Identifying Your Skill Set

Identifying Your Skill Set

In the second of our three-part career survival guide, offers tips on identifying your skill set.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 598,000 unemployed U.S. workers in January 2009, spiking job loss since the recession began in December 2007 to 3.6 million. Unemployed in August 2008, Kelly Mitchell, a financial analyst in prime brokerage sales and hedge fund consulting, expected to remain in finance. “I was exposed to all areas of hedge funds,” she says, “and had done a lot of hedge fund business consulting. These were things I thought would transfer well to hedge fund marketing and investor relations management.”

Despite her work experience, finance jobs haven’t come as easily as she’d hoped. Mitchell, newly employed, took stock of transferable skills that she says would afford her opportunities outside the industry. “My experience interacting with high net worth positions in nonprofit fund development, while the skills of being client focused and getting sales results piqued my interest in advertising,” she says.

Beyond an increased awareness of what you bring to the table, a clear understanding of your skills portfolio is important for managing a career in uncertain times. Transferable skills may be the difference between being stuck in a hard-hit industry and identifying exciting possibilities elsewhere. “Who’s to say a more social work kind of approach wouldn’t be an asset in the financial sector?” asks Veronica Conway, founder and president of Black Professional Coaches Alliance.  “A person with an emotional intelligence skill set in a financial financial principles.”

Professional skill sets fall into several categories, according to Keith Wyche, author of Good is Not Enough: And Other Unwritten Rules for Minority Professionals (Portfolio Hardcover; $24.95). They include knowledge-based skills, personal skills, and talents and experience. The most important of the three is your experience, which defines your value within an organization. In addition to identifying these skills, however, it’s important to quantify them.  “It’s not enough to say, ‘I was the best recruiter in the HR department,’ ” Wyche cautions. “You should be able to say, ‘I’ve saved the company thousands of dollars by filling open positions in 30 days or less.’ Or, ‘My marketing campaign improved sales by 25%.’ ”

The first step in unpacking your skills toolbox is to start with yourself, says Joe Watson, author of Without Excuses (Macmillan; $24.95) and CEO of Strategic Hire, a Reston, Virginia-based executive search firm. “Get a blank sheet of paper and write down what you do on a daily basis, from when you come in to when you leave,” he says. Keep a copy of your job description handy, and measure your performance against what you are charged with doing. You’ll start to see certain recurring words–take note of them.

Mentors, managers, and colleagues are the next step in a skills assessment. “Ask best? Where do I make my biggest contributions?’” suggests Bob Rosner of And be prepared for honest feedback.