweak some things we’re already doing every day? What if there are lots of skills we’re already good at, that we could be great at if we just focused on them a little bit?

That’s the power of invisible skills. Most people ignore them and allow them to turn into weaknesses over time. Regardless whether you just entered the workforce or if you’ve been working for 15 years and have developed some bad habits, we need to shine a light on these invisible skills:

1. Go to work

If you Google, “Why do people get fired?” you get a random collection of the most obvious advice you’ve ever read. But one thing pops up on just about every list: “absenteeism.” Over and over again, career experts bemoan the fact that employees who don’t show up to work get fired.

Of course, everyone can show up for work. But someone isn’t. Someone is taking too many dishonest sick days. Someone is coming in late. Someone is abusing the vacation policy. Don’t be that someone. And go on time. When asked that the best advice he ever received was, celebrity chef and CNN host Anthony Bourdain said, “Show up on time. It is the basis of everything.”

2. Add value

 My brother is a lawyer. His job runs on billable hours—it’s an easy barometer of how he is adding value to the firm. Most jobs don’t have something as clear-cut as that, but every job has a currency. When I worked at Home Depot, the currency of my position was writing compelling advertising, delivered on time, communicating what my boss wanted. If I did those things, I was adding value.

If you’ve never asked yourself, “Am I adding value?” start with an easier question: “What is the currency of my company?” At Southwest Airlines, one answer to that question might be, “To provide a high-quality airline experience at a low cost.” Then consider, every day, how you add value to the overall currency of the company. If you were a flight attendant at Southwest, your currency might be delighting customers.

When I recently flew with them to Las Vegas, a flight attendant got on the intercom and said, “We’re headed to a party city so we’re going to start the party early.” She and her crew emptied large boxes of snacks into the air, as people burst into laughter. It was a perfect moment that perfectly fit Southwest’s currency of fun.

If these questions feel insurmountable, ask your boss this: “I’ve been thinking a lot about the best ways for me to continually add value to this company. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how I can do that.” Employees who add value end up being invaluable.

3. Own your attitude

 I’ve been fired before and I can say without a shadow of a doubt it was a direct result of my attitude. I had a sense of entitlement, a mindset that I was doing the company a favor by giving them my presence. I had the foolish belief that it was their job to fulfill my career desires.

We are responsible for our attitudes, not our company. Attitude is a decision, one we have to make every day. The best way to take a quick temperature on your attitude is to ask a friend—not one who has the worst attitude about their own job. Find the one who’s honest enough to say hard things. When they give you advice, be humble enough to actually take it. If you want a better job, start with a better attitude. If you want a new job, start with a new attitude.

4. Exceed expectations

 If you need more to do, find more work to do. Finishing the work your boss thought would take you 40 hours in only 25 hours doesn’t mean you’ve earned an extra 15 hours of me time that week. A young lawyer I know makes a habit of asking partners in his firm if he can help them with their worst, messiest cases. The cases help him grow and let the partners know he’s not afraid of hard work.

5. Be diplomatic

 Don’t park in the spot of the guy who is really serious about his parking spot. Or use the coffee mug of the lady who has a favorite coffee mug. Never engage in useless power struggles.

6. Express gratefulness

 Don’t complain about the quality of the free lunch the company bought you. They bought you free lunch. Be grateful.

7. Play to your strengths and everyone else’s

 Don’t schedule meetings that demand high creativity on a Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. People are creatively empty then and their ideas will be too.

8. Be flexible

 Don’t constantly complain about the work conditions—it’s too bright, it’s too dark, it’s too cold, I wish it smelled more like cinnamon. A simple rule of thumb to remember is, “Unless there’s a cobra in the office, I’ll be all right.”

9. Continue your education

 Make full use of any continuing education funds your company provides. They are a dying resource and if your company wants to spend money to make you a better employee, jump all over that.

invisible job skills bookExcerpted from Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck, in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Jonathan Acuff, 2015.

Jon Acuff is the New York Times Bestselling author of five books, including his latest, Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work & Never Get Stuck. He’s worked with some of the world’s biggest brands including The Home Depot, Staples, and Bose. Read his blog at Acuff.me and follow him on Twitter, @JonAcuff.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest