How to Talk About Upgrading Skills in an Assessment Interview or Job Interview

Have you learned a new skill or two in the past two years? If you answered “yes”, you are in good company. During the pandemic shutdowns, many workers have seized an unprecedented opportunity to take the time they once spent commuting and devote it to taking online courses. A 2020 OECD note on COVID-19 reports that the spike in interest in these courses was a global phenomenon, with search terms related to “e-learning” and “e-learning” having quadrupled in various countries during the first months of the pandemic.

However, once you complete a course, an obvious question arises: what now?

While some people took online courses as a way to explore their hobbies and passions, others were specifically interested in improving their job performance. The good news is that no matter what group you belong to, you can leverage your recent training to move up the career ladder, provided you know the right way to talk about it.

Whether you’re preparing for your next performance review or applying for a new position, now is a great time to think about how to discuss your recent upskilling attempt with supervisors and hiring managers. Here are some tips to help you get started:

Don’t: Minimize the importance of completing a course. When you’re taking an online course, especially on a topic seemingly unrelated to your profession, it’s tempting to be too modest. You may want to catch yourself saying, “Oh, I decided to do something random. But following a course of several weeks is very different from going on a weekend to bungee jump. Completing it requires long-term commitment, a strong work ethic, and time management skills, especially when you balance it with other responsibilities. Focus on anything that helps you stand out as a strong and reliable candidate.

Don’t: Admit that your work-life balance is unstable to complete the training. There is such a thing as being too committed to your upbringing. If you were late for a work deadline because you were busy perfecting a soufflé for your baking class, offering that admission probably won’t impress your current or potential employer. This may seem like obvious advice, but in ordinary conversation it’s easy to slip up and confess something you shouldn’t. Therefore, keep your professional environment in mind and don’t let your guard down too much.

Don’t: Share your dating plans. When an adult decides to perfect himself, it is often by thinking of his imaginary career. Maybe they’re considering moving from bookkeeping to web design, or from lawyering to penmanship. Authenticity is good, but don’t be so authentic that you tell your supervisor or hiring manager about it – they won’t look kindly on you if your end goal is to leave their industry for pursue your dreams.

Now that you know how to avoid getting your foot in your mouth, here are some steps I recommend. can To do:

Do: Discuss your background. Let’s be honest: not everyone will take the time to go over your self-assessment or resume in great detail. This is especially true in the era of the Great Resignation, when managers spend countless hours recruiting new employees and go out of their way to keep the ones they have. To publicize your accomplishments, it’s important that you raise the subject personally rather than waiting for the person you’re talking to to do so.

Do: Review your new skills before having a discussion with managers. Maybe you finished your course just before that big job interview or performance review, or maybe it’s been a few months. Either way, it wouldn’t hurt to remember what you actually did during the class so you can drop awesome details in real time. The last thing you want to do is find yourself digging into your own memory during a critical conversation with a hiring manager or supervisor.

Do: Explain how the course relates to job performance. Sometimes it’s easy to make a direct connection between your work and the course you’ve chosen. No one will be surprised, for example, when a financial analyst decides to hone their Excel skills. However, they might be more skeptical if that same analyst says she is training in a creative field, like songwriting or food photography. Surprise the skeptics with this fact: Creative activity that isn’t work-related can actually help workers perform better at their jobs, according to research published in The Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology. (Bonus tip: Casually noting this discovery in conversation will suggest to employers that you’re also well-read.)

The bottom line is that by taking the time and energy to improve skills, you’ve embodied a growth mindset that managers love. Your initiative and commitment speaks volumes about your potential as an employee, and savvy employers will hear this message loud and clear.


Matt Cooper is the CEO of Skillshare, an online learning community.

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