Underused skills – reasons, consequences and solutions

Mingling within HR circles, there’s a lot of commotion about underused skills in the UK workforce at the moment. A report from the CIPD has found that nearly half of us are completely mismatched in our roles which means we are more likely to leave our jobs and less likely to be promoted.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – in the grand scheme of things, we have people leaving roles to better use their skills, and by doing so leaving their now-vacant role for someone who will be more suited and satisfied to fulfil it.

Essentially, one of the main reasons this happens in the first place though is down to job design; whether the role was designed at the point of application (and the employee applied for the wrong reasons or elements of the role weren’t evident up front) or after a natural period of time, the role evolved into something else in response to the organisation’s goals or industry changes.

As avid doers, we may find ourselves in this situation at some point or other in our careers (or multiple points, sadly). Self-initiating change within our roles – and indeed our lives – is something we do to remedy job lolls and where there’s restriction to change and a large portion of our skills aren’t being used, this can be incredibly frustrating.

With frustration, comes disengagement, lack of motivation and a sense of resentment. We may forget the fact that change is our responsibility and instead place the blame elsewhere (mostly our employer) which just breeds more negativity.

So what can you do (after of course you talked it out with your manager)? Multipotentialite leader Emilie Wapnick calls the first suggested solution as The Einstein Approach which means you have a day job unrelated to your hobbies or interests and so allows you to have the mental/creative/physical/etc. stamina to work on your true skills and talents outside of work. I’ve written about this before in my article about not having one true calling, ultimately finding outlets for all your interests without relying on your day job to fulfil these entirely. Who knows – these can end up being the foundation of a bigger and better career that supplements your skills developed in your day job.

Or over at Corporate Rebels – the awesome rebels who are challenging how things work in the corporate world – they much prefer the concept of ‘job crafting’. While they write about it from an employer’s perspective, my take-away from this is that there may be some wiggle room in your role to influence it to go into a certain direction to further use those untapped skills of yours. This will benefit you, your team and your organisation by being happier, more productive and engaged, and using skills that improve the team’s spectrum of abilities. The Corporate Rebels go on to quote Wrzesniewski and Dutton (2001) who say that job crafting is a:

“self-initiated change behaviour that employees engage in with the aim to align their jobs with their preferences, motives, and passions”

Pretty good huh? No new role, you get to stay where you are AND be happier!

But then of course you do have the option to look for a new role that uses your skills better if Einsteining or job-crafting aren’t possible. Looking elsewhere would be the best option for those who feel they aren’t performing their best in their current role – you might just not have the right opportunity to perform the great skills you have rather than being a poor performer. Think about that possibility the next time you give yourself a hard time at being pants at your job.

Skills transference is a big theme with The Avid Doer blog, so surprise! The option of getting a new and better job also allows you to transfer skills that are both used and unused to combine together in an innovative and unique way, one that will provide a lot more job satisfaction and fulfilment (and set you apart in the application process).

So while the employers are doing what they can to address this workforce issue, there are ways or us to address it to.

Do you feel your skills are underused in your day role? Are there any of these solutions that stands out to you the most?

A new word for ‘weakness’

We are often told we need to work on our weaknesses in order to develop our skills and progress our career; or at least traits that are labelled as ‘weaknesses’.

This isn’t the case. At the very least the word ‘weakness’ in this context needs to be re-defined to something more accurate. By way of example, a ‘weakness’ of being a poor public speaker is not a weakness. There’s a gap there – of confidence, skill, knowledge, ability, trust, authority – rather than a weakness.

A great Medium article I recently found on this topic talks about how weaknesses and strengths are the same thing, and warns us of the damage that may occur when we try to see them as two separate traits. Umair Haque writes:

“When we try to divide them, that is when we fail at both. We are principled, so we try to be less judgmental. And now we are not even principled. We are compassionate, but easily hurt, so we try to be harder, but lose our compassion.”

I thoroughly recommend reading the entire piece.

This takes me back to when I completed the 16 Personalities test, a free online test that’s based on Myers-Briggs testing (I don’t buy into the criticism that MBTI testing is similar to horoscopes – like most things in life, the results are only as strong and true as your input).

The results of the test are compiled into comprehensive lists by topic, including your weaknesses. Two of mine, as an ‘Advocate’ (INFJ, FYI) for example are: needing to have a cause in something I do and; being too sensitive.

Do these not contribute to my strengths, which, according to my results include being determined and passionate? Could they not therefore be considered as standalone strengths? Are my labelled ‘strengths’ not jeopardised if these weaknesses are worked on?

I’m interested in looking further into re-wording ‘weakness’ in the context of skills development.

In the meantime, focus on your strengths, the things you’re good at, and don’t bother too much about your ‘weaknesses’ until they have been correctly reworded.

The Avid Doer Revamp

I have often written about how important it is to assess your progress towards a professional goal in order to make sure you’re on track, or ascertain if the goal has developed into something new.

I’ve also written about how beneficial extracurricular activities can help you develop professionally, and how these help you learn in an environment outside of work, as well as proving your dedication to the field.

I’ve been assessing where I’m at with The Avid Doer for quite a while now, and how it’s helping me reach my professional goals. Doing this in my free time as an extracurricular activity means that time spent on it has to be the most efficient.

As such I’m excited to let you that the site is going to have a revamp.

The look, the content, the layout – all updated and refreshed.

I’m chuffed to bits with how far this has come and how it’s built a strong worldwide readership.

I just need to tweak the core message slightly in order to help those who visit the site, as well as help me learn and develop as an HR/L&D professional.

When the curtains have been lifted to reveal the revamp, I’ll tell you more about what its new aims are but rest assured it will still focus on skills, learning, development and career management.

Time wise, I’m not too sure how long it will take but there will be a slight pause for a bit with my weekly articles, just so I can get it right.

I’ll still be over on LinkedIn and Twitter in the meantime so hop on over there if you want to say hi.

Stay tuned and I’ll see you in a couple of weeks!

 

Gracefully disruptive

Disruption is essential in the workplace when it comes to challenging the status quo (for the right reasons of course). Practices and methods become engrained into the team, into the organisation, and over time these are met with reluctance to change.

‘This is how it’s always been done’, you’re told. ‘It’s worked fine without anyone sticking their nose in’.

‘Don’t fix what ain’t broke’…and all that carry on.

In order to progress – whether it’s professionally, entrepreneurially, or at work – there needs to be disruption. I deliberately use the word ‘progress’ too, as opposed to ‘get ahead’.

Many people can get ahead without disruption. Indeed they use the status quo to their advantage by seemingly playing the safe route to get ahead.

However, by choosing this option, they miss out on the opportunities to broaden their mind, develop existing skills, and be open to new learning experiences.

Where’s the problem-solving? Where’s the creative thinking? Where’s the approach that’s right for you?

This route is too narrow, having been formed probably years ago, and one that once worked either appropriately to the time or the individual (or both).

By being disruptive, you ensure that unexplored territory is identified, examined, assessed and tried out. And with such big risks may come big rewards.

So what do I mean by disruption?

Being disruptive is not about talking the loudest or stamping your feet the hardest. It’s about applying curiosity and inquisitiveness into questioning already-mapped-out procedures, career paths, processes, ways of working, even thought processes, and seeing if there’s a better way.

‘Rocking the boat’ sounds almost destructive, and we’re not rocking it to be awkward. Where a boat rocks comes ripples that could have a detrimental impact to the ecology and banks of the river for example. Without forward thinking, this could ruin any sort of credibility to going against the status quo again.

The term I much prefer is gracefully disruptive. It’s challenging status quo with grace, with forethought and thorough consideration.

So how do you become more gracefully disruptive?

Firstly, you need to understand why you want to be disruptive, and understand when you shouldn’t be disruptive.

The latter is probably the best starting by process of elimination. When you shouldn’t be disruptive is where emotion plays a heavy part in the decision making.

Using emotion to steer your disruption won’t be graceful. Of course emotion can be the foundation of the decision-making, the stimulus that urges you to react for a greater cause or better way to do things, but you mustn’t let it rule your actions.

Emotions, most times, are temporary. Your actions can be permanent. Tread carefully – or better yet let your head determine your actions.

Having decided to take a more emotionally intelligent approach, you can move on to why you should be disruptive.

Why bother?

The very act of being gracefully disruptive itself will provide you with strong leadership capabilities.

This isn’t necessarily leadership over people (although it can be); it can be leadership over processes, your career, your fate, your confidence – anything that is within your control that you have found, over time, slowly but surely, has been consumed by the status quo, or by other people’s assumptions that their way is best.

‘You need a degree for a good job’, they say, ‘that’s the way it’s always been done if you want a decent job.’

Not true at all; you can be successful without one (while also not drowning in tens of thousands worth of debt).

‘You need to do this particular process in this particular way because that’s how it’s done.’

Not necessarily; when was the last time this process was questioned? Is there a better way we can be doing this? Isn’t it time that this process is assessed for efficiency? If new ways haven’t been explored before, isn’t it narrow minded and dismissive to insist that this one way is the way?

‘You have to stick with one job with one interest in order to do well for yourself, nobody likes a job-hopper.’

Not the case; portfolio careers have proven successful for many professionals now and indeed may help them stand out from the crowd. New learning and new experiences have led these to the point where they have a unique set of skills that play off of each other and open up new, more effective ways of doing things.

Avid Doers v The Naysayers

This is where we avid doers can do so well in. We refuse to accept that one way of doing things is the way of doing things.

We have the stubbornness and can-do attitude to make things happen, and adopting a gracefully disruptive approach to our endeavours can only lead us to things quicker, more efficiently and more effectively.

Unfortunately there will be (and are) naysayers who like things mainstream and consistent with solid, trustworthy practices, and see avid doers as being awkward or sometimes even clueless. They don’t ‘avidly do’, they passively do, and therefore dismiss any sort of alternative ways of thinking.

Let’s question how things are done. Let’s disprove that the one way is the only way.

Let’s explore new ways of doing things that are right for us and our career and developmental needs.

Think of the learning and development opportunities that would go amiss if we didn’t question what is already in front of us and instead decide what is right for us by being gracefully disruptive.

Professional development while unemployed

I’ve written a lot about what we as fellow avid doers can do to manage our careers and progress professionally, and while I’m a strong believer that with the right attitude anyone can manage their career with confidence, it struck me that there may be a group of people that feel as though this blog doesn’t apply to them – those who are currently out of work.

Now this post doesn’t go into the ins and outs of being in between jobs. The reasons for being out of work are specific to each individual.

Sometimes it’s voluntary, sometimes not. Sometimes it’s a happy experience, sometimes it’s not.

You may be on a career break or maternity leave; you might have been made redundant or left to pursue a career change; you might have decided to spend more time at home to look after your children or might not be well enough at the moment to be working.

So with the multiple reasons and viewpoints on unemployment, I couldn’t possibly begin to write about them.

What I can do though is remind you that if you are in between jobs at the moment, this blog is absolutely for you.

Granted there are a couple of posts that walk you through presentations or writing a business case that you may not be able to put into practice immediately but these are still soft skills that you can put in the bank if and when you return to work.

The majority of the posts can still benefit you. I want to dedicate this post specifically to those who are in between jobs at the moment to explain what you can do to manage your paused career.

Keeping up with the industry

If you are keen to get back to work whether in your current field or a new one, keeping up to date is absolutely essential.

Keeping your finger on the pulse and being kept in the loop with the industry keeps your interest fired which is at risk of dwindling if you’re out of work for too long. You’ll understand what the hot topic du jour is (which can change on a daily basis these days!) so that if you return to work you’re not out of touch either in the workplace or at the interview stage.

Community

Adjacent to the above point, surrounding yourself with the industry’s community while proactively maintaining your spot in it will help you combat the loneliness that comes with being out of work.

As social creatures we need to be surrounded by people, or in career terms, our ‘tribe’. Even us introverts need this (just in different quantities) so by maintaining a strong position within your career community and contributing to it via social media or networking events, you get to have this same social interaction as if you were at work.

As with being part of any ‘tribe’, doing this will also keep your perspective broadened as you hear people’s opinions and experiences on industry matters.

Volunteering

A step further from the previous point is keeping your skills and social interaction sharp by volunteering.

Now, when I heard ‘volunteering’, I used to immediately think of working in a charity shop which doesn’t really float my rubber duck. By no means am I saying this is a bad thing at all; I’m suggesting that many others out there may be thinking the same and feel as though that’s their only option.

It isn’t.

There may be many volunteering opportunities in your local area and the first port of call should be Do-It, the UK’s national volunteering database. You simply enter your postcode or town, the distance you’re willing to travel, and hey presto, you have a list of all your local volunteering opportunities.

I live out in the sticks and a 10-mile radius search for me brings up 238 results.

Don’t want to travel? No problem – select the ‘Do it from home’ option and you’ll usually find even more results.

Be sure that you don’t want to forego the opportunity for the social interaction volunteering provides though as this is something particularly important when you’re out of work. Missing out on socialising that you would normally find on a daily basis at work can lead to mental health issues like depression or low self-esteem.

The volunteering opportunities cover all sorts of skills, requirements and experience. For example, this can be from administration support to being on a board of directors.

There are other volunteering databases out there that focus specifically on the community and your local area, for example Volunteering Matters.

Volunteering is particularly great for those who lack certain experience, for example managing people, but have the correct aptitude for it; these opportunities may allow you to become a volunteer people manager (for a project, or wildlife excursion for example) and thus bring something new to your CV, skillset and future employer.

Being heard

If you enjoy writing, you may want to consider starting an industry-related blog, or if you’re a born entertainer, a vlog, or have a silky smooth radio voice, a podcaster, etc.

I’ve written about this before in my post on developing professional credibility – it’s such a boost to your professional development as you learn a lot about yourself and the industry.

You should have the intent of being heard as a profession contributor rather than looking for a money-maker.

Figuring out new and interesting content can be hard work but it’s also really rewarding. You’ll find yourself researching new topics to strengthen your content, learning heaps from the blogging/vlogging/podcasting/etc. community, as well as demonstrating to new employers your dedication to the profession and your career.

You can find LOADS of tips out there on YouTube and the like about starting any one of these up, but nowadays I’ve discovered that it’s important to remember 4 things:

  • You don’t need to be an expert – you’re perspective is uniquely your own
  • You don’t need fancy equipment – despite the shininess…
  • It’s incredibly easy to set up – technology today makes this ridiculously easy now
  • Procrastination is your enemy – just get it out there and stop faffing with the tiny details!

Courses

Enrolling in a course – whether it’s paid (local college course or distance learning), or free (check out MOOCs out there like FutureLearn) – is another way to keep your skills sharp, while also learning new ones.

If you haven’t already, check out my post on training courses here and here which explain this in more detail.

Re-assessing your career

Taking a breather from work from whatever circumstances gives you an opportunity to think with a clearer head.

In this new headspace you may want to consider a career change and decide which new direction you might want to take.

Transferring your existing skills into a new field is easier when you break the components down and clearly define any skill gaps that need filling.

Check out my 5-post series on discovering which career is right for you. Start with this one and then click ‘Next’ at the bottom of the post until you’ve worked your way through the 5 part series.

(Have you noticed this post has a lot of plugging for my own posts? Told you this blog was relevant to those out of work….#JustSaying)

Starting your own business or side hustle

Spending time out of work may be an opportunity for you to explore starting your own business. This could become a side hustle if you decide to return to work to fund the business until it’s providing enough income, or if you’re happy working on both within a portfolio career.

I realise I say this in such a blaze way – I understand it isn’t easy. I’ve made a go of it a couple of times and it can be demoralising when things don’t happen the way you want, whether that’s not enough money, not enough confidence or losing interest in doing something that sounds fun as a hobby but is torturous doing it all day every day.

I would recommend learning from people who have made a success of it and especially from those who made a number of failures beforehand. These can be found all over the internet and local bookshop.

How to take this forward

By this point hopefully you should be getting a clearer picture on how to keep your career wheels turning even when you’re out of work.

As an added bonus, these are all perfect examples of professional dedication and career management that you can demonstrate in interviews. There may come a point in the interview where you will have to respond to their questions on a job gap.

Usually, this can make people feel uncomfortable but by following the above suggestions, you’ll be able to give them the full itinerary of all the things you’ve been doing while in between jobs. They’ll see someone very self-aware, very busy and very determined.

I must add a huge disclaimer here though before you do anything: check with the appropriate people/officials that any of these activities do not contravene conditions set on your employer’s policies (if you’re on a type of leave) or those set within your receiving of benefits/jobseekers allowance. Please seek professional advice if you are in doubt of these conditions.

 

 

Moving from a call-centre environment

This post is the first of a series that advises on moving from one working environment to another.

“I currently work in a call-centre providing quotes to customers with a bit of cross selling but I’m ready to move onto another type of role. I want to work in an office that doesn’t involve non-stop phone calls, for example administration, but due to my lack of experience I’m worried I won’t ever get away from call centres. Any suggestions?” – Bob B.

Moving from one area of work to another, regardless of the nature of each, can sometimes seem too out of reach and hard to accomplish. Working in call centres can sometimes restrict the amount of duties you have in your day-to-day role so there may seem few examples of other work for you to demonstrate to recruiters.

The first thing I would suggest is determine how long you intend staying in your current role. Having an end date in mind not only helps you focus on a deadline but it also allows you to explore what you can do between now and when you leave.

Unless you’re in a desperate situation where you need to abandon ship right now, you might need to ask yourself if you can delay your plans to move on for up to another 6 months. This is so that you can start exploring everything your current employer has to offer to you now, that you can demonstrate to your new employer, and not deny yourself on what’s on hand to you in your current role.

Existing development opportunities

For example, you might want to ask for extra responsibilities that take you away from the phones. Sitting down with your manager and explaining what you would like to try out would be a good starting point as they may be aware of any secondment opportunities, any additional tasks they can send your way or offer to set you up with some job shadowing. Be sure to remind them of the sort of extra duties you would prefer; you mention you want to move to a more administrative role, so the extra stuff you’re given needs to match any future roles. Being able to relate these extra opportunities back to your existing role, and how they can complement it will increase your chances of your manager being on board.

However, spending time off the phones in a call centre will require a pretty hefty and convincing business case and you might be fighting a losing battle. In this case, I would suggest looking to see if there are any skills you can brush up on outside of working hours that you will need in an administrative role.

Depending on the type of admin role you’re going for, you wouldn’t normally require too many academic or vocational qualifications (however, if these are likely to be required if you were looking to progress once you have the admin role, you need to let them know you’re keen to gain these at a later date if you haven’t already got them, and then follow through on your promise). You may find you will only need Microsoft Office skills which can be picked up with practice alongside a book for beginners.

A quicker option

There is another, quicker way. In a previous article, I talked about transferable skills, where you can bring your existing skills developed from your current and previous roles to a new employer or position. Figuring out what you can already do, and portraying this in the best light (without lying) to prospective employers will save you from spending more time in a role that has nothing further to offer in terms of development or satisfaction. I took these steps myself when I worked in a call centre, my first full time job as a ‘grown up’ when I was 17.

One of the first things you need to do with this approach is sit down and go over everything you do on a day-to-day basis. Then look at each of these listed duties and determine which specific set of skills they require – these are the skills you can transfer to a new role outside of a call-centre environment. You’ll be surprised at how many you have.

You really need to dissect each task you do and pull out all the skills that each individual task requires. These skills will then become the building blocks of a set of (seemingly) new abilities that can be presented in a more universal way.

Phone skills

Let me give you an example. Working in a call centre, you may list your first task as ‘answering phone calls’. So what skills do you need to answer phone calls and make sure you do it correctly, compliantly and to the satisfaction of the customer and your line manager?

Digging deep into this task, you could list a number of skills: customer service; understanding the needs of your customer by actively listening and asking the right questions; dissemination (feel free to pinch that word, it’s a good’n) of verbal information; dissemination of data should you refer to any databases to help you inform the customer of the quote; referring to and updating databases; provide solutions specific to customers’ needs; demonstrating composure and professionalism when there is a back log of calls; working timely and efficiently; able to use a number of systems simultaneously while the customer is on the phone; ensuring you are up to date with the product and keeping abreast of changes and updates.

And this is just one task that you might have thought you couldn’t relate to an admin role. This is the depth you need to go into. After you’ve listed a number of tasks you do, you would have built a number of skills that could be completely removed from a call-centre environment and placed somewhere else.

Beyond your immediate role

You will also need to include any relevant skills beyond your role. This can be a little harder to think of as they’re not so obvious. For example any relatable volunteering you do or any previous projects you’ve worked on in and out of work. As mentioned above, you can easily work on ‘extracurricular’ activities outside of work if your employer can’t offer you something you want to learn and develop.

Another range of skills beyond your immediate role which are transferable to anywhere you go is how you manage your performance. This can include: the targets you are given and how you make sure you meet them; how you keep on top of your professional development; how you help your immediate colleagues out and wider teams; how you take and use feedback.

With these components, you can go on to rebuild your CV aimed at your desired role with your re-branded set of skills. Keep your eye out for a series of articles that I will be writing on how I transferred obscure skills into the corporate world, as well as tips on writing a CV.