Why I Wrote It: Skill Portability

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Skill Portability is an book that comes out of a weird phase of my career writing. It’s a lovely little book, but one I didn’t intend to write until I thought about it.

Many years ago I had an obvious insight on my writing – a good writer keeps writing books. It improves skills, it shares knowledge, and it gets your name out there. As I wrote about careers as well as creativity, I asked myself “what more should I write.”

That’s when I realized that a major part of career advice is transferring skills between one job and another. This is important in general, but moreso for my audiences of fans and geeks – people who want to move their interesting skillset elsewhere. That’d be a great book . . .

. . . because I’d already written it.

Many, many years ago I had written a series of columns on transferring skills between jobs, careers, and even hobbies. I had thought of it as done, but really, sitting on my blog they weren’t doing much (and they’d aged a bit).

But reviving these columns? Expanding them and rewriting them? That had potential for a new book and for helping people even more.

But were they good enough? Well, yes – because I’d already had a system.

The columns themselves outlined a system to analyze how useful skills were – called DARE. It stood for Direct, Advantageous, Representative, or Enhancing – four categories of skills people have. A pile of columns is one thing that may or may not be “bookworkthy” – but one with a system? Something with structure can be built on.

An organized way of thinking about anything, from recipies to job skills, is something that people appreciate. A system allows people to easily understand and employ whatever you’re teaching them. A system also helps one structure something for communicating – like, say a book.

It didn’t take much to turn the columns into a more comprehensive book, and one that’s a nicely useful and light guide.

The real lesson here is that if you think of taking previous writing and expanding it, it helps if it has some organized format to begin with. A system like the above leads to a book. A short story with good structure can be the center of a novel. Structure is a sign you might want to take something farther.

Conversely, if you are writing something or creating something you might think of expanding, consider how it’s organized. Build a system to organize your writing. Put parts of a speech into a clear mnemonic. Something to give it form – because that form can be more easily built on.

Also I’m glad to write up this blog post – because it helps me see the value of the forms I build so automatically. This nice little book wouldn’t have existed without my habitual organization.

Hmmm, maybe another lesson on writing is write on why you write . . .

Steven Savage

Skill Portability Roundup

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

Looking at those huge amounts of skills you’ve gained over the years and wonder how they apply to a new job or a new career?  Here’s a quick and handy guide for you!

Exploring Skill Portability – Why you want to do it, and the DARE system.

Direct Skills – Those directly applicable.

Advantageous Skills – Those that give you advantages.

Representative Skills – Those that tell a story.

Enhancing Skills – Those that enhance other skills.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, nerd and geek culture at http://www.nerdcaliber.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached



Skill Portability: Enhancing Skills and Portability

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

Now we come to the end of our series about Skill Portability – that important yet oft-ignored need to figure how your skills can be moved to a new job or a new career.  In many cases you’ll need to explain to people just how they’ll be useful anyway in the interview process before you even get the job in the first place.

In order to provide a quick mnemonic about how to port your skills, I developed the acronym DARE (which is the least annoying one I could come up with) to classify the four ways skills can be “ported” in careers: Direct, Advantageous, Representative, and Enhancing.  I’ve covered the first three (those that are useful, those that are “extras”, and those that show history).

Now it’s on to Enhancing skills.

Enhancing skills for my money are some of the most forgotten skills next to the “Representative”, historical skills.  Of course that means they can be extremely important, because your competition in the job search aren’t thinking of them, and you can surprise employers and clients who aren’t looking for them.

Enhancing skills are those that are not relevant to the job directly.  They aren’t necessarily historical.  On their own they may not provide any advantages.  However they are the skills that enhance the other skills, especially the Direct skills, letting you do more.

Think of them as skills, abilities, and knowledges that improve what you can do with other skills.    They “bling them out,” to use a metaphor I hope I will never use again (but no promises).

Being good at art may not be necessarily relevant to your job, but if you’re the guy with the gift of gab doing all the big presentations, suddenly that enhances your ability to do it.

Your mediocre skills in Japanese suddenly become big Enhancers of your management skill when you’ve got to deal with offshore teams.  It’d never get you the job, it may not even be required, but it suddenly makes you much better at what you do.

Your number-crunching skills may not be required for that programming job, even after you took those stats courses in college.  However if you show how they help you do performance evaluations, they improve your chances of getting that job.

Enhancing skills make you better at what you’re getting hired or contracted to do.  Enhancing skills add new options to what you can do on the job that others may not have.  Enhancing skills broaden what you can do.

I find Enhancing skills usually fall into these categories:

  1. Specialist knowledge that combines with other skills, like cultural knowledge or industry knowledge.
  2. Communications skills of some kind.  These skills can also fall into the Direct and Advantageous categories as well.
  3. Specific software packages and tools.  This can also fit in any of the other categories, and is sometimes useful as it gives you options (especially if you know of options others don’t).
  4. Analysis skills like statistics, research, etc.  These can enhance your ability to do a job by showing how you can understand and process data.  They may also fall into the Advantageous category.

My favorite way to employ Enhancing skills – and what I’m biased to thinking is the best way – is to use them as special edges (a  lot like Advantageous skills).  You whip them out to show how you’re better able to do the job, able to do it in a unique manner, and able to do things others can’t.  Enhancing skills make more of what you have.

Of course there’s more to this than showing “because I know X I can do Y better.”  This makes you memorable, because people will remember how you explained things a bit differently.  This also makes you unique as your Enhancing skills can help differentiate you from others.  Standing out helps you stay in people’s minds (which is usually a good thing unless you really botch it).

Enhancing skills take a little work to inventory and figure out, but they’re worth understanding.  You’ll also probably surprise yourself.

Progeek Portability Tip:  Enhancing Portability
We Progeeks face common and unique challenges in assessing Enhancing skills.


  • Enhancing skills can get iffy or fuzzy, so you want to call them out when they’re specific and you’re sure they’ll help out.  As we probably acquire a lot of these as geeks, it takes extra thought.
  • Make sure they’re relevant, it’s easy to go too far with this and see possibilities that really won’t be relevant, especially if you really get into it.  This is another symptom of the fact that, as pro geeks, we learn a lot.
  • You need to give specific examples of how Enhancing skills work, otherwise they’re not going to help you in your job search – and ones people will understand.  Make sure you can translate your skills well to your audience.
  • Your Enhancing skills may indeed be useful, but remember that they may be hard to communicate to non-geeks.  You may need to show them, which may be hard to do.


  • Our ability to learn so much in our geeky interest almost certainly means we’ve picked up some good Enhancing skills.
  • As noted good Enhancing skills help you be memorable, and you’ve probably had quite a few memorable experiences as a geek you can use to illustrate Enhancing skills.
  • As noted above, you need to show that these skills are relevant, but there’s a good chance your interests have produced some hard evidence or references.

Enhancing skills are your unexpected edges and advantages.  Use them well.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, nerd and geek culture at http://www.nerdcaliber.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached