Sometimes, you should pursue opportunities to gain a deeper level of experience with a skill you already have; other times, you should pursue opportunities that give you a broader skillset to draw on.
Today, you’ll learn about why building a broader skillset makes you more valuable and will help you to be ready when big new opportunities become available. And I’ll explain why you should look beyond your current job for opportunities to add new skills to your repertoire.
The value in learning new skills is in combining them to do unique new things. For each new skill you add to your repertoire, you could gain multiple new skills that you didn’t have before. So if you have two skills and you add a new skill, you may have more than three total skills now.
Why? Because that new skill might also augment your existing skills to create more new skills.
Let’s call this Skill Stacking. I didn’t invent this term, but I like it so I’m using it.
A Skill Stacking example
Let’s say you’re a video game character and you have two skills: jump and crouch. That’s all you can do. These are great for when things are coming at you because you can jump over them or crouch under them. But that’s about all they’re good for and your mobility is limited because you can’t really move side to side.
You learn a new skill—Run—and now you have three skills.
Ah ha! You no longer have to wait for things to come to you—you can go to them. You can explore and move around.
But here’s where the magic of Skill Stacking comes in to play.
You can also combine your new skill of running with your two previous skills of jumping and crouching. Because these three skills work so well together, you have gone from two to at least five skills by adding only one new skill to your repertoire. Here’s what you can do now:
- Run (new)
- BONUS: Jump across gaps by running and then jumping (new)
- BONUS: Slide under things by running and then sliding (new)
While you only added one new skill, you actually gained at least three new skills.
Sometimes, a new skill is just one new skill. But most of the time, you can combine a new skill with other skills you already had to create even more skills.
Each of those new skills—the ones you explicitly add, and the ones you gain by combining existing skills—may be valuable in its own right. And the more valuable skills you have, the more opportunities you’ll get and the more you can earn throughout your career.
A less abstract, real-world example
Let’s say you’re pretty good with Excel. You can use basic formulas, you’re comfortable with data manipulation like filtering and sorting, and you can create simple charts and graphs to display the data. Maybe you use this for understanding some of your projects at work.
Then you learn PowerPoint. Nothing fancy, but you can put some text and bullets in your presentations, and add graphics like screenshots and pictures.
You have now learned two skills: Excel and PowerPoint. But you also have access to a third skill: Reporting.
You can create charts and graphs in Excel, then include them in a PowerPoint presentation, and create useful reports for your team or for management.
So by adding “knows PowerPoint” to your repertoire, you added one new basic skill, and Skill Stacking means you also added another valuable skill that can help you communicate with management and gain more visibility for the other work you do.
You can also stack skills you learn outside of work
You can also look for opportunities to add new skills outside of work that might pay off for your career as well. Reading books on new subjects or picking up new hobbies could net you new skills that you can stack with the skills you typically use at work.
Maybe that podcast idea you’ve been knocking around will give a chance to work with the Marketing department to edit their new podcast. Or maybe that little toy React app you’ve been building on the weekends could give you a chance to build a prototype for a new app your company wants to launch.
Look for new skills you can stack so you’re ready when valuable new opportunities open up at work. Those opportunities will increase your earnings and add variety to your career.
Josh Doody is a professional salary negotiation coach who helps software developers get more high-quality job offers and negotiate higher salaries. You can learn his best salary negotiation strategies and tactics in his book Fearless Salary Negotiation: A step-by-step guide to getting paid what you’re worth. Originally published at FearlessSalaryNegotiation.com.