For years, resume writers and career coaches have been telling clients they need to focus on hard skills (specific professional competencies, for example) rather than soft skills (team player, good communicator and so on). The point has always been that although soft skills aren’t unimportant as part of your job search value, employers don’t search for them. Now someone is trying to get us all confused!
Soft Skills Gaining in Value?
“Stock Exchange Using Soft-skills Screen” is the title of an article by Todd Raphael that I found via ERE.net. In it, Raphael explains that the New York Stock Exchange–not exactly small potatoes as an employer–will use a new hiring tool from a brand-new company called EmployInsight. The concept involves a team with a job opening for which they build a profile of what they want, where the person will be located, what the nature of the job is, and so on. What are some of the soft skills the profile will measure? It’s things like resilience, grit and emotional intelligence.
Raphael goes on to note that the team then has candidates fill out a list of their own soft skills, which can be compared in order for the employer to get a ranked list of the best match(es). “The NYSE will likely use it as a ‘first-step’ tool in screening to winnow down an initial pool. Other organizations perhaps will use it as a later step, such as after pre-screening and before an interview.”
What Does This Mean to You and Your Job Search?
This is one of my favorite questions to ask. In other words, what’s in it for you or why should you care? The answer seems pretty clear to me. If stuff like this is coming down the pike now–and it obviously is–you as a job seeker or as the manager of your career can’t afford to ignore or overlook it. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that you toss out all those hard skills you’ve worked so hard to acquire and to share with potential employers. However, it appears that you also can’t focus almost exclusively on them any more.
In the interests of resume conciseness, this development is probably going to present some challenges. One possible avenue for encompassing both soft and hard skills is to make sure your cover letter incorporates some of the former; where practical, the resume itself might also need to include a few of the most strongly indicated soft skills. Hint: Scan those job postings carefully before you submit. Ideally, get some inside scoop from people who work at the company on which aspects are weighted most heavily.
Changing trends in the modern workplace have become a fact of life–inescapable, sometimes disturbing, always requiring a flexible attitude from those currently employed or unemployed and trying to improve their situation. I frequently work with job seekers and career management clients who find themselves confronted by the need to determine their next steps and put a plan into action to carry out the necessary steps. That’s why I keep my eyes open for articles, blog posts and other published information that might prove helpful.
Job Shifters: A New-Old Term for Job Seekers Who Need to Make a Change
Recently I read an excellent article called “The Job Shifters”, by Laurent Belsie of The Christian Science Monitor (an international weekly newspaper), which you might find well worth reading and maybe sharing with others. The article presented the stories of six people who successfully reinvented their careers–often in very dramatic ways. Just as an example, Ryan Blair progressed from gang member/juvenile delinquent to a high-tech executive earning $100,000+…and then went on to start his own company, sell it for $25 million, and become CEO of a weight-loss and fitness direct-sales company with 2011 revenues of $231 million!
On the other end of the spectrum was a former magazine illustrator who lost all his work in a massive flood and ended up selling paintings for a few hundred dollars instead of earning thousands of dollars for magazine illustrations. At the same time, he gained quality personal time with his young daughter and found fulfillment in something he felt really passionate about. Career reinvention doesn’t always mean–or have to mean–a lot more money or even as much as you were making before.
Voluntary Job or Career Change vs. Forced Change
Of course, you know that not all job or career changes happen voluntarily. Sometimes they do happen because of factors such as a strong compulsion to do something different or a deep need to remove yourself from a toxic situation that is threatening your mental or physical well-being. Often, though, the change is forced on you by external factors over which you have little or no control. How you deal with such a situation can make a huge difference in the quality of your future.
As the article notes, what’s now being labeled the “Great Recession” resulted in 15.4 million Americans unemployed at the highest point, with 13.1 million still unemployed two years later. It goes on to state: “Out of that crucible, an increasing number of workers are trying to reinvent themselves to fit in with a fragile, fast-moving world. For some, it’s a voluntary change. For many, it isn’t. It’s a rough-and-tumble necessity. The future demands it.”
Safe Employment Choices: A Myth
These days, there’s really no such thing as a “safe” industry that will ensure you of being able to maintain a lifetime career. You need to develop a flexible attitude and approach to your career management, keep yourself current on new and emerging developments, and stay alert to possibilities that might allow you to play off of your strengths–including some you might not have had a chance to use in your current job or career field. This can be intimidating but also potentially revitalizing. Like much of life, it doesn’t come with any guarantees of safety; you more or less have to board the speeding train and hang on!
Although the US job market has seen some glimmers of light (more in some industries and geographical areas than in others), the future–both near and long term–still clearly holds challenges for many of us. If you’re not currently in an employment situation that’s stable, satisfying and financially sufficient for your needs, you might be tempted to throw up your hands and say, “That’s it! I’m stuck and there’s nothing I can do to make things better.” While understandable, that admission of defeat doesn’t achieve anything except to let you vent some of your frustration.
It might be true that one person alone can only accomplish a certain amount, although a number of people in history have shown how amazingly much one person can achieve. However, I prefer to look for support in pursuing challenging goals and keep an open mind about where that support might come from. I encourage my clients to do the same, because sometimes really great results can come from doing that.
United We Stand–Strength in Numbers
I’ve been thinking recently about all the existing and emerging challenges facing individuals and entire countries throughout the world–major economic crises, tight job markets in many countries (or at least a scarcity of jobs for some groups and individuals), a growing gap between the “haves” and “have nots,” and more. Two phrases came to mind, and they’re somewhat related to each other. One is “united we stand,” and the other is “strength in numbers.”
According to Wikipedia, “‘united we stand, divided we fall’ is a phrase that has been used in mottos, from nations and states to songs. The basic concept is that unless the people are united, it is easy to destroy them.” What I get from this today is that there’s a temptation for us to think we’re alone in the boat and need to look out for ourselves first and foremost. However, that can too easily lead to an undesirable–maybe even disastrous–outcome. Whether it’s conducting a job search for a suitable position or doing your best to be a productive and valuable employee in a position you already hold, “me first at all times” is not really an outlook you want to hold onto.
In a similar vein, I found a number of quotes referencing the concept of strength in numbers, but one of my favorites was this: “There is strength in numbers, and if we all work together as a team, we can be unstoppable.” (Craig Kielburger, founder of Free The Children, an organization to stop child slavery) What you might not be able to do alone, it’s absolutely possible you could accomplish with some active help.
Practical, not Pollyanna-ish
One definition of Pollyanna is “unreasonably or illogically optimistic.” There’s nothing wrong with optimism (remember, I’m an optimist); however, optimism needs energy and commitment behind it to transform a gloomy picture of the future into one that holds promise and encourages hope. I don’t know about you, but that’s where I’d like to put my efforts, even if I’m “only one person.”
We’ve probably all seen a variety of jokes based on the “good news-bad news” theme, which has been around a long time. Some of them even lean more than a little toward the depressing or macabre side. As I’ve said before, I’m essentially an optimist (or as I like to call it, a realistic optimist), so I tend to enjoy and pass along those that steer more toward hopeful or genuinely amusing situations. Sometimes that approach requires a fairly large amount of flexibility and imagination. In the case of the subject of retirement planning, even I can’t find something amusing to say about it; hopeful is a bit of a stretch but not totally out of reach. In November I wrote a post called “Recession & Retirement,” and today’s post is by way of revisiting that topic from a slightly different angle.
Good News-Bad News about Retirement
The good news is, people are generally living longer these days. The bad news is, people are living longer! Generations ago, the present concept of retirement didn’t even exist. People basically worked until they physically couldn’t any longer. Current and recent generations, however–which probably includes you–face the prospect of planning for a future when they’re no longer working but still need a decent income to meet expenses and provide a reasonable quality of life (I’m not talking around-the-world trips here).
To quote a recent article by Emily Brandon on U.S. News & World Report, “How Long Should I Work Before Retirement?“: “The age workers expect to retire has increased from an average of 60 in 1995 to 66 in 2011, according to a Gallup poll. The proportion of people aiming to retire early has plummeted from 50 percent in 1995 to 28 percent in 2011.”
Possible Benefits to Delayed Retirement
Yes, there are at least a few, according to Brandon’s article. They include giving your assets more time to grow, taking advantage of tax benefits (IRA contributions, etc.), receiving a larger Social Security check after retirement (if it’s still around when you retire!), and accessing potentially better or more affordable post-retirement health benefits (e.g., Medicare).
Possible Downside to Delayed Retirement
Is there a downside to the idea of delaying retirement in order to minimize the amount you have to save up to cover expenses after you retire? Certainly. For one thing, you might not have the option of delaying it if personal circumstances force you to leave the work force early. In another scenario, you might leave one job for another and find that the new position doesn’t work out, so you’re back in job search mode at an age when circumstances can tend to make reemployment more challenging, especially at or near the level you held when you left.
Like anything else, this is not an easy situation to consider and plan for. Inevitably, you just have to do the best you can, make the wisest career and financial choices you can. Starting now would not be too soon!
The term “empowerment” (as well as related variations) has become more than a little overused these days, and I was somewhat skeptical when I ran across an article called “The Empowered Employee is Coming: Is The World Ready?” (guest post on Forbes.com blog by J. Hagel, S. Gandhi and G. Rodriguez). However, it turned out to be a long but fascinating and very thoughtful article that has a lot to say about topics related to employee recruitment, employee retention and satisfaction, and employee productivity.
Who or what is an empowered employee?
Empowered employees can come in many shapes and sizes, but it appears that they might be evolving from what the article calls the “connected consumer.” This concept has been hugely reshaping how companies market to their customers and prospects. Now it could start affecting how they view and deal with both employees and potential employees, as well as many related aspects of the changing workplace that have already taken place or are coming.
Postdigital enterprises and empowered employees
According to the article, although companies are being pressured to maintain and intensify their efforts to reduce costs, it’s a “game in diminishing returns. Each additional increment…is harder and harder to deliver.” It suggests that a critical answer lies in shifting emphasis from cost to value.
This is the proposition that really intrigues me: “Rather than treating employees as cost items that need to be managed wherever possible, why not view them as assets capable of delivering ever increasing value to the marketplace?…There is little, if any, limit to the additional value that people can deliver if given the appropriate tools and skill development.”
Wow! And that’s only a fraction of the ideas presented in this article. I intend to go back and re-read it–and more than once–because it’s a lot to take in at one time. While I don’t have or plan to hire employees, many of my clients have or do, and I know they could find some useful thoughts from the article, so I intend to recommend it whenever and wherever I can!
I don’t normally pass sad news along in this blog, but I think anyone who has been or will be a job seeker in the future might want to know about the recent passing of Mark Hovind, the founder and driving spirit behind JobBait.com. One of my professional colleagues posted information about this on an e-list we both belong to, or I might not have heard about it yet myself.
From all accounts, Mark was the kind of person anyone would be proud to know and grateful to for his many efforts in the world of employment. He worked extensively with very senior-level executives but also made time for what was apparently a considerable amount of volunteer “giving back.”
Mark’s widow announced that she won’t be able to continue Mark’s work, but she added, “However, I will be leaving his website up, temporarily, and the instructions on YouTube to help those that may be learning his fierce job hunting technique.” If you haven’t previously downloaded his four videos, you can find them on YouTube. Take a look while they’re still available.
Here’s another sample of Mark sharing his expertise with a wide audience, during a discussion with JibberJobber founder Jason Alba.
What does Mark Hovind’s passing mean for you?
Any time we lose someone who has contributed substantially to the knowledge base for job seekers, it’s a shame. You and practically every other job seeker on the planet can benefit—and probably have benefited–at some point from the work that such dedicated professionals do. Yes, they have businesses to operate and can’t do everything for free or at a cut rate. In fact, some of them make very good money at what they do. However, it’s not uncommon for them to also do something similar to what Mark Hovind did—giving their time and expertise to benefit others.
So if you visit JobBait.com in the near future and download Mark’s four videos, think about Mark’s contribution. He will be missed.
Those of us who write resumes often like to use the concept of core competencies–possibly as a keyword-rich section of its own, maybe woven into the thread of the resume through concrete examples of the competencies, or in numerous other ways. I’ve certainly done this with my clients’ resumes many times over the years, and I thought I was pretty conversant with what the concept involved. That was before I got curious and started researching the topic a bit more. If you’ve been in the habit of including your core competencies in documents (resumes or otherwise), you might be interested in some of what I discovered.
Defining Your Core Competencies
To define your core competencies for prospective employers as part of your job search campaign, you should probably begin by understanding how the concept started. According to research source Wikipedia, the idea of core competencies is part of a management theory that originated with two business-book writers named Prahalad and Hamel, who defined a core competency as “a specific factor that a business sees as being central to the way it, or its employees, works.” What? This concept refers primarily to a business? And you thought it referred to something you’re particularly good at and want to offer to employers!
Here’s a bit more from the Wikipedia entry that might seem as if it’s more about companies than about you (bear with me on this for a few moments). The competency has to meet three main criteria:
- Has to be hard for competitors to imitate
- Can be leveraged to a lot of products and markets
- Has to contribute to benefits experienced by end-consumers
Where do you fit in? If you look carefully at the above points, it becomes clear that they can apply to employees or job seekers just as well as they can to companies. Your core competencies need to center around factors that are in some way unique to you. They should also be something that most if not all of your competitors can’t quite match, should be potentially useful in many different situations and environments, and need to deliver clear benefits to those who receive your services–your employer, its customers and so on.
So Where’s the Value in Your Core Competencies?
Just listing a bunch of fairly generic terms in a core competencies section on your resume will not communicate the value. For instance, you might believe your competencies include business acumen, customer relationship building, problem solving, and a number of other items. However, each of those can be applied equally well to many other job seekers or currently employed individuals. Unless you can add something that sets you apart, the list is basically meaningless. Just as an example, take “problem solving.” What if you can truthfully say you solve serious, longstanding problems that previous efforts have not overcome? Now we’re getting somewhere! You’ve done something that others haven’t been able to do and that the company really needed. (By the way, don’t go negative on this and start pointing fingers at those who made the previous failed attempts!)
What this means, when boiled down, is that your core competencies aren’t really worth mentioning unless they add clear value. Your resume and any other communication vehicles you use in your job search must take that into account. Otherwise, all you have is a laundry list, and employers don’t hire laundry-list employees.
Obviously, you’re not likely to win (capture) every job you apply for during your job search, any more than you will win every game you play outside of work that involves competition. The odds are against achieving 100% success all the time. So sometimes you are going to lose the job search game and maybe in a situation where you really wanted or needed to win.
Winning vs. Losing: A Fresh Perspective
Jon Gordon often has thought-provoking entries in his motivational blog, and a recent one really caught my attention because it offered a fresh take on the “it’s not whether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game” philosophy. Jon states that both winning and losing matter, but that “in life what matters most is what we do with our wins and losses.”
Jon maintains that you’re ahead of the game if you refuse to give up after a loss and instead respond in a way that makes you stronger. He has developed a concept that he and his family follow, called LOSS (Learning Opportunity, Stay Strong). This is more than a touchy-feely concept that has little meat behind it. It’s something anyone–including disappointed job seekers–can practice and put to good use.
Choose Your Battles, in Job Search as in Life
You might actually be able to minimize your overall losses and disappointments in employment situations, at least to some degree. One useful job search tip is to scope out the lay of the land before you go after a particular opportunity. For instance, if you know or can connect with someone who has insider information, you might find out that the company’s CFO already has his or her eye on a candidate and is only going through the motions of publicizing the position. In that case, you could still decide to pursue the opportunity but might not put your full effort behind it as you would for a situation where you stood a better chance of being seriously considered.
If the best information you are able to obtain indicates that the opportunity you’re interested in is valid and it seems like a really good fit for your experience and talents, you probably have a good reason to go after it. That said, if you make it to an interview–maybe even to the second or third round of interviews–and end up losing out on the job, it’s natural to experience substantial disappointment. In some situations, you might even feel devastated, possibly because you had an overwhelming impression that you did exceptionally well in the interviews, were actually somehow led to believe that a job offer was imminent or just badly needed the job for some reason.
You can’t totally avoid disappointment or a great sense of loss in such situations, but you can reduce the likelihood and extent of it by choosing which battles you’re going to “fight” (which job openings to pursue) and how much effort you’re going to invest in those battles.
Learn from Your Losses
Did you make any mistakes at all in the situation where you lost a job opportunity you believed you had a strong chance of winning–say by somehow blowing an interview? Ask yourself that question each time and focus on identifying the honest answer–this isn’t something you’re doing for public consumption but to help yourself improve your odds for the next time. Even the best of us can make mistakes, take a misstep that we seriously regret afterward. If you did that, acknowledge it to yourself. Then figure out how you can try to avoid the same problem in your next job interview and keep it from happening again as you continue your job search. While life doesn’t hold any guarantees, this approach might just increase your win-rate and help you land the job of your dreams.