“I’m not happy here. I’m keen to explore new job options. If you hear of any good opportunities, do let me know”
“Yeah sure. So what’s your skillsets and strengths and what are you looking for in general?”
“Right. So I’ve been in consulting for 5 years. My core strength would be strategic thinking and strategic communication. I guess in that sense, I’m a good fit at many places”
“So I take it you’re a…generalist?”
I’ve had a number of conversations such as the above. Executives having worked for a number of years and unable to pinpoint a skill. Being able to pinpoint a skill is important – in an increasingly competitive corporate setting, knowing your skill is a matter of personal branding and ensures continued relevance.
Inability to identify a skill is especially prevalent among management consultants who work across many industries who are thus unable to develop a strong competency in an industry or a function. I have also met people in industries who fall into the same trap, and oftentimes these are people who spend too long in roles dubbed “strategic planning” and “business development” (these roles are important functions of a company but if you are a new graduate in these departments, you often can’t absorb much due to lack of perspective).
I was a management consultant at a global consulting firm for 4 years before I transitioned into an industry. I observed that it is not uncommon for your peers and your management to quickly form a label of you, based on your competence. The guy who has worked in a bank for some time has a “Finance” label, the guy who has worked at site for some time has an “Operations” label, the marketing guy, “Marketing”. To senior management, your label becomes the basis to what you are being consulted. The unfortunate truth is, management consultants who transition into an industry often have “???” as a label. People may acknowledge that your paper qualification makes you one of the smartest people around but they don’t necessarily know what you are good for.
To clarify, in no way am I discounting skillsets such as strategic thinking and strategic communication. These are important aspects of problem solving and while it is true these may be your strength as a management consultant/strategic planner, oftentimes people in the industry would not want to accept that they have weak problem solving skills and it is more probable for your ideas to be discounted on the basis of industry inexperience.
I firmly believe that everyone should have a skill they can strongly associate themselves with professionally. Ask yourself this question, “professionally, what do my friends know me for?” and hopefully your answer includes a hard skill, may it be finance, urban planning or construction. Another way to do this is if you were to write your short profile on LinkedIn, what would you write about – what are your skills and what are you passionate about professionally?
If you find yourself unable to identify a skill, my advise is to identify an area of growth you would like to pursue and grow into it. Invest time and deep dive into the content. If there is a certification in the field, get certified (e.g. PMP, CFA). And in this age of social media, promote your professional personal branding – speak about the topic on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and let people know what you are professionally passionate about.
Stretch yourself and whatever your passion may be, be known as an authority in it and hopefully, more professional opportunities will present itself to you.