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5 Pillars: Skills To Pay the Bills

How to identify and develop the #1 hard skill and soft skill for Your Next Big Thing. Photo: Branko Stancevic


Skills training develops the necessary Capability for Your Next Big Thing.

10 Steps to Success

  1. (Optional: Use Events to locate any missing links below)

  2. Sit down with someone highly effective in your target role.

  3. Work together to identify 1 primary soft skill and 1 primary hard skill for the daily performance of that role. Ask questions to understand how this performance drives their key metrics and goals output.

  4. Rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 and compare the gap with your shadow.

  5. Validate and refine your observations with a Well-Placed Mentor.

  6. Create a time-bound plan to close the gap. Coaches can help.

  7. Start small and move quickly. Take a free skills training from their department, online, or from a professional association.

  8. Apply these skills in a Relevant Project.

  9. Culminate with a hard skills Certification.

  10. Apply for the role.

Skills training is fundamental for Your Next Big Thing. You control this - and it's a direct investment to your own Capability. You can begin these 10 steps right now, no matter your current confidence level. If you do, you will learn what YOUR bridge looks like and how long it takes to build.

I followed the 10 steps above to bridge my Next Big Thing. The 5 Pillars approach helped me reduce setbacks and overcome them faster. Below, I share my story and conclude with learnings and recommendations.

Here's how I started.

I looked up a friend who made the change I wanted to make. He had a similar background and had grown highly effective in his new role. Before long, he was traveling to London with his Solutions Architect to meet the founders and C-suite in his top accounts.

Identify & Validate Target Skills

I invited them for dinner and drinks and observed their dynamic. I asked each of them what was great about working with the other and how they approached their role. Understanding 'what good looks like' in the target role helped define my 5 Pillars.

The next day I asked to shadow them as they prepared for customer conversations. I simply worked from the same room and soaked it up.

I completed 3 more coffee meetings with people doing, managing, or supporting my target role.

At this point I had a grip on what I believed were the #1 hard skill and #1 soft skill required. I scored myself on these two skills. To do so, I looked back at my own key achievements and performance review feedback.

Create Your Plan

I took this hypothesis and self-assessment and validated it with a Well-Placed Mentor. Together, we created a time-bound growth plan for me to close gaps within 6 mos.

Problem: I was in e-commerce, and had no IT sales experience. My current role was not as demanding or complex. I rarely had to negotiate terms or pitch technical products.

Soft Skill: Negotiation

My current department didn't require advanced negotiation skills. I realized I had to look outside for training.

I got creative and looked at other departments which did require these skills. I figured they might offer the training I needed.

I found the department managing decades-long relationships with the largest global brands. They perform annual terms negotiations. I searched our training portal and found they had developed a highly-effective training. Naturally, it covered advanced persuasion and negotiation techniques to serve their employees.

Although it wasn't expected for my current role, and I wasn't an ordinary attendee, I signed up and went.

The training was outstanding. It directly addressed skills I needed for my next big thing. I debriefed learnings with my Mentor. He pointed out ways I could create opportunities to practice these skills in my current role. I created a new Project to do so.

Hard Skill: IT - Cloud Architecture on AWS

I am passionate about computers, but I had close to zero experience with IT sales and the cloud services industry.

This was a problem.

Why should a hiring manager select someone with no industry experience, when they have 5 other proven candidates in the pipeline?

I tried to skip the hard work and apply directly anyway. I made it to the final interview.

They went with another candidate.

I took a step back and realized I had to work harder at this, or give up and stay in my current industry.

I didn't want to go through the 5 hour interview and case study again - and not get results. I decided to give it one more shot, but do it differently.

This time, make the hiring manager's decision easier. Create concrete Reasons to Believe, so someone could speak on my behalf on the debrief. Point to tangible specifics, pound the table for me.

Relevant Projects

I didn't have experience in my target industry. So I created a Relevant Project in my current 9-5. The results and skills spoke directly to the hiring team. Yet I made sure that my current manager and team looked good and the work aligned with real business outcomes.

I was 'faking it til I made it' on that Project. Outside of 9-5 I was studying for the hard skill certification. During the day, I would ask questions and try out my new skills. This wasn't easy, and I spent a lot of time reading documentation and going to office hours for help.

As the initial results and stakeholder feedback came in, I realized how much progress I'd made. The projects for practicing my new skills were delivering measurable results. I'd grown and could speak with confidence about why and how I'd performed.

There was one missing piece. Something concrete, on paper, the hiring manager could point to.

#1 Certification

Three weeks before the interview, my mentor reached out.

'How's your studying going with the certification?'

'It's great - I think I can sit the exam in 4-6 weeks.'

'I was talking with HR, and could you pass it before the interview takes place? This would really help your case.'

My head was pounding, but I slept on it. I decided to go for it, and passed the 3-hour exam while I was preparing the interview case study.

It was a pain, but I had learned my lesson from the first interview. I didn't want to get rejected and wait another 6 months, or give up my Next Big Thing.

Interview Time: Showcase Reasons to Believe

During the next interview I spoke about my hard skills project, the IT stakeholders it required and how I hacked the solution.

I cited the soft skills project I created, and how it required negotiation opportunities with CEOs for an exciting pilot program.

It worked. I could almost see them ticking the boxes as my interview progressed.

They asked how I managed to pass the certification before the interview. I spoke about my passion for computers, and explained how I needed the certification learning to finish my Project.

When they asked about negotiation, I agreed that this was an important qualification. I explained how I had worked with mentors, shadowed top performers and attended the best skill trainings I could find. I also cited the three highly recommended 3 books I read to orient myself for my target industry and role.

I got the role. After 18 months of experimentation and learning this 5 Pillars method the hard way, my bridge was complete.

Conclusion: Reasons to Believe

In our skills based economy, training builds Capability. I benchmarked with peers and Mentors. I created Relevant Projects to deploy these skills and deliver measurable results. Together with the Certification, this created Credibility and Reasons to Believe.

[up wins that become your __ stories and Reasons to Believe

-you need to unblock your own delivery & problem solving

-after a promotion or new role, or in an investor meeting, do not be Credible and Visible but not Capable]

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