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Planning Your Career to Improve Marketability

Prior to World War II, lifelong employment with one company was common. But the "one job, one employer" expectation has all but ended in most occupations. Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts those with a bachelor?s degree or higher can expect to change jobs approximately five times between ages 25 to 34. A scientist entering the workforce can expect to change employers and jobs several times in their career. This pattern is not likely to change in the near future. Tomorrow's most successful scientists will be prepared for these career changes.

As important as one's career is, most people do not have a cogent well-reasoned career plan. This two-part Insider?s Edge series will give readers an overview of how to take charge of their professional development, and in doing so improve their marketability for future career opportunities. The first article will focus on managing your career development by taking ownership of your skill development. Next month, part two will discuss how to link skill development to managing your career path. The goal is to provide you with a career development framework that will help you determine where you want to be and how to get there.

Changing Employment Practices

In today?s employment environment, young scientists must be prepared to answer difficult but pressing questions such as, "What job do I want to have next? And what job after that? And even what job after that?" Because change in the workplace is inevitable, it is increasingly necessary to manage your career more actively. Effective career management can help you to have greater control and a sense of direction in your career.

This article focuses on skill development as an essential element in managing your career. The approach provides greater awareness and flexibility in determining one?s contribution to an employer, helping manage the possibilities of change, and contributing toward creating employment security for yourself.

Today, businesses are changing hiring and promotion criteria from a job-defined career path to a skill-defined career path. In the past, the traditional technical career path progressed from junior scientist to department manager. Today, this path might lead from individual contributing scientist to group leader. However, as job changes based on demonstrated skills become more common, your talents can also lead you up a variety of other paths, including manufacturing supervisor, quality manager, or regulatory affairs head.

The nature of the career path is not the only thing changing in corporate America, the pace along that path is also picking up as skills become obsolete and new roles evolve. The challenge in this environment is to map out a path of skill development that prepares you for these new career paths. Career success depends on being able to identify the skills and experiences you need to progress in your career, seeing each position as a bridge to future positions.

Conducting a Skills Inventory

Begin to understand your marketability by establishing a baseline, an inventory of your skills. Skills are behaviors that you have used sufficiently to achieve a level of proficiency. There are many ways to categorize your skills. I suggest three:


Personal skills include creativity, ability to interact with others, self-discipline, role modeling, and aptitude to learning.


Technical skills are often specific to a given industry or job. Examples include procedural and technical knowledge, techniques, and terminology.


Functional skills are generic work skills that are necessary in most work settings including planning, verbal and written communications, negotiating, problem solving, scheduling, analytical, and reporting skills.

Using these three categories will help you to capture a complete inventory of your skills and make it possible to analyze your strengths and weaknesses.

The following is a five-step process to assist you in mapping your skills.

Step 1. List your skills. Begin with skills in one category; after you feel you have identified a complete list, then move to the next category and finally on to the third category.

Step 2. Evaluate your skills in terms of strengths and weaknesses using a +5 to -5 scale. (+5 strongest, -5 weakest)

In addition to your own assessment of your skill?s strengths and weaknesses, you will also benefit by using other sources of input. Good sources may include your boss and co-workers. You can also find clues in previous performance reviews, if you have received them.

Step 3. Evaluate your skills in terms of how much you like and dislike the skill. Again, use a +5 to -5 scale. (+5 like the most, -5 like the least)

Step 4. Put your evaluations into a spreadsheet or table. Then use the data from steps 2 and 3 to create coordinates. Enter a data column.

Here is an example of the chart format to use to capture your skills inventory.

Sample Table for Recording Skill Assessment


Strength/Weakness Rating

(+5 to -5)

Like/Dislike Rating

(+5 to -5)

Skill Coordinates





5, 4





3, -4





-2, 3





-2, 3

Step 5. Plot the coordinates on a graph.

The four-quadrant graph provides an easy-to-use tool to model those skills at which you excel and those you enjoy applying. It also clarifies the skills at which you are weakest and those you dislike using. This graph will also help when in part two of this series we will be identifying the skills required for future positions. It will help to identify the fit between your skills and new position requirements.

After you have listed, evaluated, and plotted your skills inventory, you will begin to see what skills keep you motivated in a job (skills you like) as well as the ones that turn you off. Understanding this will help you select jobs that you enjoy and therefore jobs at which you will excel.

Going Forward

If you are in graduate school, you may have a clear vision of the next position you want to pursue. The challenge then, is to make yourself more marketable for this and future positions you may seek. Improving your marketability is especially critical in industry where your need to change jobs may not be self-initiated. Therefore, you need to learn to:

1)      Identify the skills you?ll need to acquire to qualify for potential future jobs. 2)      Reverse engineer your career path.

This article provided a framework that you can use to identify the skills that motivate you. Next month?s article will take you through a process that will provide you a roadmap to achieve your desired career path. After completing this process you will have the Insider?s Edge to increasing your marketability and being able to achieve your desired career path.