Qualitative skills are those which can be observed, but are not measurable. This is in direct contrast with quantitative skills, which can be measured in an objective fashion. Many jobs require qualitative skills, from working as a researcher in a scientific facility to conducting international diplomacy. There are a number of tools people can use to develop them, including attending formal education and training, taking workshops, and reading texts designed for people in their industry.
One example of a qualitative skill might be researching, which is valuable for people like legal assistants and librarians. It is not possible to measure someone's skill with research, although observers can make notes about whether someone is a good or bad researcher. People with skills in this area can uncover a variety of relevant information from good sources, and may be able to do so in a relatively short period of time. They are intimately familiar with accessible resources and can develop a detailed list of potential sources for a supervisor or client.
The ability to perform tasks that cannot be measured is key for a wide range of job positions. Qualitative skills can be challenging to acquire, in some cases, and they are more difficult to test for, as it is not possible to use simple, quantifiable measures to assess candidates. A surgeon, for example, can demonstrate knowledge of anatomy and physiology, but actual surgical technique in the operating room is a qualitative skill. It may be measured indirectly through patient outcomes in a long term study, but is not a directly quantitative trait.
In employee evaluations, qualitative skills may come up as a topic of discussion. Workplaces typically want their employees to develop and hone such skills, and need to come up with ways for supervisors to assess employees fairly. This may also be important for improvement plans, as concrete definitions and discussions can help people set and measure goals. Thus, a qualitative skill like getting along with coworkers might be broken down into a series questions about how often the employee experiences conflict, and how coworkers view that person in anonymous surveys.
Job listings typically include a list of expected skills and qualifications, some of which may be qualitative in nature. To demonstrate such skills, applicants may need letters of recommendation as well as a strong performance in an interview to show they are familiar with given subject matter and feel confident in the work environment. For trainees in entry-level positions who may not have qualitative skills, supervisors are responsible for providing training and feedback to help them develop these skills and apply them to challenges in the workplace.