Skill Portability: Representative Skills and Portability

(9/17/2016 – These posts have been expanded in a book, Skill Portability: A Guide To Moving Skills Between Jobs)

So we’re discussing how you can port skills from job to job and career to career.  I use the acronym DARE to represent the different kinds of Skill Portability – Direct, Advantageous, Representative, and Enhancing.  I’ve already covered Direct and Advantageous, so it’s time to get to Representative.

There are some skills that really don’t matter to the job.  They may not even provide any advantages.  They could be irrelevant, they could be in your past, they could be from a previous career.

Think of the skills that you leave behind when you move up in the world.  Project Managers that were once Engineers no longer program.

Think of the skills that change when you switch professions.  That old software package you used at one publisher isn’t used at the new one.

Think of the skills that change with time.  Those computer language that no longer are the hip thing to write in, the database no one uses, the vendor long gone and bought out.

These skills and knowledges sound useless, left to the necropolis of past careers and past experiences, but they’re not useless it all.  They speak of what you did, of how you got where you are.  They tell stories of who you were and what you became, and the speak, in a way of what you may be.

In short, they’re Representative of who you are and of your career and life trajectory.  They speak of you – you just don’t use them anymore.

Representative skills are things I also call “historical” skills or “testimonial skills.”  You don’t use them – in some cases you can’t use them – but they still tell future employers and clients and co-workers about you.

You just have to use them right on your resume and in your interviews.  So take a look at those moldy skills and near-forgotten abilities, and ask yourself this:

  1. Does it show something about you?  Perhaps it shows how you learned, or that you had access to specific knowledge, or that you had a particular experience.  If you learned an obscure software package or dealt with an odd services company it shows your ability to learn or interact.
  2. Does it speak of your history?  Perhaps you want to include skills on a resume or mention them in interviews if it shows how you’ve evolved and grown.  If you’re a manager who was once an engineer, those musty programming skills show you still have some knowledge of engineering (something I often use myself).
  3. Does it show specialist knowledge?  Even if something is no longer useful, there might be seeds of unique knowledge in your ledger of unused skills.  Perhaps you are always the person who always ends up fixing ancient software installs and is thus a good researcher.
  4. Does it make a good anecdote? Sometimes it’s just fun to talk about and shows more about you and who you are (and were)..
  5. Does it show competency?  If you were once good at something you no longer practice, at least you were once good.

I recommend, when you look over the skills for your resume and to mention in interviews, you don’t immediately reject the out-of-date and unused ones.  Ask how they are Representative of you, who you are, and what you do.  There may be a lot there.

Now having said this, Representative skills are a bit more challenging to employ in your career.  I find they usually fit into the following categories:

  1. Resume fuel.  Some skills you may not use may at least get mentioned on your resume (say under a past job summary).  If the skills aren’t used but are really important for showing who you are, you might create a separate listing of skills or a blurb stating them.  It may even be as simple as “Strong knowledge of programming from past engineering career” or something.
  2. History and Testimony.  In your resume, cover letter, or in an interview these non-used abilities may still come up, supporting the narrative of your career.  I like to identify specific ones to use that illustrate certain points (one of my favorites is to demonstrate how long I’ve done this by siting when Java’s workflow was different).
  3. Bonding.  Realizing that your past skills mean you can connect with others is very valuable. Swap stories, connect with your co-workers, use your past to build a bridge with them.  I do this a lot.
  4. Perspective.  Your past skills, even unused, may give you useful historical perspectives on the job and in your career.  They are Representative of you.

So, those old things you no longer do?  They’re still useful in finding and doing a new job.  Just not always the way you may think.  You’ve got years, maybe decades of experience, so you may want to examine your past a bit deeper.

Progeek Portability Tip:  Representative Portability:
OK Progeeks, let’s look at the specific advantages and challenges you have in finding Representative  skills and porting them.


  • We may not want to admit a skill is no longer used, and can actually cling to it, making us look oddly out of date as simply, we’re not that good at it anymore.
  • We’ve done a lot of stuff and may have trouble figuring out just what skills we want to use as Representative skills in the first place.
  • Some of our skills that may not be professional and are no longer used may not even be thought of.  You may have forgotten who you ran that anime club, and thus forget all the organizational skills you used to use.


  • Being the geeks we are, we probably have a pretty good awareness of all we did and no longer due just because we’re into it.
  • Being “into” what we do also gives us a good sense of history, all the easier to repurpose unused skills into being Representative.
  • If we want to revive skills or determine their relevance, we likely have a community we can call on to do it.
  • We’ve used our skills under unusual situations, considering our lifestyles, and that may further enhance how they can speak about who we are.

Sure, something may be history in your career – but history is the seed of the future.  Some of these Representative skills may not be so dead yet . . .

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, nerd and geek culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at