Read an Excerpt
JobSeeker's Skills Finder
In This Chapter
- Developing a skills language
- Finding transferable skills
- Detecting employability skills
- Identifying technical skills
- Understanding skills certification
The next big buzzword on the job search horizon is skills. A related buzzword is skills certification.
Haven't skills always been a centerpiece in the hiring arrangement? Yes, they have. But their degree of importance is going up like a rocket. Within the next few years, I predict that the concept of skills will explode in the marketplace. Books about skills will be written; seminars teaching skill identification will flourish; and trainers will clue supervisors about techniques to recognize skills in employees.
The reason for this emphasis on skills is that we're living through an evolving and unpredictable job market where skills that applicants bring to the job eclipse every other factor in hiring.
Small businesses are creating most of the new jobs, and small companies have fewer resources to use in training new hires. So the skills for which you don't need to be trained are paramount. Moreover, large companies are racked by advancing technology that makes jobs obsolete or surplus, and by management decisions that dispose of workers to boost returns for investors.The more skills you have, the more likely you are to be retained when corporate downsizing starts its slide.
Corporate America used to have a hiring policy of hire-until-retire. This policy has been replaced by hire-until-fire, as illustrated by this paraphrasing of a statement recently issued to employees by a U.S. corporate giant:
Don't expect to spend a lifetime with us. You'll be here 5, 10 -- perhaps 15 years. Take responsibility for your career. Don't count on us as corporate parents.
Many job tenures are downgraded in this new sunset hiring style where jobs are destined to be phased out in two to three years -- or, for contract jobs, even 6 to 18 months.
All these changes add up to an increased demand for people who can hit the floor running -- people who require little on-job training to become immediately productive. The only people who fit these new and demanding criteria are people with specific, marketable skills.
You can prove your skills by demonstration (you show), inference (your prior education and experience show), assertion (you claim), references (others claim on your behalf), and certification (you prove skills by testing and peer evaluation).
If you are to master the competition in the new workplaces of America, follow these rules:
- Be ready to identify your skills and to explain how your skills make you immediately productive to a new employer.
- If you do not have marketable skills, get some by whatever means available to you, from on-job training to formal education.
- Follow rule number 1 -- again and again.
Where There's a Skill There's a Way
Analyzing skills only looks easy. The task can prove challenging even when you know what you're doing. A practical way to organize skills for job-seeking purposes is to divide them into three basic types: transferable skills, employability skills, and technical skills.
- Transferable skills: Transferable skills are your most important skills -- portable skills that you can use in job after job. They answer an employer's question: "Can you do the job?" Because they apply to a variety of jobs, they can be considered nonspecific. For example, employers value communications skills in jobs ranging from apple grower to zoo keeper. You can transfer these skills from job to job, or even from one career field to another career field.
- Employability skills: Employability skills are personal skills that answer the employer's questions: "Will you do the job? Will you do the job in harmony with other employees?" Also called adaptive or self-management skills, these skills can be considered person-specific. For example, reliability, honesty, enthusiasm, and getting along with others illustrate characteristics included in employability skills. Employability skills suggest character and attitudes -- who you are and how you work.
- Technical skills: Technical skills are job-related skills, suitable for a particular type of job. They also answer an employer's question, "Can you do the job?" Often you can't easily move technical skills from one employer to another, and so these skills are considered job-specific. For example, the ability to use a certain brand of mold-injection machine classifies as a technical skill.
Here's a common-sense tip: Mention your technical skill(s) only when you are certain that a prospective employer can benefit from the technical skill(s) you bring. Unless you are positive the employer can use your technical skill(s), stick to transferable skills in your cover letter and resume.
Discovering Your Skills
Because the skills concept is becoming such a hot issue, I give you a couple of checklists to help you round up and brand those you own. Don't get creative and adopt a skill just because it looks good on paper or when you're not sure what the word means. If you don't know what a word or a term means, look it up or don't use it. You can expect to be grilled on your skill claims during a job interview. Prepare to support each skill claim with quantifiable evidence.
Read through these transferable and employability skills checklists and mark those words and terms that apply to you. Include those terms as part of your skills language to take with you from job to job.
I don't include a technical skills checklist because those skills vary according to each individual's job area.
Skills: Your count or mine?
It's a matter of opinion how skills are classified. Some advisers, for instance, divide skills into only two categories: work content and functional.
Work-content skills are used to perform a specific type of job, such as financial planning or computer programming; they are learned through school or work experience.
Functional skills are transferable, learned across careers, jobs, and industries.
The classification scheme isn't important. What counts in a job search is being able to sell yourself by identifying your skills.
Transferable Skills Checklist
Engineering a plan
Executing a plan
Identifying downstream consequences
Knowledge of subject
Listening for content
Listening for context
Listening for directions
Listening for emotional meaning
Working with earth
Working with nature
Working with others
Your top transferable skills
Select your top six transferable skills from those you marked in this chapter. Keep these top transferable skills in mind as you look for validation of each one while doing the worksheets in Chapter 6. (You'll also unearth additional transferable skills in working your Chapter 6 worksheets.)
Employability Skills Checklist
Ability to learn
Ability to learn
Attention to detail
Sense of humor
Willingness to follow rules
Working under pressure
Your top employability skills
Select your top six employability skills from those you marked in this chapter. Keep these top employability skills in mind as you look for validation of each one while doing the worksheets in Chapter 6. (You'll also unearth additional employability skills in working with your Chapter 6 worksheets.)
Basic Skills Employers Want
You know the skills you have to offer, but how do you know which of those skills to offer? According to a study by the American Society for Training and Development and the U.S. Department of Labor, reading, writing, and arithmetic are no longer enough for a perfect job candidate. Based on the study, here's the hot gossip on employers' favorite skills.
The main skills employers want fall into four categories:
- Effective communication: Employers seek candidates who can listen to instructions and act on those instructions with minimal guidance. They want employees who speak and write effectively, organizing their thoughts logically and explaining everything clearly.
- Problem-solving: Problem-solving ability can aid you with transactions, data processing, formulating a vision, and reaching a resolution. Employers need the assurance that you can conquer job challenges.
- Organization: Life in the working world requires prioritizing and organizing information. The tidier your mental file folders, the clearer your focus.
- Leadership: Leadership consists of a strong sense of self, confidence, and comprehensive knowledge of company goals. These are qualities that motivate and inspire, providing a solid foundation for teamwork.
Grammar grill: Watch the tense
The checklists I provide contain nouns and adjectives as well as verbs, which are usually expressed as gerunds (words ending in -ing). Watch the verbs: They hold the potential for ambush. Here's what I mean:
Saying that you are employed from "19XX to Present" suggests that you are still working. Use the present tense of verbs for current activities. Some people, who really are working, forget about this and use the past tense of verbs. That error invites the employer to think: "She is trying to put one over on me. This applicant is really out of a job, but wants me to think that she is currently employed."
If you have the skills and are using them now in your job, use the present tense.
Employers' HotSkills buzzwords
The New Job Insurance: Certification
More than 43 million jobs have been erased in the United States since 1979, according to a New York Times analysis of U.S. Labor Department numbers. In an ongoing game of musical jobs, long-lasting employment has slipped into the shadows for people everywhere.
What help is there to make your skills portable, to carry you along the waves of opportunity? One answer is credentialing, or certification.
The nuts and bolts of certification
A professional certification can be a kind of passport, identifying you as a citizen of a career field with all its rank and privilege. In other words, professional credentialing is one way to document your ownership of the skills you claim.
Not all credentials are worthy. A credential is worth the effort it takes to get it only if it has industry recognition and respect. Even so, given the circumstances, certification is almost sure to become a growth industry before the century ends.
Here's a crash course on certification.
Differences in certification exist, but for ease of communication, I include other terms of validation such as registered, accredited, chartered, qualified, and diplomate, as well as certified. Whether the professional designation carries statutory clout or is voluntary, common elements include professional experience, often between two and ten years, sometimes reduced by education. Education standards are included, which may call for minimum levels of both academic and professional education.
Certification examinations, which may be one or several, are uninviting to many professionals -- generally, they require time-consuming study and may include both experience-based knowledge acquired working in the field and curriculum-based knowledge gained by assigned learning texts.
Membership in the certification-granting organization may be required, as well as professional recommendations. Rarely does certification come cheap. Costs can run from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
What's certification worth?
Is certification worth your effort?
Certification has strong appeal in your early career -- say, the first 12 to 15 years -- as a technique to control your earnings environment. But, in business, certifications lose their luster at the vice-presidential level and above. Why? Certifications zero in on specific skills, while top managers are more concerned with the big picture. For consulting, medicine, law, and technology careers, professional certifications never lose their punch, especially for those who hope to work internationally.
The credential may be a license awarded by a state board, such as the familiar certified public accountant (CPA), or a voluntary program sponsored by a professional organization, such as the designation of accredited in public relations (APR) awarded by the Public Relations Society of America.
Because a given professional certification may not carry stripes for your sleeve, much less stars for your shoulder, investigate first. Clues to look for include the following: Do recruitment ads call for the professional designation? Do trade journals mention it? What do practitioners in your field advise?
- As you change jobs more often, certification can be a kind of passport. It shows that you're a player in your field's global body of knowledge and that you have documented standards and achievements.
- Certification can be very helpful if you become sidetracked into too narrow a specialty or stagnate in a company with antiquated technologies or find yourself boxed in by a hostile boss. The boss can still claim you lack interpersonal abilities, but a professional designation leaves little room to say you're short on technical skills.
- You may earn more money going the certified route. A study of management accountants showed those holding the certified management accountant (CMA) designation outearn those who do not by about $9,000 to $15,000 yearly.
Need more? Check your library for a standard reference: Guide to National Professional Certification Programs by Phillip Barnhart (HRD Press). It details more than 500 certification programs, indexed by occupation.
No Frills, Just Skills
Now that you can speak a few words in skills talk, turn to the worksheets in Chapter 6. You'll review your education, jobs, and other experiences to find examples of the skills you claim -- and you'll look for other skills you may have overlooked. By now you know that all this fuss over skills is because Skills Sell!