A sideways look at skills

As a writing exercise this snowy weekend, my book editor has asked me to reflect on my skills – both those which have been cultivated by my training as a linguist and those which I posses by virtue of who I am and other experiences which I have had over the course of my life which inform my work, and which inform my thinking about career.

She gave me this assignment because she pointed out to me that I sometimes use somewhat unconventional tools for skills-finding, as I have done in this post about job interviews for example.

In that post, I argue that while designed as a tool for thinking about managing your time, a time management matrix can also trigger recollections which you can recontextualize as narrative answers to job interview questions. In short, forcing you to think about what you do all day actually forces you to think the skills that you are accessing to do so, in a way that might be more effective than just asking you to think about skills head-on.

And I realized that I tend to approach thinking about skills sort of sideways: in a creative and associative way.   For example, I advocate for writing out a list of all of the jobs (volunteer work, activities) you’ve had before to help you remember projects and responsibilities that you may not have thought about in a while to help you identify those skills which have been seeking expression through your life that you may not be consciously aware of.  This is also why I suggest using Rory’s Story Cubes as an exercise for story finding.  Visual cues might help you access some of your creativity and problem-solving in identifying some of your underlying motivators as you start to see connections and patterns that maybe you didn’t recognize before.


This is also why I advocate for spending time regularly on LinkedIn –  an hour a week – when you can get into rhythym where it is almost like you are playing a game, and clicking over here and over there, you start thinking in ways that associate and make connections, you can start to see some of the patterns and opportunities that you might not have been aware of otherwise.


This is also how I think about networking.  It is why I talk about Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet when I talk about networking.  In thinking about his story, I have found that linguistis can see transferrable skills cultivated by the study of linguistics, because sometimes it is easier to see the transferrable skills that someone else possesses in the ways that they apply their skills and training than it is to see your own.

So what about my skills?

I wrote about skills cultivated by the study of linguistics generally in this post.

Those which I think are more specific to me:

  • I lead with listening
  • I am not afraid of silence nor of questions
  • I look for patterns
  • I am good at storytelling
  • I work hard to make sure as many voices as possible are included in any discussion
  • I feel called to protect:
    • Curiosity (especially around career)
    • Conversational interaction
    • Cross-cultural understanding
  • I look for opportunities to ask “if that, then what?”

Many of these were what drew me to linguistics in the first place, and they certainly were strengthened over the course of many years of school and practice in our field.  They show up in my work in my preference for collaboration, inclusivity, and professional development.  These skills also inform my approach to career which advocates for holding space for exploration and education.

Some tools for identifying skills:

Pamela Nash provides some helpful ways of thinking about skills in her book Body of Work, an exploration of the underlying connections which exist among our diverse accomplishments in telling our career stories. As she describes the book on her LinkedIn profile, it “defines the skills required to thrive in the new world of work.”

As she describes in the book, each of us brings a collection of “ingredients” that we posses by virtue of the Roles we have held, the Skills and Strengths we possess.  The Experiences we have had and the Values which we hold, and crucially the Scars that we bear.

O-Net is anther recognized tool for finding skills


you can also use this instrument to identify your Abilities, Interests Knowledge, and reflect on your Skills, Work Activities, Work Context, Work Styles, and Work Values.

What about your skills? 

Which have you found to be transferrable, and applicable?  Which show up when you start tracing the connections among your varied interests in the patterns which are expressing themselves in your work life?

Please share!  We’d love to hear all about them!
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