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Judy Kaplan Baron, master career counselor, explains the idea of marketable skills.

Talk to me about what the term ‘marketable skills’ means.

Skills are those abilities that enable you to perform tasks.  Some are innate (creativity, high energy, patience, persistence).  Others are learned and/or developed (personnel management, public speaking, utilizing specific software programs or computer languages). Marketable skills are abilities that are of value to employers; they are in demand in the marketplace.  It’s important to realize that marketable skills are constantly changing. For example, just a few years ago nobody was using Twitter for marketing purposes.  Now, it’s a requirement for some marketing positions.

It’s almost impossible to identify what you want to do or to succeed in an interview without identifying your marketable skills.  Your skills are the basis of the work you do.  They’re also primarily what you “sell” in an interview.

What can you tell me about the different types of marketable skills?

In his book What Color Is Your Parachute? Dick Bolles describes three distinct types of skills. Those that are “functional” or “transferable” can be utilized in a wide variety of different occupations. Most often, you have some innate ability with these skills that has been developed and/or refined through educational, vocational, or personal experiences. 

Some functional/transferable skills include communication skills, such as public speaking, listening, explaining, negotiating, writing, selling. Then, there are organizational skills, such as planning, organizing, prioritizing, following-through, goal-setting. Working with numbers includes budgeting, compiling, computing, analyzing statistical data. And then there’s problem-solving, creativity, managing, leading, coordinating, physical dexterity or strength, and so on.

“Self-management” or “adaptive” skills are often considered personality characteristics, but are definitely skills that enable success in particular career choices.  Examples include initiative, risk-taking, resourcefulness, the ability to work independently, being a good team-player, having flexibility or determination, assertiveness, being gregarious, working well under stress, dealing effectively with ambiguity, and the like. 

“Work content” and “special knowledge” deal with the specific jargon or procedures of a particular occupation.  For example, the work content skills of an architect might include: knowledge of building materials and building codes, how to specify drawings, and governmental permit processes.  A nurse’s work-content skills would include knowledge of medications and their side-effects, emergency procedures, charting processes, utilization of special equipment, and so on.

What do you do with your clients to help them discover their marketable skills?

I evaluate a number of past experiences in which they felt a sense of accomplishment.  I also discuss former jobs held.  I look for patterns that identify what skills a client has used on a recurring basis, especially when they’re enjoying what they’re doing.

Does this exploration ever result in a person realizing some important skills are missing?

It can happen that way.  However, people usually realize important skills are missing when they look at job descriptions and realize that they do not have the requisite skills/qualifications that are listed as either mandatory or desired.

And when that happens, the best thing is to they can take a class, volunteer, do an internship, read books, or take some other action in order to develop the skill.

Earlier you named Twitter as a marketing tool and tweeting as skill that wasn’t around a few years ago but is today.  Are there any others you can think of that have become more necessary in recent decades?  For example, are foreign languages more important today?

Almost all of the computer skills are more important today than they were a decade earlier.  For example, you cannot do a good job of researching information without knowing how to use the Internet.  Most people, when giving presentations, use Powerpoint software.  For most baby boomers, neither the Internet nor Powerpoint even existed when they were in college.

Today, as kids grow up sitting at computers, they often become less adept with social skills and need to intentionally develop those skills.

And yes, speaking foreign languages, along with knowledge of other cultures, is definitely more important.

Let’s get back to What Color is Your Parachute? It’s been around for a long time, hasn’t it?  Is it still relevant today?

Many people don’t realize that What Color is Your Parachute? is an annual, meaning it is revised every year. It is an incredibly valuable resource for people who are thinking about changing careers or having a difficult time in their job search.

Can you recommend any other resources for those who want to discover or rediscover their marketable skills?

In his book, Bolles guides people through a detailed process to help them identify their skills.  A good career counselor can do the same, often in a fraction of the time typically spent when working alone.

Do you have any further advice for those who want to expand their marketable skills?

It’s best to have the end goal in mind, then fill in the gaps.  What I mean by that is if you’re clear about where you want your career to go, and you’ve identified the requisite skills, then it makes sense to take the time and energy to develop those skills. 

Let’s say I have a job interview tomorrow and I don’t have time to read a book or contact a career counselor.  Can you give me a quick exercise to do to get my list of marketable skills going?

Start by making a list of the main tasks you perform in your current position and perhaps one or two previous positions.  Looking at job descriptions may help.  Then, identify the skills from the job description of the position you’re seeking.  Between the skills you’ve identified from your past, and the skills you’ve identified that thee employer is seeking, you should have a good idea of what skills to talk about and demonstrate you have in your interview.

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