When asked to describe their skills, many folks often fall short with vague phrases like, “I have excellent communication skills,” or “I’m an excellent problem-solver.” While the statements may be true, they are generic, overused, and less than impactful. Employers hire people to meet a particular buying motivator: solve a problem, streamline business, make money, save money, etc. You’re not hired because you are a good, all-around person.
Skills come to life when you describe them as strengths. This mean inserting them into a story which is not about the skill – but about you! My client, Annie, initially described her strengths as “getting along with people” and “being very efficient”. Through our coaching, she came up with a new way to describe herself on a moment’s notice if asked about her skills or what she did:
Annie: “I’m a cancer warrior / survivor and top-of-the-class phlebotomist. I transform scary unknowns and situations into welcoming visits with family-like support. At St. Luke’s Cancer Center, I drove patient survey satisfaction ratings from 11% to 57% my first 5 months on the job. I did this in tiny and visionary ways, from day-to-day personal care to two patient advocacy programs that cost zero dollars to implement and run.”
A good resume (and other career communications) contains defined evidence of your skills and expertise. These are valuable to your networking and interviewing as well. Here are some questions to help you deep dive and dig them out:
- Begin with supportive family, friends, and colleagues. Ask them to remind you of things you did well, where you have made a difference, and what you are like when you are at your best.
- Look back through all your work documents – emails, performance reviews, letters of recommendation, LinkedIn profile and recommendations, old resumes, etc. Stop and think about projects in detail. What did you actually do? What were you capable of doing at the end that you couldn’t do at the beginning of the project?
- Think about times when you faced clear problems or obstacles. How did you go about solving the problem? What was your strategy? What was the impact? Why did it matter?
- Look at initiatives where there was a clear outcome, where something changed.
- If you served on a team or teams, focus on moments where you did something.
- Where have you learned something very quickly in order to get something done?
- Collect tangible evidence of accomplishments – numbers, margins, percentages, and timeframes help. But don’t overlook a letter from a thrilled client, a great evaluation at work, an award, etc.
- Mull over times when you used “soft” skills, such as persuading, negotiating, coaching, etc. Talk about what happened as a result of those interactions.
- Examine the job description for your last position (or several back). In what ways did you recharacterize or expand the job?
- Seek out examples of times when you delivered more than people were expecting or went above and beyond to get to the desired results and impact.
- Think about times when you introduced new ideas or adapted something resourcefully.
- Identify moments when you turned lemons into lemonade; and turned failure into success.
Don’t forget to include successes that showcase strengths in your non-work life. It’s often there that you find undervalued or undeveloped skills – and strengths!
Build the stories that demonstrate strengths, and dig out the achievements within those stories. How will you know when you have enough? I ask my clients to build from 10-20 success stories capturing certain strengths (and tie-ins to employers’ needs).
But another way to know, is that you will have evidence of your skills and the broader picture – your strengths! You will have the beginnings of stories which will communicate how you used these strengths and what you accomplished, rather than just a generic list of skills that do not connect you to employer’s pain.
I always love to hear from you! Please comment below.