Books that help you identify skills


Books that help you identify skills

In my last two columns, I wrote about the issue of being so strongly identified with a career path that it becomes difficult to make a transition if one is needed. The solution, I wrote, involves breaking the logjam presented by the ‘I’ve always been a…’ mindset, because over-focusing on your job title will prevent you from realizing how many different jobs you’ve actually been doing.

To do this, I wrote, “Choose a handful of your favorite tasks or the ones you feel are the most marketable, then identify other arenas where the same tasks are conducted. Having named other professions that use your skills, you’re in position to conduct informational interviews, to augment your training, or perhaps to just reach out and ask for work in the new field.”

The goal of the process is to identify as many skills as possible that you’ve enjoyed using, then recombine them into new career paths to explore during your transition.

This week I’ll finish the conversation by sharing some books to help you with the step of identifying your skills. Each takes a slightly different perspective, and there are other books available that also cover this topic. Choosing the right title for your situation will be primarily a matter of personal preference.

“Bridging the Soft Skills Gap: How to teach the missing basics to today’s young talent,” by Bruce Tulgan, 2015, $26.95. While this book was developed with a particular audience in mind (managers who supervise young workers), the process for identifying or developing certain skill sets can be modified for anyone’s situation.

That said, author Tulgan devotes the first few chapters to “feeling the pain” of managers who struggle with young workers’ seeming lack of polish and workplace skills. If this isn’t your issue (if you’re not a manager, or not new to the workforce), start your reading in Chapter 4 where Tulgan begins showing the reader how to teach soft skills to others. The examples will still be focused on managing young talent but the processes he describes are so easy to follow, you’ll be able to turn this into a personal tutorial.

I like this book because it takes a non-blaming approach to the sometimes awkward subject of professionalism and work ethic. The suite of abilities and personality traits that comprise our concept of soft skills can be downright perplexing to those who possibly need them most. Tulgan helps those readers better understand and claim their own soft skills.

“Practical Genius: The real smarts you need to get your talents and passions working for you,” by Gina Amaro Rudan, 2011, $24.99. I’ve held this book on my shelf because I like Rudan’s philosophy that genius can be practical or at least, practically-applied to everyday life and work. But first it needs to be identified and nurtured, and then expressed in terms that are useful to others. Her concepts provide a good foundation for uniting the schism sometimes felt by those whose work doesn’t make best use of their full abilities.

Although the entire book is worth a read, for those currently in career transition or job search, the most pertinent material lands in chapters 2 and 3. This is where Rudan guides the reader to recognize and name soft skills and personal values and match them to “hard assets” (more quantifiable skills) to find the combination unique to each person. In chapter 3, she continues the process by moving the reader forward into a variety of ways of expressing these skill combinations, in different settings.

Written a little playfully and with ample personality from the author, this is a good book for those who want to move past the straightforward application of task-based skills in traditional work environments.

“What Color is Your Parachute,” by Richard N. Bolles, 2015, from $7 used. A conversation about transferable skills in the career discovery realm could hardly be complete without a look at the classic book on this topic. My desk copy is from 2015, which can be purchased new or used. The 2016 version will contain updates, but is unlikely to be changed in aspects pertaining to this conversation: Bolles’ now-famous “petal” exercise and prioritizing grids for identifying and evaluating transferrable skills.

To get the most from the exercises, my advice is to set aside an hour a day for perhaps a full week. This will help you stay fresh for each stage of the process while also providing ample time for the ideas to steep a bit. But whatever you do, don’t feel compelled to start at the beginning of this densely-packed book and read to the end. Diving directly into the sections most relevant to your needs will yield the best results.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.

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