Skills: Your Key to Success in the Workplace

Having a good sense of your transferable skills makes the whole process of packaging and presenting your skills to a prospective employer much easier.

In the job market of today, people are no longer asking if they will change jobs, but when. Take the bellwether state of California: The average employee there stays in his or her job 2.5 years. Frequent job changes have become the norm rather than the exception.

If a job change is in your near future, one of the best ways to begin the process is by evaluating your skills. You might think of skills as the raw materials of any given company: When a company has employees with the right skills, it can accomplish or exceed its goals.


Skills fall into three groups: personal qualities, information-based skills, and transferable skills.

Information-based skills are those skills you’ve learned on or off the job, the incredibly vast body of techniques, methods and knowledge you’ve gathered over your lifetime. Speak Spanish? Know the ins and outs of a software program? Have a black belt in jujitsu? All of these are examples of information-based skills.

Personal qualities are individual traits you start with at birth and can develop with practice. Examples of personal qualities are patience, optimism, and imagination.

Transferable skills are based on action: analyze, write, persuade, manage. While your information-based skills and personal qualities are important to a job search, transferable skills are essential. Your transferable skills are what will facilitate a career change.

Imagine you’re currently working as a business consultant for a large firm. Through education, practice, and your razor sharp mind, you’ve developed the ability to analyze, quantify, and communicate, all strong transferable skills.

You decide you want to change roles and that you want a job at an Internet startup in business development. To go from the Fortune 500 to the fun, frenzied environment of an Internet startup, the key will be repackaging your skills and accomplishments to show that you can do the job.

First, you’ll want to get a job description. Large, established companies provide these on their websites-no problem.

At startups, however, job descriptions move like traffic on the German autobahn. And it may not even be written down; only the VP knows what it is.

Do not despair! If a job description is not written, ask your prospective employer for a list of the most important skills the company requires for the job.

Once you have a list of the skills necessary to do the work, you’ll want to match your skills and experiences to those that the company needs. What skills does the company want? These will likely be active verbs. In the case of a business development job, it’s likely they’ll want somebody who can communicate, negotiate, manage relationships, lead teams, and strategise.

After identifying the skills necessary to do the job, work backward from the description to your skills and experiences. Which skills in the description seem transferable? Circle them.

How do these skills match with your skills? Your most recent resume as well as your past and present job descriptions (you may have to visualize these) should give you some clues about your most relevant, transferable skills.

If you’re having trouble assessing the skills you have, then create a simple analysis chart. Take a piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the page, dividing the paper in two.

On the left side, make a bulleted list of the skills that your job of choice requires. On the right, jot down your own skills in one or two sentences that most directly match each of the skills required on the left.

Using a business development job listing as our example, you might see that it asks for experience in “negotiating.” Write down “negotiating” on the left side of your analysis chart. On the right side, write down all your negotiating experience in bulleted form.

You can also create a third category titled “skills to be acquired.” These are skills you think you need to develop or learn in order to get the job. These skills can be gathered through classes, seminars, internships, and education.

To reacquaint yourself (with yourself), you can also try a quick skills autobiography. Think about five life accomplishments that you are very proud of. Did your last client rave about your work? Play a role in student council? Were you the CEO of a lemonade stand as a kid? Write a short story about it!

Then take a look at the story. Circle all the verbs you used. The action verbs you’ve circled are probably transferable skills. By choosing the skills you like to use from this list, you’ll help yourself choose work that you both excel at and enjoy doing.

Having a good sense of your transferable skills makes the whole process of packaging and presenting your skills to a prospective employer much easier. Presentation can take the form of a resume, cover letter, or job interview.

If you want to go deeper into the skills assessment process, there are other tools available. Career counsellors use skills inventories and other skill-gathering exercises to help you figure out not just the skills you have, but the ones you most want to use in your next job.

You can find a local career counsellor in your yellow pages or check with your alumni association to see what services are available for graduates.

Skills are powerful allies in helping you make a successful job transition. Understanding your transferable skills and matching them with a job you want will give you the ability to bridge the gap between the work you do today and the jobs of tomorrow.

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