Six Steps to Evaluating Your Skill Set

Looking to move up the ladder in your career? It’ll be necessary to develop a professional skill set to help you get there.

When was the last time you took a hard look at your overall professional skill set? While your current mix of education, training and experience might be serving you well in the job you have now, do you have everything your boss or a new employer will want before they give you that promotion you’ve been wanting or new job you’re seeking?

Besides the technical skills you need to do your job well, there are myriad soft skills that can improve your job security or help you move up the ladder.

An optimal career plan requires taking proactive steps to add or upgrade skills to obtain specific jobs later in your career. This starts with evaluating your core competencies, experience, knowledge, abilities and skills. If you haven’t analyzed your skill set lately and don’t have a current and specific career plan (complete with timetables, costs and specific resources), use these six simple steps to create your skill-building plan.

#1 List Potential Positions You Want

Start your skill-set evaluation by writing a list of the jobs you want in the near future and over the long-term. This can include positions directly above you in your current field, horizontal positions in your profession if you’re open to changing directions, or jobs in completely new fields because you’re no longer interested in staying in your current profession. Once you have a list of the positions you’ll want to pursue during your career, start researching what they require in terms of education, experience and accomplishments. You can also start learning what soft skills top people holding these jobs have in common.

#2 Read Job Descriptions

Don’t assume that because you’re familiar with a position you know what employers want in candidates for that job. For example, if you want a job in communications, many employers no longer focus most of their attention on writing skills. Many departments, agencies and companies now want communicators who can find audiences, and that means candidates with expertise in social media. Visit company websites and general job sites and read the job descriptions for posted positions. Search the LinkedIn profiles of people who have jobs you want and learn what skills they’re emphasizing on their profiles.

#3 Set Up Informational Interviews

Go straight to the horse’s mouth and ask the people in positions you want what skills they have that make them successful. Ask your friends to introduce you to contacts who might be willing to have a cup of coffee with you or let you take them to lunch. Ask them not only about their educational background, but also about any certifications they’ve earned, continuing education workshops or courses they’d recommend, and what skill or experience they don’t have but wish they did. Ask them to rank, in order of importance, the top five hard skills and top five soft skills they think their position requires. Finding a mentor is an excellent way to improve your skill-acquisition strategy.

#4 List Necessary Hard Skills

Hard skills are the basic technical skills a position requires. These are the skills you learn in college, during certification training or attending workshops and seminars. This might include knowledge of certain business practices, understanding of specific government rules, regulations and laws, proficiency in specific software programs or knowledge gained through specialty certifications.

#5 List Necessary Soft Skills

Soft skills are those that transfer to positions regardless of your field, such as time management, communications, leaderships, project management and interpersonal skills. The more contacts you have in your network who can help you perform a specific job, the better.

#6 Create a Skill-Acquisition Strategy

Once you know the specific job or jobs you want to acquire or excel at, have developed a good feel for the skills necessary to succeed in those jobs, and understand the hard and soft skills required, create a plan for obtaining and upgrading your skills.

Outline on paper a new resume, personal website and LinkedIn profile, ranking your skill-set in order of importance. Many CVs, personal websites and LinkedIn profiles include a short one-sentence professional overview (e.g., “Project management specialist experienced in…”), followed by a short list of six to eight specific skills in bullet points. This lets prospective employers or a boss looking at you as an internal candidate for a promotion quickly get a feel for your skills set. Your resume then demonstrates your accomplishments that prove that.

College classes and certification courses can help you add or improve hard skills. Self-help books, tapes and DVDS, weekend business seminars and online courses are excellent resources for developing soft skills. Your employer might even reimburse your expenses for improving your proficiency in these areas.

Build your network through traditional methods and by creating a personal brand. Build a library of books, tapes and DVDs and refer to them throughout the year. Stay up to date with technology so you can at least communicate intelligently with tech people who will work with and below you. Learn from experts by working alongside them on committees or boards of professional associations.

You will be more likely to effectively improve your skills, knowledge, abilities and competencies if you create a timetable for doing so. Include what workshops you’ll attend and create a budget that lets you use the cost of travel, lodging and registration materials for workshops and seminars. Set a date by which you want to earn a certification and visit the certifying body’s website to learn what the process requires.

Share Your Tips

What have you done to improve your hard and soft skills? Any tips for getting your agency or department to help you expand your knowledge base or defray your professional-improvements expenses?

More Resources

Monster: Analyze Your Career with a Personal SWOT

MindTools: Finding Career Direction

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