[PD as CD] Part 2: Focusing on Your Skills

Now that you know what professional development is and why you should do it, we’re going to move on to what you should be learning. In this post, we’re going to dig deeper into skills. I’ll go over different types of skills, give you ways to figure out which skills you should be looking for in a career, and provide some considerations for creating a professional development path that will lead to career satisfaction.

Hard Skills + Soft Skills

While there are many different skills that you can learn, they generally fall into two categories: hard and soft. Hard skills are specific, teachable abilities that can be defined and measured. Things like typing speed, written communication, languages, and computer knowledge fall into this category. Soft skills, on the other hand, are personal attributes that enable and individual to interact effectively with others. Teamwork skills, interpersonal communication abilities, work ethic, and sense of humor are good examples of soft skills.

In making hiring decisions, most employers want candidates who have a good combination of hard skills and soft skills. A software company, for example, will favor an applicant who can both code and get along with their team. An advertising agency would look for someone who can both come up with ideas and implement them within the proper timeline. You get the idea. Employers want a well-rounded person who can do what they want in a way that fits into their company.

Transferrable Skills

Skills that you can take with you from one situation to another are called transferrable skills. These types of skills can be both hard and soft, and examples of them are computer/software knowledge, communication, strong work ethic, and being a team player. In considering your skills and ones you need to hone, it is important to keep transferrable skills in mind so that you give yourself a wide range of options for your future.

Motivating skills vs. Burnout skills

Another thing to consider when deciding on a professional development path is how using certain skills makes you feel. Do you feel good after doing some things but not others? Are you good at tasks but still hare performing them? These considerations will help you figure out your motivating skills and your burnout skills. This knowledge is crucial for creating a career that will be intrinsically satisfying.

But wait, what do these words mean?

Motivating skills are abilities and activities that you are good at and feel positive (or motivated) while doing them. They’re the parts of a job that keep you coming back to work, day after day. If you’ve ever had a ’This is why I do what I do moment’, that was courtesy of your motivating skills. Burnout skills are abilities and activities that you are good at but make you feel negative (or burned out) while doing them. The key to understanding this second type of skill is the fact that you’re good at it but still hate to do it. This is different from a task that burns you out because it’s frustrating. These abilities, activities, and tasks are ones that you can do, you just don’t enjoy doing them.

These concepts come from a career assessment activity called the Motivated Skills Card Sort, where you sort a deck of skill cards into categories. First, you sort them based on how good you are at the tasks associated with the skill. Then, you sort based on how you feel while performing the task. The resulting matrix provides you with a visual representation of your motivating and burnout skills. (It’s a quick, fun activity. For more info, do your Googles!)

Knowing which skills motivate you and which ones burn you out is important to professional development since you want to create a path that is both sustainable and satisfying. In other words, just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean it should be your career!

So how do you figure them out? You can do the assessment, or you can do this:
Step 1: Make a list of the things you feel you’re good at. Try to do at least 10.
Step 2: Next to each skill, put a “+” or “-“ to indicate if you feel good or bad while or after using the skill. If you feel indifferent, leave it blank
Step 3: Separate your list into two: the “+” skills on one, the “-“ skills on the other. The skills that have “+” next to them are your motivating skills; the “-“ are your burnout skills

Want to practice? Get the worksheet!

[Professional Development as Career Development] Part 2: Focusing on Your Skills | In this post, we dig deep into skills. We go over the types of skills, how to figure out which ones keep you motivated and which ones burn you out, and how you can use this knowledge to guide your professional development. Click through for this critical info! | lindsaygranger.com

Using These Skills to Guide Professional Development

When looking up new jobs or exploring careers, use your motivating skills as a guide for setting yourself up for career satisfaction. You can’t expect to use them all the time or to completely avoid your burnout skills, so don’t place this limitation on your options. Rather, seek out opportunities that allow you to use your motivating skills most of the time while minimizing the tasks associated with your burnout skills.

Research jobs and industries using impartial sites like ONET and the Bureau or Labor Statistics to get to the nuts and bolts of what is takes to be successful in various careers. Compare these attributes to your motivating and burnout skills and if you find significant overlap in the former then congrats, you have a contender!

When you’ve found a few possibilities for your future, set about creating a professional development path that will set you up to being a competitive applicant in the future. If you’re interested in more than one thing, focus on the transferrable skills first before diving into the more niche things that you’ll have to know. Throughout the process, check in with yourself to see what is motivating you and what is burning you out. Pay attention and make adjustments accordingly.

Remember: You don’t have to do it all at once. Careers aren’t sprints, so take your time and actually get good at the important skills rather than just learning them to say you know them. I promise, you’ll be asked to show your work at some point!


Dr. Lindsay is career development & academic success coach who loves helping people figure out and proceed to the next levels of their lives.