Certain skill sets, such as SEO fundamentals or how to navigate a particular CRM system, can be learned by virtually anyone with the right amount of dedication and concentration. Other abilities, on the other hand, are far more abstract and much harder to teach others. Elite athletes can hardly explain precisely how they anticipate where a ball or puck is going. Similarly, seasoned drivers instinctively know how much pressure to apply to the brake pedal in anticipation of an upcoming stop sign.
Legendary psychiatrist Carl Jung once defined intuition as “any kind of perception which takes place in a way that cannot be explained by the function of the senses,” and the same can largely be said for tacit knowledge as well.
What is tacit knowledge?
If facts and information learned from a textbook can be thought of as “knowing that,” tacit knowledge can be defined as “knowing how.” In other words, tacit knowledge is rooted in personal experiences, specific situations, and learning through doing. Most knowledge is entirely objective (2+2=4), but tacit knowledge is more subjective; it’s unique to you and your experiences alone.
For example, imagine two new sales recruits just finished their company training program and venture out on their first pitch with a prospective client. Both workers were taught the exact same lessons and strategies on how to close a deal, but employee A intuitively knows the ideal time to begin their pitch or the right words that will appeal to that particular listener.
Examples of tacit knowledge
Tacit knowledge, by its very nature, is vague and difficult to impart to others. Here are a few more specific examples showcasing the essence of tacit knowledge.
- Leadership: One can read endless books about how to be a great leader, but that doesn’t mean they’ll actually be one when the time comes. Stellar leadership skills are sharpened through experience, and certain dispositions fit into leadership positions far better than others.
- Emotional intelligence: The ability to empathize with and relate to fellow employees can be absolutely invaluable across countless positions and industries, but a high level of emotional intelligence isn’t going to come from a textbook or seminar. Understanding one’s own emotions is difficult enough, let alone those of other people.
- Innovation: One person can focus on a single problem or dilemma for hours on end and see no solution, while someone else may recognize a suitable remedy in mere minutes.
- Languages: A bit more concrete than the other examples on this list, the ability to speak and write a second language effortlessly on a native or near-native level is rarely achieved through solely studying. One must immerse themselves in a specific tongue completely until the small grammatical nuances that are a feature of every language become like second nature. Put another way, once you can speak and write another language without actually thinking about doing so, it can be classified as tacit knowledge.
- Humor: We’re all familiar with the class clowns or office jokesters who always seem to know the right moment to let a sarcastic remark fly or crack a few one-liners. While successful comedians no doubt spend countless hours refining their craft, a good sense of humor isn’t something that can be taught. You either get the joke or you don’t.
How to leverage tacit knowledge during a job search
There’s only one you, which means no other applicant is going to have your tacit knowledge. We all know open positions, especially hybrid or remote roles, are incredibly competitive right now. While it’s likely that your level of education and experience will match up quite succinctly with many other candidates, no one can lay claim to your tacit skills.
Starting with your resume and cover letter, as well as right through the hiring and interview process, be sure to emphasize the intangibles you can bring to the position. Call attention to specific problems you’ve tackled and solved using quick thinking and leadership on your resume. Alternatively, during interviews be sure to showcase your quick wit and intuitive acumen by speaking to personal career accomplishments and achievements. Tacit knowledge often resides in the tiniest of details, so don’t be afraid to dive into specifics. Don’t just say you made a huge sale. Explain how you were able to connect with the client. Maybe you related on an emotional level, or simply found the right time to make a casual joke.
Tons of candidates’ resumes will boast impressive schools and fancy prior job titles. Separate yourself from the rest of the applicant pack by highlighting knowledge and practical experience that no one else can claim as their own.