This article is part three of a series.
In part 1 of our series, we asked:
How can you leverage your unique combination of skills, to stand out from the crowd, to be seen, and to be recognized and appreciated for your “value-added”?
Our answer and suggested strategy is by continuing to learn and develop your skill stack, but not in secret.
In part 2, we explored and identified your onlyness. That unique perspective, experience, and skill stack that you bring to your work, and to the problems you solve?
Now, in part 3 we explore enhancing your skill stack by designing a learning sprint that will both increase your value and allow you to be seen by those who are in need of your unique skills, experience, talents, and strengths.
What is a talent or skill stack? Talent stack is a concept coined by Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic. It’s a unique set of skills or talents, developed over time, that give you a unique advantage.
Scott Adams explains it this way, “When you add in my ordinary business skills, my strong work ethic, my risk tolerance, and my reasonably good sense of humor, I’m fairly unique. And in this case that uniqueness has commercial value.”
Start with curiosity. One of the best ways to develop your skill stack is to follow your curiosity, your energy and your engagement.
Where is your energy and engagement right now? This will be your compass as you move forward. Brainstorm or mind map potential areas of interest. Use these questions below as prompts.
- What are the types of projects or causes you are drawn to?
- What’s the next type of project or cause you would love to explore?
- What people and organizations are currently doing that type of work?
Answering these questions will reveal where your interest and energy lie. That’s where your energy and engagement are leading you. Pay attention to it. Follow it and see where it leads.
Identify a few of the people and organizations that are already active in the area you want to explore. Next, do a google search and check out their LinkedIn profile, company page/website, news and trends in the field. Follow your interest. Write down your questions. This is crucial. Follow your compass. Notice your questions, explore and note what you find. Ideally the answer to a question will lead to another question, and so on.
- What aspects of the work do you want to know more about?
- What skills and experience are involved?
- Would a few conversations with the right people help you get a better handle on the problems to be solved, the skills need, as well as future trends?
Wayfinding: One Conversation at a Time
Wayfinding is the process or activity of ascertaining one’s position and planning and following a route. When you’re exploring new territory wayfinding often entails stopping and asking for directions from the locals.
In this vein, set up a few conversations to gather some actionable intelligence, while enhancing your visibility and value, and better positioning yourself in your field. This is an iterative process that you will follow as you move forward one conversation at a time.
In this phase it’s important to let go of the idea of looking for a job. It might sound counter intuitive, but at this point, that mindset will only get in the way. It’s too easy to slip from a professional mindset to one of neediness or trying to sell yourself.
For now, you’re just looking to speak with colleagues who know more about your area of interest than you do. Yes, you also may be an expert, but in these conversations, they are the expert. They’re doing the work. You’re a colleague who would value their perspective.
Reach out to three or four of them at the same time. Acknowledge you share a common interest and would appreciate a brief call to learn more about what they are doing, problems and projects they are working on, and major trends they see in the field.
Keep the invite request brief, under 100 words. Use email, LinkedIn, LinkedIn Groups, etc. Make it easy for them to respond.
Energy and Engagement
As you’re doing your preliminary research, listen for the types of projects and problems you would love to be working on. Notice the skills and experience needed. Identify the overlap in skills, experience, and education needed with your interest and skill set.
Notice any gaps.
Are the gaps real or perceived?
Are there skills and experience that you need before you can do that work OR do you have the skills, and it’s an issue of others recognizing that you have the skills to do the work?
Realistically, is moving in this direction a short or long-term goal?
If it’s within reach, we encourage you to design a learning sprint (1-3 months) that will position you for doing that work.
If it’s more of a long-term goal, we suggest the same approach, but the goal is to identify the next step that will move you in the direction you want to be going in and design a learning sprint in that area.
Know Your Industry
You’ve gathered your initial intel. You’ve monitored your compass, your energy and engagement, in this area. Identify your next steps. Evaluate the trends in your field and areas of interest. The skills that are needed and in demand to do that work.
Where is there an overlap between:
- Skills that you’re good at.
- Skills that you have a modest to high interest level in using.
- Skills that you possess that are rare and valuable to the work you want to be doing.
And remember your onlyness (see Part 2). In addition to skills, it’s a big part of your value added.
What skill could you add to your skill stack quickly that would increase your value and help you move in the career direction you want. Take some time with this. A few more strategic conversations may be in order at this point to gain clarity.
Ideally, this new skill will:
- Give you an advantage.
- Set you apart.
- Leverage your unique strengths.
Keep in mind this may be a new skill or strengthening an old or current one. Depending on your situation you may also be looking at either a skill or an experience to add to your portfolio.
Being able to add a skill quickly is important. It demonstrates your ability to get up to speed quickly and apply new learning. It’s filling a gap, building your brand, and enhancing your visibility.
Be strategic. This is an investment in your career capital, your value added. It demonstrates you know what’s needed in that area of your industry.
Make sure it’s positioning you not just for now, but for the future.
Designing Your Learning Sprint
Think in terms of intentionally designing a focused learning experience that will get you up to speed quickly, add value, and set you apart. This should include the iterative process you used during your initial research phase.
- What are your key resources, your means at hand, to develop your learning project? Don’t forget people you know? Plan it out, don’t just jump in. Be clear on what you want to learn and why. A little planning up front will make the learning sprint a lot more productive.
Here a few suggested resources:
- Who are the key players, thought leaders in the area? You may have already been talking with them in your research phase. If so, continue to stay in touch, and share your progress and new learning.
- Expand your list of people in the field that you can reach out to employing the same approach you used earlier.
Create an Outreach System
As you implement this process document the process. Keep track of your questions. The conversations and ideas that fully engage you.
Create a system. Don’t make the common mistake of scheduling your outreach conversations as one offs, that is, one at a time, and then waiting an indeterminate time before you reach out to someone else. You don’t need the stress.
Send two or three requests out at the same time. When someone responds, respond quickly to set something up at their convenience.
If you haven’t heard from someone in 7 business days, resend the request. If there is no response move on. Send out a request to the next person on your list.
Create an abundance mindset. Continue to identify people that would be great resources to talk with.
Remember you’re on a learning expedition. You are not looking for a job in these conversations. You’re building resources and connections. You are speaking with colleagues, fellow professionals. You are looking for advice and direction.
Though you’re not looking for a job, this process of conversations can generate leads and offers in areas of interest, unearthing opportunities you were never aware of.
Become a Documentarian
You know the adage: see one, do one, teach one. Exploders and wayfinders keep journals for their benefit and the benefit of others. Leverage this time of being a beginner. Start to document the process of your new learning. And look for opportunities to share what you’re learning.
- As you are learning a new skill, document the process.
- relevance to your field of interest
- Share your learning and questions, and the connections you’re discovering.
- find places to discuss (LinkedIn Groups, forums, meetups, etc)
- Make something. Do something with what you are learning. Apply your new knowledge. Build your portfolio.
Visibility and Value
It’s not enough to have what people are looking for, they must see you, and your ability to help them.
Learning is a great way to show up, ask questions, and curate information for others in the field.
Give it time. The right people will find you.
Don’t hide your light under a bushel basket!