Many folks complicate their coping efforts by selling themselves short. Joe may not apply for a new job because he feels he doesn’t have the specific skills required. Sally has trouble “selling” herself in an interviewer because she has not thought about her skills in a broad context. The key words in those two sentences are “specific skills” and “broad context.”

To illustrate what I’m talking about, consider a recent newspaper column by Karen Gregory, a 20-year military veteran. She decided to move to civilian life and start her own business. Now you might be tempted to say to her, “Wait a minute. You’ve made a career in the military. How can you possibly be prepared to enter the business world?” Karen no doubt asked herself that question often as she prepared for the change.

She realized she had to ask herself what specific skills she had learned in the military that prepared her for tackling her business dream. So she decided to take a personal skills inventory, and not limit herself to thinking about those skills only in a military context.

Karen’s self-inventory led her to focus on three skills she had acquired and was good at: (1) The ability to be flexible, creative, and persevere when forced to deal with the unexpected; (2) The ability to manage and resolve conflict; (3) The ability to build a productive team.  She also thought long and hard about how these skills would serve her well in a business context. She thought outside the “military box,” so to speak.

Her personal assessment gave Karen the confidence to pursue her dream from, as she put it, “Boots to the Boardroom.” She is now President and CEO of a consulting firm, and a mentor to other women looking for ways to benefit their career decisions.

There’s really no secret to coping by taking a personal inventory of your skills. The problem is, it’s easy to overlook the usefulness of such an inventory. Too often folks define themselves in ways limited to their current job. If you systematically assess your abilities in a broader context, however, like Karen did, you can discover that what you considered to be limited abilities really have wide-ranging applications.

Years ago I knew a professor of English, Russ, who was tired of teaching. A family member who ran a small human resources consulting firm wanted Russ to join him in the business, which involved helping clients create a more employee-centered work culture and increase worker productivity. Russ was hesitant about the career move, doubting that a college professor of English would have much to offer. Once he did a personal skills inventory, however, his outlook changed quite a bit.

Russ discovered that he had exceptional communication skills, both oral and written. He could transmit his ideas in clear and easy to understand language. When his relative gave him a client’s company employee handbook, for instance, he found he could revise it into a more user-friendly document that increased the likelihood of employees developing a sense of ownership in their job. Russ also discovered his outstanding critical-thinking skills gave him many insights into the dynamics of client companies his relative described. He could critically analyze their needs and translate them into employee policies that encouraged worker loyalty and excitement. In short, Russ discovered that he brought a lot of skills to the table that would help his relative’s company.

Many times during my academic career I advised students who were unclear about what major field of study would be best for their career. I would tell them to stop obsessing about their major as an indispensable step for career success. First of all I told them that more than likely they would change jobs, and even careers, multiple times before retiring. Second, I reminded them that their career success would be determined not so much by their college major, but by their transferable skills, such how well they could write, read, speak, think, work with others as a member of a team, and resolve conflicts in productive ways.

I said to them, “If you have those skills then they will be the driving force behind your career and determine your likelihood of success. Your college major will not be that driving force. I know an accounting major who is a dentist, a psychology major who is a VP of a major corporation, a Theology major who is a clinical psychologist, a biology major who works with autistic children, an English major who is a surgeon………….just to name a few career examples that we don’t automatically associate with a particular major. So choose a major because you enjoy it, not because you think it will prepare you for a career. Career preparation is what second majors, minors, and elective courses are for. Pick a major you find fun, and also focus on developing those transferable skills.”

These business and academic examples also apply to coping. Don’t sell yourself short by assuming you have limited skills. Think broadly, outside the box, and do a personal abilities inventory. You will likely discover that you have strengths and abilities that apply to a broad spectrum of employment areas. You will also feel better about yourself, and feel empowered to follow a work path that allows you to be productive and brings you a sense of satisfaction.






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