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Careers Café

Developing skills

Jo VanEvery suggests taking advantage of some of the down time summer brings and learn or improve upon some skills you might need for your career.


Back in January, I suggested a series of questions that might help you take more control over your career direction. Today I revisit one of those questions.

Are there any skills you want to develop?

Many of us only think about developing skills at the point when we need them. That can mean not getting a job or role that you want. Or it can make a new job or role harder because you are learning as you go.

Summer is probably a good time to reflect on the skills you have and what you’d like to get better at.

Often skills don’t feel like skills.

If you are really good at something, you probably don’t think about it being a skill because you learned it so long ago that it now feels like just part of who you are. And if you aren’t good at something that people around you seem to do naturally, you can feel like that is just a personality flaw.

The first step is to identify things as skills and recognize that you can learn and develop them.

What do you have planned for the coming academic year?

Are there any skills you could develop that would make your life easier? Is there anything your colleagues seem good at that you would like to be able to do? Are there aspects of your work that frustrate you? What skills might help ease that frustration?

If you can identify a need for the skill in the short to medium term, you will have an opportunity to put your new skill into practice and gain experience using it.

Maybe you could be better at using a particular software program. Or, you would like to be a better negotiator. Or, you would benefit from learning more about effective small group skills or giving effective lectures. Perhaps there are data analysis techniques that might help you move your research along.

Could you devote some focused time to learning this skill over the summer? Does anyone offer workshops that you could sign up for (and make time for)? Do you have a friend who has this skill and could teach you in exchange for you teaching them something you know more about? Is there an online resource you could use? Or a good book (that “For Dummies” series is has good stuff in it)?

You don’t have to learn a completely new skill.

Perhaps you are already familiar with the basics and want to develop your skill to a more advanced level. Workshops can be more useful when you already know the basics and are able to learn little tricks and advanced techniques that make things that much easier.

Focus on your strengths and make them stronger. If you like doing something, that’s a good thing to get better at. It will be easier to learn and you will perform better because you are doing something you like.

Jo VanEvery is a career coach who specializes in helping academics. Find her at
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