It’s normal to reach a point in your work life when you feel your progress has slowed or even stopped. You may have decided upon a career path a long time ago or developed a new area of professional interest. You might wish to switch careers to gain access to more opportunities, or maybe you’re gathering resources for your first-ever job hunt.

When is it time to upskill or reskill, and how do you determine which skills you need to move forward? Learn the difference between these two commonly interchanged terms to determine if your career needs a boost in the same direction or a significant pivot.

1. Understand the basics.

Learning the basic terms surrounding upskilling or reskilling is crucial to your success. While upskilling and reskilling are similar, they do not refer to the same process. Consider these definitions and differences:


This term describes the strategy companies use to teach employees higher-level skills that maximize their growth in their current role or propel them into similar but more advanced positions. Usually, upskilling does not involve a dramatic shift. 

Typically, upskilling focuses more on the soft skills that are needed in more advanced positions. For example, someone who works in a team environment may wish to one day lead the team. Upskilling could involve professional development, leadership training, or completing project management certificates.


This term indicates more of a change in someone’s career path. If you reskill within a company, your employer may wish to re-train you to take on a different role (as opposed to being promoted to a managerial position in the same department). 

It could also involve a professional’s choice to return to school in a different field and search for an entirely new job after completing a business degree or data analytics certificate. Reskilling usually focuses on learning complex skills or new information, techniques, or processes

What’s the difference?

The difference between upskilling and reskilling is subtle at times — depending on which career path you’ve chosen — but it can be very important. Upskilling usually involves growth within a company, while reskilling involves a lateral move within or elsewhere. Upskilling can involve a certain amount of reskilling, especially if you’ve decided to take on a larger role in the same company or industry. Reskilling may eventually involve a certain level of upskilling as well. 

It’s important to remember that neither upskilling nor reskilling is more desirable than the other. Think of your choice to upskill or reskill in terms of what your career or company needs at this moment. 

2. Identify your skills.

Do you know whether it’s time to upskill or reskill? If you still need clarification about which type of change you need, learning more about yourself can help. Consider these tips for beginning.

Conduct a preliminary self-assessment.

simple self-assessment may look like a question: Where do you want to go? If you aren’t thriving at your current position, ask yourself why. On the one hand, you may no longer feel challenged and need a different role with more responsibility. On the other, you may want to move into a different field entirely. Determine where you are in your career, which areas of work you enjoy, and which you’d like to change before listing out any skills.

Ask for feedback

If you plan on staying at or advancing within the same company, it would be worth your time to talk to your supervisor or employer (provided that you have a good relationship with this person). Most employers would be ecstatic to learn that employees are motivated to develop their skills further. 

Similarly, your team members may be willing to help you by identifying your strengths and weaknesses on the job. Ask those who can give you constructive feedback rather than simple criticism. 

3. Analyze your current skills.

Analyzing your current skills goes beyond deciding where you’d like to go next in your career. Remember that upskilling and reskilling both involve improving your knowledge, expertise, and marketable talents. This is a complex process rather than a straightforward decision, as you will try to make the best of what you already know and determine which areas need improvement. Use the following ideas to guide your next steps.

Make a list of your current skills.

What do you bring to your current role? What are your strengths and weaknesses on the job? If you’re confused about whether you need to upskill or reskill to feel more content at work or earn a higher paycheck, take a self-inventory and make a preliminary list of what you’re good at and which areas need improvement.

Consider areas for improvement. 

It’s often easier to identify your weaknesses than it is to see your strengths. You may already know how you can improve your skills to get the job or position you want (or to make steps towards it). If you don’t, consider asking a supervisor or reading through your past performance reviews as a starting point. You can also start by comparing your performance to your coworkers’ to determine where they’re excelling and why.

4. Find the right skills. 

At this point, you may wonder how to determine exactly which of your skills to improve — and which areas of knowledge you need to develop. Start by researching the job market and take a deep dive into your work life to figure out how to make the choice between upskilling or reskilling.

Research the job market.

If you’re having trouble pinpointing which skills you need for your upskill or reskill journey, consider looking at job postings in the new position or field you’re considering for yourself. If you intend to develop your leadership skills to snag that managerial role, search for postings that describe your ideal job and identify their desired qualifications and characteristics. 

For example, if the most important trait that your desired role lists is “working in a team environment”, how do your current skills compare? Have you ever worked closely in collaboration with others? If they list “digital marketing expertise“, do you have a good grasp of skills such as analytics and SEO, or do you need a refresher course?

Identify the skills you need.

How do you know whether the skills you need involve upskilling or reskilling? If you find that you’re lacking one or several skills that you need to move forward in your career, consider whether your goal is to move forward in the same career or to pivot and switch paths entirely. Remember that upskilling tends to take you further on the same path, while reskilling is typically a lateral move.

If you simply wish to gain more responsibility and stay in the same field of work — or perhaps at the same company — it may be time to look into additional certifications and talk to your supervisor about experiential opportunities that will allow you to upskill. If you don’t have the hard knowledge or credentials for your dream role or career, you should investigate reskilling. 

5. Improve your skills.

Where are you going, and how can you get there quickly? Your move may be simple if you wish to upskill and stay at the same company. Perhaps you need a new certification to stay current in your field, or maybe you know after reviewing your knowledge gaps, you need to take a course in the latest project management methodologies. On the other hand, your journey can be quite complicated if you choose to leave your current position and reskill by enrolling in a professional degree program in another field.

Develop a plan

If you wish to upskill (or if your employer has provided this opportunity), you may need to enhance your soft skills to gain a more advanced, higher-paying role. Do you need to work on your public speaking skills? Or, maybe you feel lost when it comes to leadership. Reskilling may involve a more concrete approach as it involves learning new skills that are often different than what your current role asks of you.

Take courses

Courses can provide certainty and help you gain confidence in new areas, often including certification that will help you advance in your career. Pathstream hosts 100% online, affordable courses that allow you to advance your career whether you decide to upskill or reskill.

Get hands-on experience

Finally, gaining experience in your new field is always a good idea. If you plan to upskill to gain access to new opportunities in your current area, reach out to mentors and supervisors to ask if there are any projects you can assist with. Additionally, regardless of age and career level, you may consider an internship in a new field if you wish to reskill. 

Have you decided that it’s time to upskill or reskill? To get started, browse through Pathstream’s online certificate programs in high-demand digital career fields such as data analytics, salesforce admin, digital marketing, and project management.

Was this helpful?

Thanks! What made it helpful?

How could we improve this post?