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April 22, 2005 • Vol.27 Issue 16
Page(s) 6 in print issue

Mirror, Mirror
Assess Your Skills To Boost Your Career
Even as the IT climate perpetually morphs to accommodate new and changing technologies, it’s easy to take your skills for granted. After all, if you rarely have problems handling your job’s daily tasks, there’s seemingly no need to think twice about your skills. Likewise, if you’re looking for work and getting calls, the skills on your resume must look sufficient to your potential employers.

The reality is that assessing your skill set is always a valuable career practice, regardless of your employment status. We often hear about career evaluations when it comes to job seeking, and indeed, tests, interviews, and other tools that can determine a worker’s skills often do help applicants apply for positions that work best for them. But because they can pinpoint weaknesses or even areas you didn’t realize you had an interest in, they can help advance your career even when you’re already working.

“Those of us within the field believe that just as we would tune up our car every now and then, we owe it to ourselves to give our careers a tune-up,” says Wilma Fellman, a career- and life-planning counselor and author of “Finding a Career That Works for You.” “If we assess our skills periodically, we will learn that we have grown tremendously in what we are able to do. If we are already employed but might want to reach for that next, new level within our company, a skill assessment can give us the ‘hard data’ to do that.”

Do It Yourself

Understanding that self-assessment can be a valuable tool is one thing. Effectively using that tool is another, because there is more than one way to assess your skills, and if you don’t choose the method most appropriate for you, you might be wasting your time. For example, if you overestimate the depth and worth of your skills, you might be tempted to apply to positions far out of your league. On the other hand, if you underestimate your skills, you might cheat yourself out of a career boost.

Plan Of Action

For some, assessing skills without the help of others is a plausible plan of action. Lawrence Jones, a professor at North Carolina State University, stresses a multifaceted approach to skills assessment. Creator of the Career Key, a free public service that measures skills, abilities, talents, and other career aspects, Jones recommends that people take several steps in the assessment process, including discovering what the different types of skills are and identifying their own skills.

Tests at this site and others, as well as books, pamphlets, and other materials, can help drill down to the core of what you can or can’t do. But because many skills tests approach assessment from a career-wide view, not from one that deals directly with any particular industry, you might find it tough to get a precise read on your exact IT skills. If you opt for assessing your own skills and find that this general approach isn’t working for you, you might find that specific companies within your industry segment offer some type of skills assessment.

For example, Microsoft offers a wealth of free individual skill-assessment tests on its Web site (see the “Assess With Web Tests” sidebar below for a sampling of these tests). These timed tests cover real-life scenarios using different Microsoft products, and after the test, you’ll receive an analysis of your skills. You’ll also receive a recommended learning plan to help you boost potentially lacking skills.

Microsoft’s free assessment services are more thorough than services offered by most other major IT companies, however, so if you want to test your abilities with other technologies, you might need to pay a third-party company that specializes in testing particular technologies.

Enlist Help

Gauging your own career abilities and skills can be tricky business, even when taking tests that try to determine them for you, but another methodcounselingemploys a mix of both testing and face-to-face interviewing. Depending on the career and the person, counseling often proves more efficient than self-testing, because career counselors are trained to uncover your strengths and weaknesses. In other words, they see what you miss when assessing yourself.

“We don’t often have the objectivity to see our skill sets for what they are,” explains Fellman. “We are quick to blow off some skills, thinking that ‘everyone can do that,’ so we don’t value it. Working on this with someone else allows us to receive not only data, but also assistance with labeling the skill sets, as well as synthesizing the data into organized clusters.”

According to Fellman, counselors can also help to interpret a skill assessment and lead you to options you might have considered previously but eventually dismissed because you didn’t really have enough information about it. She also says that skill assessments are great tools for “defending” your request to be hired, because suddenly you’ll have a list of marketable items about yourself for the interviewer.

“We must remember that skill assessment must be matched with vivid examples that will clearly describe how we have demonstrated those skills,” she says. “If we do that, we gain the confidence to reach higher, if that is our goal.

by Christian Perry




Assess With Web Tests

The Web can be an infinitely useful tool for gauging your skills and identifying your weaknesses. Some companies, such as Microsoft, provide services for assessing your skills with their products. Here’s a sampling of the online tests you’ll find on the Microsoft Skills Assessment Web page (www.microsoft.com/learning
/assessment/default.asp).

• Managing the Deployment of Service Packs and Security Updates

• Protecting the Perimeter of Networks

• Supporting Deployment for Microsoft Office 2003

• Managing a Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 Organization

• Developing Enterprise Windows-based Applications with .NET Data AccessVisual Basic .NET

• Business Desktop Deployment

• Supporting Deployment for Microsoft Windows XP



Skills Can Work For You

According to The Career Key (www.careerkey.org), skill assessment can help with everything from job interviews to finding occupations that best utilize your skills. Here are five important keys to making skills work for you, according to the site.

1. Know what the different types of skills are

2. Identify your skills

3. Know the skills employers want

4. Communicate your skills to employers

5. Learn new skills

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