You have been working for a long time now. “I know this job,” you say, “but what are my marketable skills?” You have probably forgotten how much you really know. Now that you’re thinking about independent consulting, there are buried treasures in your past that you must unearth, so let’s go on an archeological dig.

The world of archeology may seem glamorous and exciting, but as any archeologist will tell you, it’s also a lot of hard work. To get started, set up an Excel Workbook with a series of worksheets. On each you will identify key categories, tasks and skills, memorable details, important outcomes, and impacts.

Plan to spend a couple of hours at a time over the next several weeks completing your skills inventory. You’ll be surprised how quickly time flies, because it’s fun and it’s all about you!

Here are some tips for your archeological dig:

1.      Select three sites that will yield important artifacts.

  • List job titles, functional areas, and responsibilities.
  • Think about daily routines. Walker (2000) suggests imagining yourself in that job again, visualizing the people, the sights, sounds, daily routines, and crises. What were the highlights? The flash points? Write a few sentences that capture your work life then.
  • Recall positive feedback. When someone told you that you were doing a great job, what was it they liked so much?
  • List major successes—key projects, innovative designs, cutting-edge methods, knowledge translation including training, articles, and presentations, awards, and public recognition. What was your role?

2.      Consider adjacent sites. These can also yield important finds. Repeat the process, setting up a spreadsheet for each:

  • Volunteer experience—what did you learn about interpersonal skills, communication skills, management and leadership skills, marketing, board and policy work, budgeting and finance, public relations, special events, and hands-on interaction with clients?
  •  Professional organizations and communities of practice—what learning opportunities, networking, mentoring, and leadership opportunities expanded your skill set?
  •  Recent training and education—what universities, institutes, workshops, webinars, or internal training (e.g., on diversity, sexual harassment, workplace safety) have you attended since you’ve been on the job?
  •  Hobbies or an avocation—what extracurricular activities have excited you the most over the years that still give you a thrill? What skills developed there intersect with your professional interests?

3.      Evaluate the quality of these early finds. Target the areas likely to yield more treasures. Gather the tools and resources you need for further excavation. Set up a tracking system, coding and labeling as you go, collecting important documents and key contact information.

4.      Dig deeper in selected areas. Sift through the debris and look for buried attributes, skills, and lessons learned. Treat exciting finds with special care, identifying unique features. Preserve related evidence. Contact colleagues who were involved in some of these special moments and take them to lunch. Ask them what they remember about that time. What led to that success?

5.      Determine the value of your finds. Create an inventory of your recovered skills and talents. Develop a narrative to tell their story. Why are you so proud of them? How did your organization benefit? What difference did you make in the lives of others? What was the impact of these endeavors?

When you finish your treasure hunting adventure and complete your skills inventory, you will have a much better sense of the “real you” and the skills and talents that will define your consulting career. Next up: it’s time to get out and do some networking.


Barrington, G. V. (2012). Consulting Start-up and Management: A Guide for Evaluators and Applied Researchers. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Walker, J.E. (2000) The Age Advantage: Making the most of your midlife career transition. New York: Berkley.

Photo: Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project.

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