To figure out which job you want to do, you need to start with what you like to do.
This means asking yourself which activities and processes you want to fill your days doing -- or in other words, which skills you most enjoy.
The problem is, most of us are terrible at articulating our skills.
And if we can’t articulate our skills, how on earth can we determine which of them we enjoy most?
I see this problem frequently when my clients complete our direction-setting diagnostic. One question asks you to list all of your skills, and then categorize them into those you enjoy and don’t enjoy. With a full picture of what you can do and what you enjoy doing in front of you, it becomes easier to assess the career possibilities at your fingertips, and which of them may merit pursuit.
But when listing their skills, most people (no matter their industry!) tend to only include non-specific, soft skills like problem-solving, teamwork, communication, organizing, planning, collaborating.
This isn’t too surprising; we're socialized at work to focus on “we” over “I” and to talk in least common denominators about company and team goals -- we rarely delve into the specific parts of the process we individually own to help achieve those goals.
Yet because soft skills are applicable to most any job, they don’t help you discern which jobs you’re more likely to love than others.
For that level of insight, you need to go deeper into what I like to call “how skills.”
“How skills” are how you put soft skills to work
Yes, I am essentially renaming hard skills.
But I’ve found the term “how skills” more productive, because it helps you pinpoint how you approach those universal soft skills differently than others:
- How do you communicate -- perhaps you enjoy writing, arguing in court, pitching proposals, instructing groups, social media, or visual design.
- How do you work in teams -- perhaps you enjoy leading teams, or project-managing, advising, ensuring teams use appropriate policies, or putting plans into action.
- How do you solve problems -- perhaps you enjoy analyzing data, conducting research, leading interviews, writing code, managing pilot programs, or asking great questions and listening in order to counsel others.
By going one level deeper, not only do you stand to recognize your breadth of specific skills -- the “how skills” you enjoy help you understand whether you’ll enjoy the actual work of being a salesperson versus a lawyer, or people manager, or mechanical engineer, or designer, or another career that requires its own specific skill set.
Where to find your “how skills”
This may shock you, but the easiest place to locate your “how skills” is... your resume.
Most of my clients have an “aha” moment when I ask them to skim their resume and highlight any skills they forgot to put on their list. It’s remarkable to me how many skills they have that they don’t give themselves credit for!
Chances are you too have 5-25 seriously specific “how skills” on your resume just waiting for you to notice them.
Can’t find any on your resume? Try reviewing the job description for your current or past positions, or pull the profiles of 4-5 peers with similar titles on LinkedIn; if you haven’t yet boiled down what you do into how you do it, likely someone else has.
Some exercises also take you through the introspective process of mapping your energy and tracking the skills you use outside of work, to unearth insight into all the things you love to do.
But I’ve found scanning these resources at-hand and picking out your existing skills to be a fast and empowering process for getting started.
It’s never too late to develop new skills
If the most of the “how skills” on your list fall under the “do not enjoy” category, that’s important information.
On one hand, you may need to temper your expectations; few professionals would say their day-to-day doesn’t include moments of boredom, frustration, and less-than-fulfilling duties.
But it’s never too late to seek greater fulfillment at work and grow in a new direction. And in a constantly shifting job market (and limited lifespan!) it’s in all of our best interest to continually ask ourselves how we want to grow next.
If you don’t have specific skills you want to develop in mind, try our full diagnostic to assess which potential directions may be most fulfilling to you and which skills they require. Pull up LinkedIn profiles of professionals you admire and look for “how skills” they have that you might enjoy using regularly. Better still, schedule phone calls with 4-5 of those professionals and engage them in meaningful conversations about what they do and don’t love about their everyday work, where their industries are headed, and what you could do to test the waters or break in.
Once you have an idea of the “how skills” you want to develop, ask yourself what first step you could take to get started. Whether you find a class, volunteer opportunity, internship or part-time gig, developing skills in a direction that sparks your curiosity benefits your career and personal fulfillment.
Even if you’re currently employed and love your job, this applies to you too.
Ask yourself which “how skills” you’ll need to achieve your long-term goals, identify those that would be beneficial to your team today, and speak with your manager to see if she’ll support you in taking on the additional responsibility (you may be surprised how supportive and helpful she’ll be). Or when new team needs cross your desk, raise your hand for those that help you grow “how skills” in the direction of your longer-term goals.
Don’t forget these key points
- To know what you want to do, you first need to know what you enjoy doing.
- You likely have more skills than you give yourself credit for; look at your resume, job descriptions and peer profiles to find your “how skills” (how you get the job done day-to-day).
- It’s never too late -- or too early -- to develop new skills in the direction of your dreams. Get on it!