Developing Your Personal Inventory

An observation from the past 30 or so years of my career is that fate has put me into very different jobs and roles. I have worked for different types and sizes of companies, and currently work for a company that is the second largest in its market space from a global perspective.

What has been a pleasant surprise has been the fact that I have managed to be fairly successful in most all of these roles and environments. On the surface, “C Programmer” and “Account Executive” (aka “Sales Guy”) would seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. I similarly have met others that have enjoyed a wide variance of activity in their careers. Some have turned their hobbies or passions into their full time jobs, and others seem to move from one industry and role to another with apparent ease.

This seems to fly in the face of most corporate wisdom that requests a higher and / or broader degree of expertise in one’s chosen field, and often rewards for this by moving people up the promotional food chain.

Upon some reflection, I thought about the knowledge, skills, experience, aptitudes, and interests I have, and how I have (subconciously) been able to apply these things to roles and companies I have been at. This led to the creation of what I refer to as a “Personal Inventory” that brings all of our talents to visibility.

The premise behind the Personal Inventory (PI for short) is that we all have a lot more skills, talents, and knowledge than we typically give ourselves credit for. After 20 or so years in a career, do any of us remember the significant accomplishments we had early on? Do we even remember what made us successful at that time? Probably not, and we should as these talents are there, waiting, within us ready to be applied to the next challenge we face.

It’s like having a big toolchest full of tools, and forgetting what we can do with them!

The approach I use for the PI is to start an inventory of skills, talents, etc., de-coupling them from the roles we used them in and the jobs we’ve held. Then, we can start to look at how these characteristics can be combined for endeavors we thought were never possible before.

For example, I once found myself interviewing for a Director of Business Development position at a skilled care / assisted living facility, and thirty minutes into the interview it was apparent to both myself and the interviewer that I was a viable candidate for the job. How could this be? I never worked in health care, and this was about as far away from my core field of Information Technology as you could get.

A few weeks later, I thought the reasons I would have succeeded at that job include:

– Desire to do something socially worthwhile
– Understanding of the challenges that caring for a loved one brings to the family
– Ability to talk to relative strangers about difficult subjects

These characterisitics as well as others accumulated during the past thirty or so years could all be combined and applied to do something totally outside of the field I have been in. This led me to the creation of my own PI, which is an active collection of skills and talents and knowldege that makes up what I bring.

My PI has the following column headings, and under each I simply add things as I recognize them.

Job Titles: The formal titles of the jobs (both professional and personal) I’ve held. Ex: Programmer, Resource Manager, Managing Director, Coach, Treasurer, Master of Ceremonies, etc.).
Roles: The roles I’ve played in my professional and personal lives. Ex: HR manager, strategic business advisor, BOD member, sales person, mechanic, supervisor, event chairman, IT application designer, project manager, etc.
Industry and Company Experience: Self explanatory. The industries and companies I have become familiar with. Insurance, Contract Research, Education, Mail Order Sales, Automotive, etc. i0
Subject Matter Expertise and Business Knowledge: The knowledge areas and subject matter expertise I’ve accumulated. Consulting, Project Management, Staffing, Hiring, Business Plan Development, Recruiting, Hiring, Strategic Business Consulting, Profit and Loss Management, Budget Management, Auto Racing, etc.
Technical and Professional Skills: The detail technical and professional skills I’ve accumulated. Ex: Sales methodologies, negotiating skills, C programming, COBOL programming, business analysis, social networking, marketing for small business, etc.
Personal Characteristics and Aptitiudes: The things that are naturally a part of my make-up, that others would say about me, as well as the things that seem to come easy to me or that I seem to be naturally good at. Ex: Easy to talk with, high integrity, like meeting new people, good questioner, math, dependable, etc.
Passions, Interests, and Hobbies: The activities that I get excited about and am interested in. Another way to look at it is that these are the activities where we would spend our time if we were free to choose. Ex: Helping people through life transitions, sharing ideas / public speaking, cooking, driving skills, writing, history and research, auto racing, auto and motorcycle repair and restoration, career coaching / job hunting and advising, sales and marketing, teaching, etc.

I advise people on taking at least a week to put this together. Start it with as much as you can, and then set it aside. Come back and add to it as you come up with things. Go back to all your old performance reviews and read them to see what you accomplished. Ask a close friend for ideas. Better yet, keep it as an active document that you are always enhancing.

Take a look and see what you’ve collected. I am betting that it is way more than you ever thought. At the very least, you’ve done a huge exercise in self affirmation – please, no Stuart Smalley jokes!

Now, start thinking about how these abilities and such can be called upon and combined to do things you never dreamed were possible. All of a sudden, the field of play from a personal and career perspective has just expanded exponentially!

Creation of a “personal inventory” is by no means a new idea. Scour the web for sites on career management and job hunting and the like, and you will find several that begin with a person taking stock in their skills and talents, leading to a job hunting exercise of some sort.

My belief is that a PI is not something you only do when looking for a job. Instead, you do it throughout your life and career in order to realize your potential and spend your energy and talent where you want instead of where you feel you have to.

A sample PI is included in another post.