Identifying Hidden Job Skills for Advancement and Transferability

(Note: While this article is referenced in some older publications, the material is now expanded in a new book (2018)  entitled “RELAUNCH! Stagnation, Change, and Renewal in Mid-Career and Beyond.” Chapter 8 – Identifying Job Skills, includes examples, a case study, access to skills inventory forms, and more information on how to transfer skills to different jobs.)

Why am I writing about job skills, and particularly those that are “hidden” and that could be transferable? I do this first because skills are critical in maximizing your worth to your current employer, as well as in broadening your qualifications if you are looking to change jobs or careers. Second, few of us are in touch with all of the skills we actually have because they are not within our everyday focus. So many skills are out-of-sight, out-of-mind, hidden or forgotten and therefore not much use to you or anyone else. Having a good handle on all of your skills can not only help in career advancement and job change, but also in building confidence and self-esteem. Once the full inventory of skills is documented, most people are surprised and pleased at what they actually can do! Third, I have analyzed skills and transferable skills of at least 4000-5000 persons in the past 17 years. So I have some knowledge of the topic.

So, what job skills do you have? Sit down and see if you can write a list. If you’re like most people, you may come up with 4 or 5 broad categories of things you know how to do or do on your current job such as planning, information technology, customer service, or helping people. Or you may list that you’re good with numbers or that you have artistic talent. You may even list the most important tasks you do in your job or profession.

To do this right, the first thing we need to do is clarify what we mean and don’t mean by skills. Skills are the learned, specific proficiencies and knowledge needed to do a job. They are the work tools you bring to the table that demonstrate your value in completing essential tasks. Skills are NOT the inborn talents you have, or your aptitudes. You may apply your talents or aptitudes to developing a skill such as musical talent to playing the piano, or numerical aptitude to financial auditing.  Talents may be important in the long run, but they are not the skills you possess now. Skills are also not the tasks you do such as treating patients or litigating cases. Specificity is also important because if you are too general in describing skills, e.g., planning, there is nothing unique about what you know or can do…..everyone can plan to some extent. So, if you’re writing a list of specific job skills related to planning, they should look more like ”facilitating group planning meetings”,  “writing organization strategic plans”, and “using  SmartDraw strategic planning software”.

Now that we have defined the meaning of skills, try doing an inventory of your skills in 3 categories. The skills can include not only those that have a clear relationship to your current job or career, but also those that are not seemingly work related. Non-work related skills can become useful in some work contexts or projects, or when considering new jobs or changes in career. Only include skills that are still applicable today:

  • Skills learned in jobs – in past and current employment, as well as in special assignments and projects
  • Skills learned in school or training – include college, technical schools, workshops and in-house training courses
  • Skills learned through non-work activities –  for example,  hobbies, volunteer work, home projects, community work, leadership activities

As you go through this exercise you will become aware of more and more unrealized or forgotten skills.  Think this through and expand the list as far as you can. Avoid leaving out skills that might seem trivial, such as typing or using various types of office software, or using professional photographic equipment. Even if you are in a specialized professional field, some ancillary skills can turn out to differentiate your value from others.

Writing a list of skills can be tricky and difficult. When I have worked with clients on this, regardless of background, the task of how to write a skill effectively usually takes several iterations. It is almost never accomplished the first time. To do this correctly the first time, try the following:

1. Go back to paragraph 3 of this article and carefully read it again.

2. As you begin to think about your skills, conceptualize and write each one starting with an action verb, such as “preparing”, “operating”, “teaching” etc. or using the words “knowledge of”.

3. The rest of the statement should briefly state a special proficiency or knowledge. It should be as specific as needed to demonstrate some unique capability. Proficiencies or knowledge can often be expressed at different levels of specificity and you will need to find the right level. For example, consider the following:

Level a – preparing reports

Level b – preparing spreadsheet reports

Level c – preparing MS Excel spreadsheet reports

Level d – preparing research reports using MS Excel

As you can see, Level a pretty much describes a task. It doesn’t say much about skills. On the other hand, Level d conveys that you have proficiency both in preparing research reports and in using MS Excel. It actually combines 2 skills into one skill statement. You might even want to list 2 separate skill statements, i.e., “preparing MS Excel spreadsheet reports” and “preparing research reports” and then consider combining those later. The deeper you drill down in levels, the more skills you will find you have. So initially, it is recommended that you dig deep.

After completing your list, combine/consolidate to a list of 10-20 skills (but keep the longer list for future reference). To top this off, highlight the combined skills at which you do particularly well. Keep both the consolidated and full lists available and use selected information when writing a resume, when considering applying for other jobs to which your skills can transfer, when selling yourself in job interviews, and with your current employer when demonstrating what you can do in your current job and when promotion opportunities arise.

If you are looking to switch careers, more formalized transferable skills analysis can be helpful in identifying different jobs that use the same skills you have and which would require minimal or no additional training to perform. You can try to figure that out yourself based on your skills inventory, but if that doesn’t work there are computer resources and software that can help with the assistance of a career counselor or consultant experienced in transferable skills analysis technology.

Steven Simon, Ph.D.
President, CEO, and Career Consultant
Human Services Outcomes, Inc.