Find Your Career Flare – Your Skills

Career Decision Wheel
Model by Norm Amundson
Image by Jody Little

“A lot of industries are having difficulty finding reliable workers with the skills they require,” according to activist Jerry Rubin.  This is true today, with the gap between available jobs and available workers in Canada growing.  Probably one of the easiest things to do is to figure out what you are good at.  If you look to past experiences, you can probably identify a few things that you were known for being good at.  If you aren’t sure of what you are good at, take time to go ask past colleagues or supervisors, teachers, family and friends for their thoughts on what you are good at, and choose from that list what stands out to you.

Career Development Skills

Today, Canadians typically have at least seven careers in their lifetime.  As a result, it is important to be resilient and adaptable to a changing work world.  If you have had a successful career path to date, you may already have strong career development skills.  If you have struggled with work and past employers, this may be an area worth exploring on your own and with a career expert.  Often employers cannot or do not share helpful feedback with employees who are terminated for fear of legal repercussions – this is true also with employees who choose to leave voluntarily at times.  However, it is in your best interest long term to know what their perceptions were, so that moving forward you can know how and if you need to shift in the world of work.

Throughout your early school years, the public education system was designed to help you develop core skills for work and life.  Group projects and subject areas like math and English were intended to help you develop skills in numeracy, reading, writing, oral communication, working with others, thinking, document use, computer use and continuous learning. These are all the Essential Skills (link: that are necessary for the workplace and life can be assessed by career experts in employment resource centres.

Motivated Skills

It can be helpful to take an inventory of your skills and figure out two things: what you are good and what you enjoy.  Finding a career that uses the skills that fit both is typically the most motivating, and you will likely have the most success.

When you are first starting out in the world of work it can be difficult to isolate what you are good at, but hopefully you will have a sense of what activities you lose time in and truly enjoy.  While these may be interest areas, you may have developed skills in these areas, and these are considered your more motivated skills.

Malcolm Gladwell (see interview:, author of “The Outliers”, has researched the idea that you typically need a minimum of 10,000 hours to become good at something (almost 5 years at a full time ‘job’).  Consider what skills you have honed so far – and if you enjoy using those skills, they are worth bringing to your next career choice.

Transferable Skills

If you are considering a career change, you may hear that you need to “upgrade your skills” or “get training” to try a new career.  While in some cases this is true, this is not always the case.  Half of the work is showing a new employer in a new field how your previous work fits.  You don’t want to leave the guess work to the employer – make it easy for them by showing them how your skills fit.  First, try to figure out what skills are the key requirements for the job of interest to you, then note all the skills that you have and make notes of proof or evidence of your past accomplishments that highlight those skills.  While you may be documenting your transferable skills for the sake of choosing a career, keep your list handy for when you are ready to job search so that you remember to incorporate your greatest strengths into your job search tools (cover letter and resume, and also for during interviews).

Job-Specific Skills

Some skills may not be transferable.  For example, typing at 50 wpm is irrelevant if your new work will be outdoors restoring rivers and streams.  However, taking note of what job-specific skills you have can still help you identify work opportunities that are similar.  Many people also learn and specialize in their field on the job through apprenticeships, internships and through on-the-job training.  While these may not help you switch careers, it may help you in other ways.

Sometimes taking the time to assess what you are good at – and how you have honed your craft – can remind you about what you love in your work.  It can also help you showcase to a new employer how dedicated you are to personal development.  Your ability to learn job-specific skills is a skill in and of itself, and is highly transferable – and the skills required for one specific type of work may be relevant in ways you can’t yet foresee (such as someone who has familiarity with the inner workings of a boat engine can transfer this knowledge to small engine repairs with a little bit of training).  When it comes to your job search tools, you may need to remove or adapt job-specific skills to suit the types of jobs or careers you are seeking (e.g. avoid jargon specific to past employer and explain or generalize for someone who may not recognize the terminology).

Knowledge-Based Skills

Your educational background comprises of the various skills you have acquired through informal and formal training and educational programs.  Keep in mind that there is overlap from your education that will flow into various skill areas, such as a second language skill or specific computer training.  However, there will be a separate blog on the Educational Background section of the Career Decision Wheel.  Stay tuned for that in the coming weeks.

Skill Gaps

Sometimes it may be a challenge – even demotivating, to take a look at what you are not good at, especially when you are reminded of it daily.  For others, they may be embarrassed to evaluate the skills they are good at if they are not considered “good skills” in the world of work.  Consider though, that most skills can be looked at from a different viewpoint, and that you can take what you know and use it in a new way (e.g., marijuana grow op skills show plant knowledge and care).  However, that can help you figure out what careers to avoid, or determine what skills you need to work, or what strategies you will need to use, if you wish to pursue a career that may use that skill.

Many people think that they need to be retrained in order to switch careers, but often you may find that you are just using the “wrong” skills as your main focus of your work (see the Motivated Skills and Transferable Skills section for more on that).  If you determine that going back to school or a training program is the best fit, be sure to talk to significant others in your life before you commit a lot of time and money.  Consider also seeing a Career Development Practitioner who can provide you with an objective perspective on your skill set and who have extensive, current local knowledge of the work world.

Skills in Career: A True Story

A student found that she was willing to take “just any job” during her high school years so that she could develop skills that would help her in the workplace over time.  She had worked as a cashier in the family hardware store, which helped her develop cashier experience, customer service skills, typing skills and speed, and all kinds of knowledge about hardware and building supplies.  However, she was constantly getting in trouble because she hated being dirty and the store was always full of dust. She spent more time talking to customers to figure out what made them tick rather than cleaning or stocking shelves.  When she went to prepare her resume for a summer job before going to college, all she could think about in terms of her skills were the ones she obtained in her paid work.  She hadn’t factored the skills she was gaining in other aspects of her life, such as the work she did on the Crisis phone line, the peer mentoring she did at school and the Sunday School class she assisted with – all highly motivated skills that she should have been focusing on when it came to looking for paid work and choosing a college major and future career.

Skills Assessments

Dependable Strengths:

Motivated Skills:

Transferable Skills:

Skills and Values Assessment: offered for FREE at a Work BC centre:, ask about doing a TOWES or other Essential Skill assessment

Skill Gap Analysis: a how to guide to develop a plan

Next Steps

Once you have completed your skills assessments, you might find it helpful to note your top five skills on your own Career Decision Wheel.  If at any point you feel stuck, consider meeting with a professional Career Development Practitioner.  They can help provide you with skills assessments and other tools to help you make the best career choices.  Stay tuned for the next Career Decision Wheel blog on Interests.

Sarah Nelson’s educational background includes education, linguistics, and career development. Professionally a Career Development Practitioner with a CHRP designation, Sarah has a vast array of work experience across several industries. Her early career began in the hospitality industry and has morphed into a career with a strong focus on education, including being a School Trustee in the public education system, a Learning Consultant in the career development field, and a college instructor.

Her main areas of interest include communication and the power of words, innovation and creativity, living with passion and purpose and a desire to see the world full of lifelong learners who want to ‘be the change’. Sarah is also a “midnight genealogist” with a desire to uncover lost roots for herself and others, with a desire to learn from the past to live in the present and create a better future.  Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn at or Twitter at!/sarahnelson71.

Related Content:

  1. Find Your Career Flare – Your Skills « The My ESC Blog | Australian Institute for Professional Practitioners in Vocational Education and Training |

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