how to identify your marketable skills

How to Identify Your Marketable Skills

Today’s job market is all about self-promotion, especially for creative types. Even if you’re a job seeker who wants to break into a more traditional field than, say, graphic design or social media management, knowing how to identify your marketable skills will give your career launch more velocity.

Simply defined, your marketable skills are any strategies or strengths that you could advertise in order to land a job or a client. Think of them like taglines for a product: It slices! It dices! It even makes julienne fries! If you can slice, dice, or make julienne fries, you need to 1) know that you can and 2) know how to sell those skills to prospective clients and employers.

Most people, especially new graduates, don’t recognize all of the marketable skills they have. If you pursued a liberal arts degree — as opposed to, say, accounting — you might mistakenly believe that you possess none of the skills employers are looking for. This is untrue, and, in many cases, you may actually be better qualified for a job than a more practically educated candidate.

But you’ll never know if that’s true unless you learn how to promote yourself effectively. This exercise will teach you how to identify your marketable skills, and how to package them for prospective employers.

How to Identify Your Marketable Skills

Write Down Your Work and Education History

This first step will probably take you the longest, but it is the most important, by far. You’re going to make a list of your education and employment history, including volunteer work, and name the skills and strategies you learned at each.

You can write this in whatever format is easiest for you to keep track of; it’s for your eyes only. You’ll need a computer or pen and paper, few to no distractions, and an hour or two to yourself.

If you have any employment, volunteer, or internship history, write down those positions first. At this stage, you don’t need to keep track of how long you worked at each job. Just get them written down.

Do the same for your education history. Write down all the courses you remember taking. Pay special attention to advanced courses, electives, and those taken for your cognate or minor; these will likely give you the greatest number of skills.

At this point, your list should look something like this:

  • Pizza Hut
  • Wawa
  • Banana Republic
  • Digital Humanities Internship
  • Interpersonal Communication
  • Drama
  • Creative Writing Workshop

Hopefully you have more entries than I give here, but it’s OK if you don’t; this gives us plenty to work with.

Write Down What You Learned in Each Class or Position

For each item you’ve written down, think back to what you learned there. Basic customer service skills, meeting deadlines, working under pressure — nothing is inconsequential. Just write and keep writing.

Once you have at least two or three skills, on average, from each job or class, you can begin to dig deeper. So you learned how to operate office machinery during your digital humanities internship? Which machines, specifically? List them all.

At this point, you’re probably looking at a bunch of 2- to 4-word fragments. Congratulations, you’ve found your marketable skills! Now you just need to actually market them. To do that, you’ll have to describe each of them more completely.

Explain Each Skill in Greater Detail

So, let’s say you’re looking at these four entries:

  • Write essays
  • Peer review
  • Peer edit
  • Tone changing

These are great, but you won’t get any callbacks if you add them to your resume this way. You need to develop each of your short entries into a longer, coherent statement. Don’t be afraid to combine like entries into one larger skill, if you feel it would be redundant to list them separately.

I turned the four short statements above into three longer ones:

  • Compose academic essays in MLA, APA, and Chicago/Turabian formats
  • Chosen by peers to be the final reviewer and reviser of prose fiction and non-fiction prior to submission
  • Create appropriate messages for any audience through extensive knowledge of tone and formatting options

These are my marketable skills, as they would appear on my resume. Notice that each of them begins with a verb, and that only the skill which refers explicitly to the past is written in the past tense. This helps me, the candidate, look up-to-date.

Categorize Your Skills

By this point in the exercise, you’ve probably already discovered that you have a lot more to offer prospective employers than you thought. Chances are, your skills cover several disciplines, such as communication, management, clerical work, etc. Now you need to find and label those skill groups.

This may seem like over-organization, but learning how to identify your marketable skills is all for nothing if you can’t sort them into reasoned categories for easy resume reading.

How many and which skill categories you have will depend largely on where you’ve worked, what you’ve studied, and what you plan to do in the future. My resume has four: Communication, Instruction, Organization & Technology, and Writing & Editing.

You may have more or fewer categories, but each should have roughly the same number of entries, and at least three. If you have fifteen or fewer marketable skills, it may be better to place them under a general header, such as “Professional Skills,” unless you only have one or two categories.

Don’t worry, though. You’ll always be able to add more to your toolbox as you gain experience. Just remember how to identify your marketable skills, apply this exercise to each new endeavor, and you’ll be just fine.

What marketable skills did you discover with this exercise? Let me know by leaving a comment!

Check out my other how-to guides.

Image Credit: tookapic