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Outplacement Advice – Everyone Has A Skill Stack and Should Learn How To Use It

I was invited by the SHRM-Atlanta Rising Leaders (HR professionals 35 and under) to give a presentation on Skill Stacking. The Rising Leader Committee Chair, Ebonee Younger, told me that several members of her group wanted to explore the topic and asked around for a subject matter expert on the topic. Shameless plug alert – they were referred to me.

Here is a download of what Skill Stacking is all about.

When I completed my presentation, I realized that Skill Stacking is something that can help you no matter where you are in your career. While my Rising Leader audience will be thinking of how they can build their Skill Stack over time, more mature professionals like me (yes – I am somewhat north of 35 – no comments, please) can leverage their skill stack to identify new career opportunities.

What is Skill Stacking?

Skill Stacking is how learning new skills, when combined with your existing skill set, can create a unique value proposition that can help you take your career in interesting and rewarding new directions. The math of Skill Stacking is that one plus one will equal three.  

 Skill-Stacking--665x435 (1)

Credit: Darius Foroux

The best way to explain the Skill Stacking concept is to show my career journey.

Starting the Journey – Leaving Undergrad

 PJL Skill Stack 1


I graduated with a teaching degree from the University of Michigan but found that there were no teaching opportunities in the metro Detroit area (my graduation coincided with one of the auto downturns). I explored some new career options and chose accounting. I thought that this would be a solid business career choice. (Why not? My Dad was an accountant.) There was, unfortunately, a big problem – I HATED ACCOUNTING.

Career Pivot 1: MBA – Marketing Degree

 PJL Skill Stack 2

I made my first career pivot by going to business school (Go, Spartans!). When I looked for a major that would best match my interests, I found that the field of marketing represented everything that I wanted in a business career:

  • Creativity
  • Strategy
  • Analysis
  • The opportunity to build and grow brands

I know that I found a home with marketing and a path towards a career that I would love.

Career Epiphany: Bootcamp on Communication

PJL Skill Stack 3

As I progressed in my marketing career, I had the opportunity to give a lot of presentations (product launches, advertising/promotional campaigns). There was one small problem – I SUCKED at presenting.

Fortunately, I had the good fortune to be mentored by a VP of Marketing on how to communicate effectively. He essentially put me through a communication bootcamp (tough love, to say the least) where he critiqued everything that I said or wrote. I came out of his bootcamp a more confident and effective communicator (thank you, Ken Niehaus, wherever you are). I also learned that strong communication skills are essential to be effective in any role.

Career Pivot 2: Transition Into Sales

PJL Skill Stack 4

As I advanced in my marketing career, I had numerous opportunities to present products and programs to some of the biggest retailers on the planet. As I was brought into more and more sales situations, I found my career moving more to the trade marketing and sales management side.

What I saw was that my Skill Stack of analytics, marketing, and communication gave me all of the tools to be effective in a sales role. Full disclosure – I would have never seen myself as someone who would be in sales (or would like to do it). What I found is that the Skill Stack I had developed helped to prepare me to take on this role in a capacity that was unique and fitting to me.

Career Pivot 3 – Entrepreneur/HR

PJL Skill Stack 5

The ups, downs, and disappointments of corporate marketing and sales gave me the motivation to make my latest career pivot to become an entrepreneur and business owner. I left big corporate and took over as the leader of The Frontier Group – an outplacement and career consulting firm.

The new role gave me the opportunity to leverage my entire Skill Stack:

  • Analytics – budgets and business (how to keep profitable)
  • Marketing – how to grow your business with limited resources
  • Communication – how to develop a value story that will connect with my clients
  • Sales – how to keep the lights on
  • Leadership – how to build a business that people want to be part of

I could also add to that I am now in Career Pivot 3.1. Last year, I merged The Frontier Group with the outstanding team at CMP in Dallas. Our merger is working because our leadership all brings complementary and unique skill sets to the party. 

Skill Stacking Lessons

Skill Stacking is an important tool that everyone should leverage in their career toolbox. My firm has worked with thousands of outplacement candidates over the years and have seen how walking candidates through a skill stacking exercise can up so many doors for them to explore. The outplacement candidates gain a renewed sense of career accomplishment when they build their own personal Skill Stack and see all of the ways that they can add value.

Some other things to consider:

  • Being OK at multiple things is not a substitute for being good at one particular skill.
  • Skill mastery is still vital.
  • Skill Stacking is how to draw upon everything that you have learned to help to make you the unique solution.
  • Skill Stacking is not always by design.
  • It comes from being open to learning and trying new things.
  • It comes from applying yourself – you cannot build an effective Skill Stack with surface-level knowledge of a variety of unrelated skills.
  • Skills that everyone (at least according to me) should have:
    • Analytics
    • Communication
    • Persuasion
    • Curiosity
  • Your Skill Stack will build over time.
  • There are no limits – keep learning – keep adding – keep succeeding.
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