Building a Skills Wall

Tracking the skills you have and the skills you need makes managing your career a lot easier.

This little project was an inspiration after listening to The Geek Whisperers Episode 75: CEO of Your Own Career. During a conversation about career advancement and career development, guest Josh Atwell mentioned that he had a bulletin board in his home office that served to help him track the skills he had achieved, and the skills he needed to obtain in order to advance his career to the next level.

Since I was deep into planning my career pivot at the time, I had been experimenting with ways to track some of the same information. Should I put it in a diary? In a note in Evernote? In my Planner? In a Calendar? I had tried all of these places, only to have them forgotten about. I’m embarrassed to admit how much re-creating the wheel I did each time I thought I had a brilliant new idea to store this information, only to neglect it.

Josh’s idea for a bulletin board was excellent…but I didn’t have a bulletin board. What I did have was a bedroom in the house which was being slowly converted into a home office, and that room had a wall that was completely empty. Why not track my skills there? Since it is in my home office, it would be impossible to ignore when I was working to develop my career, and it gave me lots of space to work with! Some painters tape and index cards later, I had my own personalized skill tracker…one that I couldn’t ignore!

Why track your skills? It makes updating your resume a lot easier for one. We all go through our work days without much thinking about what we are doing and what new skills we may be learning. Tracking those newly-acquired skills with a skills list (or board or wall) helps you remember them. Second, it can help you plan career pivots by showing you where your strengths lie. Third, I found it to be inspiring and affirming. When I sat down to track the skills that I have vs. the skills I need, I found to my pleasant surprise that I’m not as far away from my target as I thought I was.

Here is the final result

Skills Wall

Building Your Own Skills Wall

Building a skills wall is a simple process that really only has a few steps: Select a wall, gather your supplies, record your skills and organize by strength. Each of those steps can be customized based on the reason you are doing the tracking.  Here is how I did it.

Step 1: Select a Wall
I selected a wall that was in my home office, which is where I try to do most of my work and career development. I also chose an interior wall so I wouldn’t have windows or doorways to work around.

Step 2: Gather Your Supplies
I wanted to use things that would not damage the wall, and could also be easily removed because the room is destined for re-painting in the future. I chose Painters tape, which is easily removable without damage to create my chart and to attach my skills. I used 4×6 lined Index Cards to track the skills.

Step 3: Record Your Skills
This step takes a bit of time, but its well worth the effort. All you have to do is list a skill that you have on the card and attach it to the wall. But this is where your goals for the skills wall can change what you are recording and how you organize it. Since I am planning a career pivot, this is what I did:

Research the Job(s) You Want and List Skills You Need – Once you have a good idea of the types of jobs you would like to move into, go out and hunt the job boards like Monster, Career Builder and Indeed. Read the job announcements and pick out the skills/keywords they list for the position, and write each of them on a separate card.

Record the Skills Your Have – Next, think about your career path and list all of the skills you have. This includes both soft skills (like communication or leadership) and technical skills like programming languages or specific software products you have expertise in. Write each of them on a separate card.

Record When/Where You Got These Skills – It is not enough to say you have these skills…you have to prove it on a resume. So I added when I acquired these skills, and where I demonstrate them. Are they on my resume? Do I have a blog post about them? Where have I proven that I can do this?

Step 4: Organize by Strength
I used a 1-5 Ranking Scale to track how much experience and/or comfort I had with each skill. Things ranked with a 1 are things that I have heard of, but I have never done nor had any experience with. Things ranked with a 5 are things that I could do in my sleep. I placed my skills in each category, dividing technical or hard skills on the top of the middle dividing and soft skills on the bottom.

This allows me to see at a glance where I am in relation to my goals. As the picture shows, harder or more technical skills like SQL, Data Analysis, Networking and Security Infrastructure are sitting down towards the 1-2 end of the scale. Softer skills like Facilitation, Communication and Change Management are up towards the 4-5 end of the scale because I have far more experience with them.

I keep a photo of my skills wall on my phone at all times, so I can check it even when I’m out of the house. This is important because once you have your skills wall, the next step is to set about addressing the items on the lower end of the scale. Whether its taking a class, playing around with software programs or seeking out new projects/volunteer opportunities that force you to build these skills you need, to make progress you need to move the skills farther up the scale.

And that’s how you build a skills wall!

 

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