How To Uncover Your Hidden Career Skills

maze1Some of us are good at blagging and bigging ourselves up. You know, the kind of people who never seem to have a moment’s doubt about their ability to do — well, anything really.

Others of us are less confident and underplay our abilities, sometimes through a (misplaced) distaste for what we see as bragging, sometimes through not being able to recognise the nature and extent of our skills. Often, the jargon of the workplace, with its deadening acronyms and soulless terminology, can prevent us from identifying just what we have to offer.

Here’s a way of working out just what you do, what skills you have and what you’re good at.

Describe your job in two sentences, without using a single word that someone outside your field would not understand. Be prepared to have several goes at this before you get the right version.

One Day

Now focus on what for you is a typical working day. If you feel that no day is typical, just select one randomly. You could choose today, or yesterday — one that you remember quite clearly.

Divide the day into hours. For each hour, describe what you do. Again, although there will be some job-specific terminology, try to use language which anyone can understand. Make a list of all the verbs, all the things that you actually do.

Smarten up the action words you have chosen. Relate them to the skills you have demonstrated:

  • When, for example, you talked to Matt about arrangements for the conference next month, you were liaising and planning.

  • When you checked that one of your regular customers had received their order and had a little chat, you were developing and maintaining relationships with clients.

  • When you did routine maintenance work within your system, you were handling information and keeping accurate records.

  • When you listened to Joanne’s problems about dealing with a difficult colleague, you were showing understanding and empathy, and that advice you gave her showed your ability to understand a problem and make constructive suggestions.

Now choose one thing you did that you think reflects you at your best. Tell a little story about it.

Say what expertise or experience it illustrates. Emphasise a problem you solved, a way that you made life easier or better for your employer, how you made a difference. If you like, repeat the process with another example. And another.

Out of hours

Time now to move outside work — what, you thought your 9 to 5 was the only place where your talents are in evidence? Focus on other areas of your life — your family and friends, your social life, interests and pursuits, clubs and organisations.

Make a list of things you do well in these areas — it might be organising get-togethers and events, or contributing to meetings and discussions.

You might have an official role in your sports club. You might play a leading part in your book club. Maybe in your personal circle you are the one who solves problems and deals with tricky or demanding situations.

Choose an incident which illustrates something you did well. Tell the story. Now re-tell the story in ‘work skill’ terms.

You managed to get a bargain price for the venue for the family party, or hen night, or class reunion, with complimentary champagne thrown in? That is skilful negotiating, my friend, probably combined with meticulous planning and on-the-nail cost analysis.

And if you also managed to get everyone to come up with their own contributions, monetary or other, and have kept everyone happy, you have great powers of persuasion and team maintenance.

You can make this a written exercise, or a spoken one. A really good idea is to work through it with a friend, maybe someone who is also working on their career stuff. A really really good idea is to do it over a nice glass of something, or a mug of hot chocolate. Marshmallows optional.