Professional Development and Skills Building

If you are like most college students and recent grads, you’re probably seeing that some job or internship postings list skills and other requirements that you may not yet have. And the more you review internship and job descriptions that interest you, the better sense you’ll have for the skills you should focus on building. That understanding should inform your professional development plan.

That may sound daunting, but it’s not. Across job types, there are important skills that are easy to pick up. Google Analytics is a common one for Marketing Assistant jobs. Photoshop is basic for many creative roles. Most companies are still using MS Office and it literally would take you five minutes to do some research and find a short course on this foundational business software suite.

One of the best ways to advance your professional development is to enroll in a course or find a volunteer opportunity that enables you to obtain new or improve existing skills. Once you’ve acquired or improved that skill or knowledge, you can list it in the skills section of your resume. For example, let’s say you want to work in finance. Many of the positions you’re looking at require advanced Excel, but you only have basic to intermediate Excel skills. If you’re enrolled in an “Advanced Excel” course, you can put this on your resume in the skills section, thereby hitting that keyword and also demonstrating your initiative and commitment to continued professional development. Another example: Google Analytics is required for many marketing jobs. Some quick research turned up this list of course offerings focused on Google Analytics. After enrolling in one of these courses, you could modify your resume skills section to look something like this:

-MS Office Suite
-Google Docs
-Google Analytics (Currently enrolled in Advanced Analytics, Google Academy)

This is good, but it could be better. What do you see that’s weak about this list? If you guessed the order, you’re right! You want to make sure that the SIX SECONDS a recruiter spends scanning your resume really count. If the most important (i.e., required) skills are buried at the bottom, subordinate to skills not listed on the job description, then you’re making it less likely that the recruiter will see this job requirement and reach out to you! In summary: make sure you are re-ordering your skills section according to what the job description highlights.

While it always make sense to build on your existing skill set, you need to be judicious: you don’t want to overcommit yourself by enrolling in a bunch of time-consuming online courses. Enroll only if it’s a critical skill that keeps coming up over and over on job descriptions you are interested in pursuing. Likewise, if you’re targeting a specific field or type of role that you know requires certain software skills, building your skills through online learning is a great professional development strategy and one that will enhance your ability to get a recruiter’s attention.

What if a company lists a skill that you’ve never heard of? Take a moment to do a Google search. By being proactive and learning about things you might not be familiar with, you can be the candidate that says, “yes, I did some research on Mintyblob and see that it is a sales tool used to keep client information and outreach organized, from the videos I watched it looks like a pretty user friendly interface and I am confident I could pick it up quickly.” This sure sounds a heck of a lot better than, “No, I have never heard of Mintyblob, what is it?”

Your skills-building work provides a great response to the popular interview question: “What have you been doing since graduation?” You can jump right in and say: “In addition to my job search, I have been volunteering and taking an Excel class to refresh myself on some of the more advanced functions like VLOOKUP and pivot tables!” It will definitely show that you are proactive and taking your professional development seriously.

Think about finding the time in your day to dedicate to professional development. It will pay off in the long run: acquiring new skills and knowledge is a lifelong practice for successful people. As you continue to build your skills and competencies, you’ll become an increasingly competitive candidate. You’ll list these skills on your resume and attract the attention of recruiters; you’ll have concrete and relevant skills you can discuss during your interviews; and above all, these skills will enable your success in your new job!

Please move to the next topic: Planning, Creating and Implementing a Personalized Daily Action Plan