Soft Skills versus Hard Skills

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.


Employment Background Checks: What You Should Know

You’re probably already aware that employers who are considering hiring you will conduct some kind of background check on you. What you might not know–and probably should–is what the trends are in this regard and how/if they could apply to you. As the saying goes, “Forewarned is forearmed.”

5 of the Top Ten Trends in Employment Background Checks for 2012

According to an article by Lester S. Rosen, Attorney at Law and CEO of Employment Screening Resources, the following are 5 of the top 10 employment background checks, which I’m showing with just a brief snippet of related information (for the full story and the other 5 trends, read the entire article):

  1. Criminal Background Checks of Job Applicants by Employers Coming Under Greater Scrutiny by EEOC: Apparently, 9 out of 10 employers conduct these checks on some or all job candidates, and employers’ use of criminal records is “under fire now more than ever.”
  2. Credit Report Background Checks of Job Applicants by Employers Increasingly Regulated by State Law: Seven US states (including my home state of California) already have laws impacting how employers conduct background checks–specifically, limiting use of credit report checks for employment purposes; and other states, as well as the EEOC, are thinking about putting on even more restrictions.
  3. Social Media Background Screening Checks of Job Applicants Becoming More Prevalent and More Controversial: “Employers and recruiters have discovered a treasure trove of information about potential job applicants on social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter….” However, the use of background checks in that area is controversial and might involve legal risks to the companies that engage in it. For companies, it might be a case of darned if you do, darned if you don’t.
  4. Automation in Employment Background Screening Leads to Both Increased Efficiency and Increased Risks: It appears that employers and background screeners face challenges with regard to use of “unfiltered information going directly to employers from criminal database or inaccurate information obtained by ‘screen scraping or automated robotic searches.'”
  5. Self Background Checks Proactively Conducted by Job Seekers to Help Verify Accuracy of Their Public Information: Savvy job seekers will conduct their own background checks on themselves to make sure their public information is accurate before prospective employers do it for employment-related purposes.

How Do You Check Your Public Information?

One resource you might want to consult is a reference-checking service that can also perform other kinds of checks. One service I’m aware of is Allison & Taylor, which provides job reference checking, employment verification, and employee background checks. If you research “background checking services” or a similar phrase, you could come up with several possibilities. These services involve a fee, of course, so you might benefit from checking both their reputation and their fees to find the best resource for your situation.

Note that this isn’t exactly the same as investigating to find out what has been published about you online, although both activities have a similar purpose: enabling you to pursue and land your next new job without tripping over bad information on the way.


Where Companies Hire People From

Based on the CareerXroads(R) 2011 Annual Sources of Hire study (as noted on RecruitingTrends.com), the number one source for getting hired is still basically “who you know.” That’s no real surprise to those of you who already believe in the importance of networking and establishing relationships in order to help you increase your odds of landing a job. Some of the findings of the study might surprise you, though.

What are the Top Sources for Hiring?

Referrals top the list at 28.0%, followed not too far behind by job boards at 20.1%. That tracks with something else I read recently that suggested job boards weren’t as close to a demise as many people thought not so long ago. Career sites came in a distant third at 9.8%, followed by recruiter-initiated hires at 9.1% and college recruiting at 6.6%. If you check out the complete report, you’ll see quite a bit more information about the results of the study, but this gives at least a brief peek into it.

The New Kid on the Block for Hire Sources

For the first time since CareerXroads started doing the study (this is year 11), social media finally made an appearance on the list. It’s a somewhat lowly 3.5%, so it’s no near-term threat to referrals and job boards, but that’s not bad for its first appearance. From LinkedIn, job posts, groups and recruiter-initiated search of profiles seemed to show the strongest activity. Facebook and Twitter didn’t show strongly but were included. It might be too early to predict the progress of this trend now, although that probably won’t keep people from trying! The main point I suggest taking away from this is that you might eventually find yourself ignoring social media as a job search tool at your own peril.

Keep an Eye on Job Search Trends

If you don’t monitor the trends, as mentioned above and as I’ve noted before, you risk missing out on opportunities that more alert job seekers will capture. You could also appear to potential employers as someone who doesn’t keep up with the times and therefore might not be a progressive, active contributor as an employee. Caveat: I’m not a fan of jumping onto any bandwagon that passes by; however, a commonsense approach that includes being open-minded does strike me as valuable. In the case of social media, it probably means seriously looking at LinkedIn (if you’re not there already) and at least looking carefully at Facebook and Twitter. Others are cropping up, but my guess is that they’ll take quite some time to gain traction, if they stick around.

So dust off your career management plan and make sure it takes social media and other job search trends into consideration. I believe that’s what smart people will do.


Second Acts: The Job Shifters

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!


United We Stand–Strength in Numbers?

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.”


Retirement Good News-Bad News

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!


Empowered Employees: What This Means for You as a Job Seeker

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!