Career Key

Author: Career Key's President and CEO, Juliet Wehr Jones, GCDF, J.D.

Monday, July 2, 2012

How to Improve Job Skills - Part 2: (Not So) Basic Skills

In part 2 of 6, we’ll talk about ways to strengthen basic job skills – in ways that are relevant to students and adults changing careers.  Before you brush aside “basic skills” as too “basic” for you, take a closer look at them. For example, writing skills means more than just the ability to handwrite a sentence. It includes using the computer to communicate ideas and information.

Download the list of skills and their description in the Foundation Job Skills handout at The Career Key website if you haven’t already.  Our affordable printable e-books “Parent’s Role…” and “Advice and Actions for Smart Career Decisions” contain this handout – your eBookstore purchase help support our public service mission.

In the workplace, people use these skills differently than in school – in ways you may not have thought about. There is more to learn than you might think. If you’re just joining this series, I recommend starting with our optimistic Part 1.

Basic Skills are the first group of Foundation Skills, skills all jobs require in the 21st century. They are (click here for the more complete Foundation Skill descriptions):

  • Read for detail quickly and accurately;
  • Find meaning of unknown or technical words and phrases; and
  • Use the Internet and computers to find information.

  • Communicate thoughts, ideas, information, and messages in writing – on paper and using a computer;
  • Record information completely and accurately;
  • Check, edit and revise documents for correct information, grammar, etc.
  • Using a computer to communicate information.

  • Use numbers, fractions, and percentages to solve practical problems;
  • Read tables, diagrams and graphs;
  • Use computers to communicate data and ideas.

  • Organize your thoughts and explain how things work, procedures to follow;
  • Speak clearly and use the appropriate tone and level of complexity for your audience;
  • Ask questions when needed and answer questions from the audience. 

  • Listen carefully to what someone says and how they say it, to understand the content and the feelings the speaker expresses.
  • Respond to what a person says in a way that shows you understand them.

Real-Life Example using all the Basic Skills– Police Officer. 
When called to a domestic violence incident, the officer listens carefully while interviewing witnesses and mediating disputes.  The officer explains to the parties what happens next in the process, especially if someone is arrested or a child is put into protective custody.  The officer records and submits witness statements by laptop computer using the Internet.  The officer can be questioned in court by lawyers and judges about the accuracy of that information.

Math skills come into play especially if the police department uses data-driven policing (see a video here). An officer is asked to gather data (location, type of incident, etc.) that is then used to make a graph or visual used to find relationships between types of crimes and location. An officer could be asked to interpret that data. Officers also use math skills in accident reconstruction; they measure the accident scene and show visually how the accident likely occurred.

Activities to Strengthen Basic Skills
These activities are a starting place for you - come up with your own that are the most relevant to a career option that interests you.

  • Go to the library and pick a magazine you might not normally read but has an article that interests you. For example, you might not read the Economist or Vanity Fair but you see an article about a type of business or politics that interests you. Read the article carefully, finding words that you don’t know or are uncertain what they mean.  Try to figure out the word's meaning from the surrounding sentences or context. If you need to check your answer, look it up in a dictionary.  You’ll find that most of the time you can figure out a word’s meaning by “reading for meaning.”
  • Use an Internet browser to search for a business near you, like a type of restaurant. What search terms work the best in finding a restaurant?  Is there a difference between browsers? (Try Chrome, Safari or Bing) Do quotation marks around words make a difference?
  • Practice reading ideas and picturing them in your mind.  The next time you read a story, try drawing pictures of the people and the settings. Try looking up individual houses or condos for sale in your neighborhood on a real estate website. After reading the description, picture the house in your mind without looking through any online photos of it. Go look at the house and see how it differs from what you pictured.  What information was left out of the ad and why?
  •  Also try the graph creation exercise listed below for improving math skills. 

  • Create your own front page news article based on an event (real or fiction). Use your favorite newspaper as an example. Write a catchy headline and include photos with captions relevant to the article.
  • Go to the Grammar Girl website and read the “Top 5 Tips” box. Have you ever used the wrong word by mistake?  What rules do you have trouble remembering?  Pick one problem you keep having and practice creating sentences that use the words correctly. 

  • Learn how to create a graph. Ideally use a software program like Microsoft Word or Google Docs that you would normally be using at work.  Pick a fun subject you’d like to learn more about. For example, what animal moves the fastest? (the cheetah, at 70 mph) Find the speeds of six other animals and create a graph with the data.
  • Explore a topic of financial literacy (See for topics, resources)  Learn how to answer questions, like, if I make a $300 purchase with a credit card with 18% APR interest, how long will it take me to pay of the loan just making a minimum balance payment of $20? (18 months at a total cost of $340)  Can you find a calculator on the Internet that will help you answer that question? 

  • Practice speaking in front of mirror, where you will see what others see. Notice your facial expressions, posture, eye contact, and gestures. Any interview should be practiced in front of a mirror until your answers become natural and easy.
  • Record yourself talking with a friend or giving a presentation. Most cell phones and computers have a way to do this.  When you playback the recording, listen for “you know”, “like” or other mannerisms that are not as professional as you would like. Do you moderate your voice? In making improvements, focus on one thing at time. Practicing in front of a mirror or rehearsing a speech or answer several times will help.

  • Find a partner to help you.  Use active listening skills as your partner describes an emotional situation. Try summarizing and restating to your partner what they said and how they felt, without being judgmental.
  • Watch a newscast or television show with your partner.  Afterwards, summarize the plot, describing the major characters and what they did. Ask your partner to critique your summary.

I hope this gives you ideas for creating your own activities to practice these skills, connecting them to the careers that interest you.  Imagine how these skills might be used in a job that interests you. Conduct an informational interview with someone in that career and ask him or her how they use those skills in their work.

1 comment:

Grays said...

Hello Juliet,
Improving skills is vital for your career success; reading, writing, speaking and math skills are essential requirements for career thus we should improving them gradually.

Furthermore, your blog has very informative stuff to build a successful career. Thanks a lot for sharing this stuff.


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