Coaching Clients in Identifying Skills

By Tim Lutenski


     A critical task for career specialists who assist clients in searching for work or making career decisions is to help them understand the importance of identifying skills that meet a business need and can be linked with suitable work that provides personal fulfillment and satisfaction.  We live in a skills based society where individuals need to market their skills to employers in exchange for money, position, power, and influence, yet many clients are unaware of their skill sets and/or fail to find the proper work fit relative to their major strengths.  Generally, the more time and effort a client devotes to the task of uncovering their strengths the greater the benefits they will realize in terms of finding work in which they can exercise and apply their best skills. 


     Communicating the significance of skills to clients is usually best initiated by summarizing and clarifying the distinction between the two main skill types that define their accomplishments and strengths: work content and transferable skills.   

Work content skills typically:

  • Are "hard skills," usually identified as qualifications for specific jobs.
  • Tend to be technical and job specific in nature.
  • May require formal training and are often associated with specific trades or professions.
  • Are used only in certain job/career settings.
  • Do not transfer well from one occupation to another.
  • Are critical for entering and advancing within certain occupations.

Transferable skills typically:

  • Are more numerous, but less easy to recognize.
  • Are linked with personal characteristics and tend to involve processes rather than things.
  • Transfer relatively smoothly from one job to another.
  • Enable job seekers to change jobs more easily.


       The vast majority of people (including potential employers) view the world of work in terms of work content skills that are task focused and job specific (essentially where specific occupations are viewed as requiring specific skills) versus focusing on transferable skills that are portable in nature and have wider application (such skills can be transferred and linked to other occupations having similar characteristics and functions).

     Those clients who know their transferable skills and are able to communicate these skills to potential employers have a distinct advantage over other job seekers and may also realize additional long term benefits:

  • allow clients to make job changes from one occupational field to another with less difficulty,
  • provide flexibility in initiating job/career changes without additional education or training, and
  • can accommodate multiple careers requiring application of similar skills.

 In today's rapidly changing world of work, transferable skills really are the foundation on which both job-hunting and future work success rests. 


 Identifying work content skills is a process that is typical straightforward in nature and not as difficult as identifying transferable skills.  Identifying marketable, transferable skills can be done by taking a formal skills inventory, seeking input from friends and family members, or by looking at various personal factors and identifying:

  • A personal achievement.
  • A happy role played.
  • A peak experience.
  • Life success stories.
  • Best and most enjoyable work performed.

    Through one or more of these methods most clients can successfully identify broad skill categories (e.g., communication skills), be encouraged to break these down into more specific categories (e.g., speaking well, specifically by describing, negotiating, and persuading) and look at potential occupations where these could be used (e.g., labor negotiator).  At this point it is also important to help clients understand the following:

  • They are not a fixed set of skills, but are always growing and gaining new skill sets.
  • Various skills have great value within specific work contexts or environments.
  • Most skills valued in the work place apply to many different occupations.
  • It is the cluster of skills that are of main significance, not any single outstanding strength.
  • Career success is not dependent upon any single prominent skill.



    Once clients have a fundamental understanding of their skills, here are recommendations I provide them with regard to building a successful career and work life:

  • Think of yourself as a person with unique potential and that the purpose of your work life is to bring this potential to fruition.
  • Exercise good judgment and discretion as to how and when to use your skills in the workplace; this can build greater meaning in work, make job tasks more relevant, negotiate or simplify tasks with little value, spend creative time on meaningful tasks, and commit work efforts to better fit your passions and vision.
  • Follow the same strategy the best companies use for their development; focus on core competencies. Concentrate on developing strengths, not improving areas of low competence, and devote most time getting even better in areas where you already excel.
  • Focus on solutions for yourself and your work organization by following a simple 80/20 formula: devote 80% of your time on solutions and 20% on problems.
  • Know that maintaining good interpersonal relations and getting along with others are critical skills needed in any work environment.

     In the process of looking for work and making career decisions, client skill identification is of critical importance. Those clients who identify skills they are passionate about using, can effectively communicate them to potential employers, and are able to align them with a job that is a proper fit  are much better positioned to find and engage in meaningful work that provides long term satisfaction and personal fulfillment.


Tim Lutenski (M.A., Organizational Leadership and M.A., Counseling Psychology) is an Instructional Specialist at St. Clair County Community College (Port Huron, MI) and the Director of For Your Career.  He teaches courses, workshops, and seminars, coordinates training in career and educational planning, and provides coaching and consultation services.  Tim works with individuals, groups, and organizations dealing with career issues, and volunteers in providing career guidance to those with special needs, including ex-offenders, survivors of domestic violence, and the homeless.  He can be reached through his web site at www.foryourcareer.com or via email at info@foryourcareer.com.

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