How Skill Stacking Can Make You The Most Unique Applicant In A Pile Of Resumes

How Skill Stacking Can Make You The Most Unique Applicant In A Pile Of Resumes

In my early 20s, I was studying agricultural science at uni. But at the same time, I was playing in a rock band. You wouldn’t think the two are connected, but it turns out they are.

When I started my career as a research scientist I discovered that public speaking is an absolutely integral part of being a scientist. And most scientists are terrible at it. As I quickly discovered, my experience singing cringeworthy songs I wrote myself in front of crowds as a 20-year-old meant public speaking came naturally as a 25-year-old. And this helped to put me ahead early on.

Studying Spanish during my international development degree helped when my PhD fieldwork landed me in Mozambique. I had to plan and coordinate my research as well as supervise and instruct local students only in Portuguese. Learning to code for a notoriously difficult-to-learn statistics program during that PhD helped me get a job after my post-doc involving mobile app building for data collection. And my love for communications and my podcast show (which I started in my own time) helped convince my boss to change my job description to include filmmaking and photography. Today I’m a Research Director AND a Storytelling Director!

Young people are more educated than ever before

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It’s 2018 and making decisions about an education or career is fraught with danger. So how does a young person in 2018 set themselves up for a secure career? The secure, job for life is dead. Universities are producing more graduates than ever, and employers will drop workers as soon as they need to. Even if you’ve got a great education in a specialised field, a huge number of people all over the world could do the same job. According to OECD statistics, 49% of Australians aged between 25 and 34 years old had a degree in 2016. That number goes up to 60% in Russia, 61% in Canada, and 70% in Korea. And it’s on the rise. Besides, just about anyone can get the same quality education online through platforms such as Coursera, edX or Udemy. So how do we stand out when having a degree doesn’t set us apart as much as it used to?

The skill stack can be what sets someone apart

alien advice GIF by Look Human

I like to think of my various education, experiences and interests as a skill stack. I first came across the concept when listening to Sam Harris interview Dilbert creator Scott Adams (Adams calls it the ‘talent stack’). It refers to someone’s unique combination of skills that make them both unique and irreplaceable (or close enough to that). This idea is what led to the creation of double (or dual) degree programs at universities. But it can go so much further than just doing more study. It’s about personal traits, interests outside of work, and side skills that can come in handy in work all the time.

Listening to this description of the skill stack, I realised that without knowing, this was exactly what I had cultivated for myself. I’d always felt like someone with a double life. Sometimes I felt like an imposter. We are always pushed to put professional identity into a box. But the truth is that we all like to inhabit lots of different identities at once. We are multifaceted and it is the totality of who we are that makes us unique. And that uniqueness is as important at your job as it is at a party.

It’s helped me realise the future of my career won’t be about what I studied or my job title, it will be about everything else that makes me unique — the combination of things I can bring to the table. In my experience, employers who understand the value of a unique skill set, will tailor jobs to make the most of an applicant’s abilities. In these roles, they’ll let us decide where we work (thank you Internet), how we work (we’re not all morning people), and even what work we do.

In my case, I found the things that I loved, the things that made me curious and excited. And ran with them! I didn’t worry that they weren’t all connected directly (or at all) with what I was studying or my job. And I’m still taking up new side projects all the time. You never know when those skills or experiences will come in handy, and when they do, you’ll be irreplaceable.


We asked Caspar’s boss to tell us his side of the story. Find out what Caspar’s boss thinks about the skill stack.


Dr Caspar Roxburgh is Research Director and Storytelling Lead at AgImpact International and is based in Bangkok, Thailand. He is also the host of Binge Thinking Podcast.