Know Your Stuff

It always intrigues me how people look outside themselves as soon as they think about making a change.  If you’ve spent any time or thought thinking about finding a job, you’ve probably bought more books on interviewing than you’ll ever read and talked the ears off of your nearest and dearest.

Most interview books tell you how to practice for the interview as if it was a test.  I’m not saying this kind of preparation doesn’t have value – it does and, if you’re lucky, you might even be asked one or two of the questions/answers that you’ve rehearsed.  Other books promise to help you find your dream job and to “find your bliss”.  Well, they have their value too.  After all, hope and aspirations are what our civilization was built on.

Interestingly, few truly focus on YOU, the EXPERT on your candidacy.    Preparing answers to questions you may or may not get asked feeds into your fears and, while you’re playing the guessing game, will also add a hefty portion of worry, doubt and anxiety to boot!!

I say control the things you can!.

In times of change simplicity gets my vote every time and the following Skills Inventory technique is one that I have found works for every candidate no matter where you are in your career.  The best part is that you can do it wherever you are as long as you have a pen and blank paper!

Here we go:

1. Take a piece of paper and divide the page in two columns. Label one of them Education and the other one Dates. Next step: list the schools/colleges you attended and qualifications obtained under the first column and dates attended/graduated in the second column.  Also make sure to list any achievements whilst at school – Swim Team Captain? Editor of the School Paper?  you get the gist.

2.  Take another piece of paper and divide it in three.  This time label the columns Jobs, Dates, Responsibilities.

3.  List every single job you have had and the dates you were there. While you are at it, include any volunteer positions or internships (if applicable).  In this instance – the more detail, the better.  The more self knowledge you have the better equipped you’ll be to ace the interview.

3. Now list all your responsibilities under each job. Now list the skills those responsibilities translate to.  Start with the tactical/technical skills and expand it to softer ones like communication and people management abilities.

4. Beyond What you did, Where and When you did it – think about the impact you had.  What are the things you are proud of?  Did you save money?  Drive revenues?  Solve problems/remove obstacles? Keep high standards during tough times? What mistakes did you make?  What did you learn from them?

Once this is done – take it in – look at the experience you bring to the table.  Appreciate your talents.  Don’t be modest or critical – give credit where it’s due!

How do you feel about yourself?  Are you surprised by how much you’ve done/can do?  Did life get so busy that you forgot?  Do you feel confident that you can now clearly talk about your experience and why someone should hire you?

Do you feel good about your abilities but glum about the prospect of doing this job “forever”?!  Then take another sheet of paper, divide it into two columns, label one Current Job(s) and the other Ideal Job and list all the skills in the first column, copy the skills you ENJOY doing into the second column and add new ones – you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water! – keep what you love doing and build on it by finding experiences that expand your horizons and abilities.

Have fun with this foundational step – it should be fun and clarifying – next blog: how to match your existing skills and aspirations to finding the right job.


Great suggestions. One thing I have found when making a transition is really think about what your “job satisfaction criteria” are. If I were to add to Wendy’s exercise, I would suggest pulling out another piece of paper and writing down the things that mean the most to you and then rank them in order from 1-10. Do this with your spouse/partner so that you can get clear on how you think about things such as travel time v/s money. I often ask candidates (at any level) to do this exercise in the interview for two reasons
1. I want to see if they have done this thinking and have honestly ranked the options
2. If I like the candidate, then I can begin to soft sell against what they told me they want. E.g., if they talk about having an intellectual challenge as the most important dimension of their next opportunity, I start to frame our opportunity in those terms

Hey Randy!

I agree! This is a great exercise!…. For the candidate. The fact is that, especially during the early stages of interviewing, most companies/hiring managers are primarily interested in what’s in it for THEM. It takes time, on-the-job performance and results before companies will start to be concerned about the job satisfaction of their employees. I DO think it’s a very valuable process to go through as it should give candidates a tool to gauge whether or not the company/job feel right and are a good fit. i.e. if travel time is more important than money going to work at a company where you’ll make a ton but will only get 10 days off all year will ultimately end in frustration.

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