The Skill of Selling Skills

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We careers advisers tend to trade in skills. Being able to identify, articulate and sell your own skills is an essential, well, skill! Especially when it comes to moving beyond your own field of work, or area of expertise. This is never truer than for those working in the Higher Education sector, where the emphasis is often on progression within your field as your knowledge develops.

But what if you want to move out of H.E.? Gasp! Or maybe your task is to move from industry into an education role. Either way, you’re going to have to qualify your aptitudes and format them in a certain way so that they are readable and relevant for your new audience. I don’t have a magic wand to wave; otherwise I would dutifully package your experiences and accomplishments into what your favoured employer is wanting. In lieu of that, consider these three steps when looking to sell, rather than tell, your skills.

Understand what you’ve got

How familiar are you with your own work life? Your current and previous responsibilities, successful projects, challenges overcome. What have you learnt? Think about the highs and lows. It’s essential to reflect on what has brought you to this point. It’s useful to take an investigative approach, mapping it out. As well as your own thoughts, gather feedback you’ve had from others. Dig out old person specifications or course syllabuses. Take your current role; what do you actually do day to day? Have far beyond your job description have you gone? Explore the different perspectives on what you do, from your manager to your student or client. As you go, jot down any skills you think you may have been using. You don’t have to think too hard on this initially, but add to the list where you can.

When you’ve got a concise (but perhaps messy!) picture of your work and education in front of you, then you’re ready to start digging a little deeper.

Draw out your skills

At this point you may want to call upon a trusty skills framework. You’ll find plenty available on the internet. A list of competencies won’t mean much on their own, but as you apply them to your own experiences you’ll learn what they mean in your terms. Take communication for example, which is a pre requisite for the majority of job roles. You may think that delivering lectures & seminars demonstrates communication skills. Which of course it does, but it’s so much more than that. Delivering a lecture involves project planning and organisation as you will have used the available time to convey a succinct message, without losing important details. You will know how to appeal to different people, to be able to speak in a clear yet engaging manner. Informing and inspiring. Responding under pressure is paramount as you answer to probing questions. Leadership is showcased as you manage your students, the course content and delivery style.

Break down your duties into tasks. What are the outcomes of those tasks? Which skills are needed for you to fulfil those outcomes?

It may feel a little odd to think of your role in these terms. Marketing yourself isn’t always an intuitive task, but the more you learn about the skills you’ve developed, the more comfortable and confident you’ll feel in talking about them.

Sell, not tell

What’s the difference? Once you know what your skills are and how you can evidence them, the next step is to package them for the employer. How can your skills work for them. Inspect the job description; when they say they need excellent communication skills, what does that actually mean? What aspects of the role require them? Who are you going to be communicating with and to what purpose? You can also visit your employer, ring for an informal discussion – don’t be afraid to ask for a breakdown of the requirements. Where are the challenges in the role? Can you see where your skills might be needed?

Determine what the employer needs and how you can use your skills to meet that need.

This kind of project probably isn’t something that will be completed in your lunch hour. But with a little investigative endeavour and self-reflection you’ll have a better handle on what you’ve got to offer.

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