1. Career Advice
  2. Career development
  3. Why T-shaped skills are so valuable
Why T-shaped skills are so valuable

Why T-shaped skills are so valuable

Artwork by: Antonina Kasyanikova

  • What are T-shaped skills?
  • Why are T-shaped skills important?
  • 3 Tips to improve your T-shaped skills
  • 1. Identify your current T-shape
  • 2. Secure feedback
  • 3. Create a T-shaped skill development plan
  • How to sell your T-shaped skills (with examples)
  • Key takeaways

In today’s job market, having T-shaped skills makes you a prized employee. In this article, we explain everything you need to know about being T-shaped and how this is valuable to your career development.

T-shaped skills may sound like a tricky yoga pose, where you’re balancing on one leg and forming the rest of your body into the horizontal T-bar. In reality, T-shaped skills are all about being adaptable, flexible, and resilient, and they can win you respect in the workplace. 

In today’s job market, possessing T-shaped skills can really set you apart. Individuals who are specialized in one or two disciplines but also capable of learning and enhancing their skills in broader areas are true gold to an employer. Possessing great T-shaped skills can also open lots of doors and advance your career, so it’s a win-win situation.

Let’s spill the T and find out more about these highly valued skills. In this article, we explore:

  • What are T-shaped skills?

  • Why are T-shaped skills important? 

  • 3 tips to improve your T-shaped skills

  • How to sell your T-shaped skills (examples)

Statistical Insight

In a McKinsey Global Survey, 87 percent of companies surveyed recognized that addressing skill gaps was a major priority for their organization. The top three potential skill gap areas were identified as data analytics, technology, and executive management. 

What are T-shaped skills?

T-shaped skills are a metaphor to describe an individual who has a high-level of expertise in one or two specific areas, combined with broader skills, knowledge, and experience across many other areas. Think of the letter T, with the vertical stem (or the leg you are balancing on in yoga!) illustrating your depth of experience in a specific discipline, then the horizontal bar representing your knowledge over a broader range of disciplines.

For example, if you’re working in the field of marketing, your in-depth expertise may be in the area of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). But, you may have broader skills, knowledge, and experience of content marketing, social media, and influencer marketing as well as soft skills in creative problem-solving, communication, and cross-functional collaboration.

Why are T-shaped skills important?

Clearly, T-shaped employees tick a lot of boxes for employers. Rather than hiring an I-shaped employee (a specialist in one area) or appointing an employee who is more of a generalist (jack of all trades), a T-shaped employee combines both these attributes. This is a winning combination that can directly contribute to the company’s growth and success.

Becoming T-shaped is also a more dynamic approach to your career development. Gone are the days of working your way up the traditional career ladder or following pre-set career pathways. The modern workplace is all about being adaptable and flexible, with the ability to shift around based on your experience and career opportunities. These experiences allow your T-shape to continually evolve, thereby making you more resilient and adaptable, which can lead to even more options in your career. 

3 Tips to improve your T-shaped skills

Whether you’re an entry-level candidate or a seasoned professional, honing your T-shaped skills is important at any stage of your career. Here are some top tips to get you started:

1. Identify your current T-shape

Create a T-shaped diagram with your general capabilities listed across the horizontal bar. These are areas where you have a solid knowledge base and can apply this experience in a practical context. There is no ideal number of capabilities as this will very much depend on your career level and experience to date.

Next, create the vertical bar with your specialties. It’s typically one area, but may well extend to two or three areas. This is, essentially, where your in-depth expertise lies that you have developed via studies, experience, and training.

Expert Tip

When analyzing your current T-shape, think about the business environment in which you operate. Would enhancing your technical skills help the business? Could cross-training in financial analysis improve your ability to control project costs? Would a communications course enhance your verbal interactions? This will help you pinpoint any T-shaped gaps.

2. Secure feedback

Don’t hesitate to ask career coaches, managers, colleagues, clients, friends, and family for their take on your T-shaped skills. They may come up with something you hadn’t considered before and help you explore development areas.

3. Create a T-shaped skill development plan

Combine your analysis and feedback to create a skill development plan to enhance your capabilities, whether across general, specialist, or both skill areas. One great way to enhance your T-shaped skills is via cross-training—where you complete training in areas adjacent to your specific area of expertise. Check out reputable online courses (via Coursera or LinkedIn for example) which enable you to upskill at your convenience.

  • Narrow your focus on one skill area if you’re looking to become an expert. Trying to become an expert in multiple areas at the same time is likely to lead to burnout and not Subject Matter Expert (SME) status.
  • Forget to continually enhance your knowledge base. Read books, blogs, and articles, take online courses, attend conferences and network with industry professionals.

How to sell your T-shaped skills (with examples)

Once you’ve identified and polished your T-shaped skills, highlight them on your resume for your next job search. Outlining both hard skills (industry-specific and technical skills) and soft skills (e.g. critical-thinking, communication, and leadership) the right way will alert the hiring manager of your t-shaped capabilities:

  • T-shaped skills for a financial analyst resume: Extensive knowledge of financial analysis, accounting, and financial modeling, advanced knowledge of MS Excel, SQL and Python, forecasting, strategic planning, analytical reasoning, leadership and collaboration.  

  • T-shaped skills for a web developer resume: Expert using HTML / CSS and Javascript, responsive design, testing and debugging, front- and back-end development, advanced knowledge of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) project management, critical thinking and analysis, articulate communicator, detail-oriented.

  • T-shaped skills for a HR manager resume: Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), expert in learning and development, change management, data analytics, people strategy, emotional intelligence, decision-making, communication, leadership and coaching.

If you’re looking to rise above the rest with an impressive professional resume that shows off your T-shaped skills, check out Career.io’s Resume Builder to get started. 

Key takeaways

  1. T-shaped skills are extremely valuable in today’s job market. Employers are on the lookout for candidates with high-level expertise in one area, combined with broader skills, knowledge, and experience to contribute across other areas.

  2. Honing your T-shaped capabilities will make you more adaptable, flexible, and resilient in the workplace, leading to new opportunities and advancement in your career.

  3. Identify your existing T-shaped skills, reach out for feedback from trusted advisors, and fill any T-shaped gaps via additional training.

  4. Don’t forget to sell your T-shaped skills on your resume so the hiring manager is aware that you are a talented T-shaped professional.

Share this article