If you‘ve ever looked for a job, you’ve probably seen skills checklists, ones that ask you to tick off every skill on the page that sounds like you. The trouble with that is, when it comes to telling your story to a prospective employer, it’s still pretty one-dimensional. There’s nothing to back it up.
If you want to talk about your skills in a compelling way, you have to go deeper than that. One way to do this is to give the checklist the heave-ho and take a longer and more fruitful approach to identifying your skills.
Don’t forget that potential employers aren’t actually interested in your skills—they’re interested in how those skills can help them meet their needs. This process will help you make your story more compelling by letting you demonstrate that.
Reverse engineer to find your skills
In a nutshell, you’re going to identify your skills through reverse engineering. You will look at three things:
1. Your big picture responsibilities
2. The tasks you had to perform to fulfill those responsibilities
3. The skills you needed to successfully perform those tasks
Start by making a list of the big picture responsibilities you had in your last job. For example, marketing planning, or coordinating teams, or fundraising. Once you have your big picture list, take each of those and start to reverse engineer them. First ask, “What tasks did I have to perform in order to fulfill that responsibility?” If your big picture responsibility was marketing planning, maybe you say, “I researched the market, identified the opportunities and needs in that market, and created a budget.”
After you identify the tasks, the next question is, “What skills did each of those tasks require?” Researching the market might have taken an ability to identify the relevant information, to find the relevant information, and to compile and organize the relevant information. Depending on the answers, you may find that you need to go down more than just three levels to get to the detailed skills. For example, if the task of finding the relevant information was actually broken up into finding the information online, in the media, and from people with subject matter expertise, those might be three very different tasks requiring different skill sets.
It’s the same with the individual skills you identify. Sometimes they will yield even more detailed insights if you dig a little deeper. For example, if you look at the skill of being able to compile and organize relevant information and ask, “What makes that such a strong skill?” you might realize that it boils down to your analytical ability, your ability to see connections between disparate pieces of information, and your ability to distill large volumes of information into its essence.
Why reverse engineer?
I know what you’re thinking. “This seems like an awful lot of work. Are you sure it wouldn’t be just as effective to just do a skills checklist?”
I’m absolutely sure. Why? Because now not only do you have a list of skills (which is likely to be more comprehensive than if you had simply tried to come up with a list off the top of your head), you also have a deep picture of how each of those skills relate to the big picture. More importantly, you have a direct picture of how each of those skills contributed to the benefit you created for the organization (which will make it easier to demonstrate how they could benefit a future employer).
It all gets back to the notion that you’re not selling your skills, you’re selling how your skills can benefit the organization. When you have a clear picture of how your skills have contributed to organizations in the past, you are infinitely better prepared to convey how they will benefit your prospective employer.
It’s all about being able to tell your story, clearly, concisely and convincingly. In this case, the story is about the skills you have, how they have applied in the past, and how you can apply them to benefit a new organization.
Create Skill Story Snapshots
To make it easy to be clear, concise and convincing, take each of those skills and create a snapshot using the following elements:
Skill: State the skill.
Example: Give an example of how you have used that skill.
Result: Give an example of the result of using that skill.
Benefit: Explain the benefit to the organization when you put that skill to use.
By creating these snapshots, you have stories ready to tell about what makes you a great candidate. When you deeply understand what you have to offer and how it has been put to positive use in the past, you no longer have to grapple with words to convey what you bring to the table. You have the snapshots already prepared. And by having a better perspective on what you offer and how it applies to the big picture, it’s easier to recognize and express how those skills can be applied in the new situation.
After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.