Bloomberg has surveyed corporate recruiters regarding what skills are lacking in current MBA graduates. According to the survey, industry experience is less important than analytical and communication skills. Collaboration is more important that risk taking and decision making. The article breaks out which MBA programs do the best job of teaching the most desired skills. If you’re considering an MBA, this article is a valuable resource. However, if you’re a manager who already has an MBA or does want the degree, it is very informative to think about what skills are most desired and how those skills are areas or strength or weakness. Career success begins with self-evaluation. Take some time to think about where you are strong and what skills you still need to develop.
Albert Schweitzer wrote: "Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful."
If you feel unsuccessful in your career, it's time to start thinking about what kind of work would make you happy. Some career coaches recommend finding your "passion." For many job seekers or career changers, that search leads to a dead end. Passion is often hard to define. I recommend that clients focus on discovering their gifts. Think about gifts as skills and knowledge you use on the job that you enjoy. If you want to be happy and successful, find a job that lets you use your gifts.
Clients often come to me to help with interview preparation. In almost every case, they express anxiety about the process. This is true of young people starting their career and senior level professionals. What’s behind this concern? Practice. We do our jobs every day and are confident we can do them. Depending on how long we have been with an employer and how long it takes to find a job, a person could go on just a few interviews over span of years or decades. Confident professionals are often terrified to go on job interviews.
Interviewing is a skill, and, like any skill, it takes practice. Imagine if you played golf or pool or bowling (individual sports). If you played that sport on a regular basis, you would know your level of skill. We are anxious when we interview because we do it so infrequently. If you were a good golfer, but hadn’t picked up your clubs for ten years, you would approach the first tee with anxiety. The same principle holds true in interviewing.
What can you do to be calmer? First, practice your skills. Focus on building a dialogue with the interviewer and demonstrating your strengths. Another cause of anxiety at job interviews is the mistaken belief that a job interview is like a test. Applicants are so worried about how they word an answer and giving the “best” answer that qualified people make themselves sound like they can’t do the job. Listen to what the interviewer is saying, and engage in a conversation. That will help calm things down. The most important thing you can do to be calm at an interview is to know your strengths and present them in a way that makes the employer want to hire you.
Interviewing is never easy. But, if you practice the right way, it can be less stressful.
I recently saw Jon Favreau’s movie Chef, which I really enjoyed. The movie tells the story of Carl Palmer, a talented chef who works in a restaurant where he is forced to cook the same menu night after night. When Carl receives a negative review from a prominent food blogger, he engages in a Twitter war and then a face to face confrontation that becomes a viral video.
Becoming a laughing stock and losing his job is really a gift to Carl. He is forced to decide what he wants to do, which is to cook his way. He opens a food truck that is wildly successful. In the process he also bonds with his young son. They come to know each other by working together, through the father teaching his son a craft and how to respect work.
So what is the career lesson from this movie? Follow your passion? Not exactly. I don’t like that phrasing because its too broad. It’s hard to understand or describe our passion. Instead, I like to focus on skills – what do you like to do? Carl finds happiness when he is able to use the skill he loves: cooking. That’s the ticket to career happiness: Know what you want to do and find a place where you can do it with a sense of freedom and respect.
A client called me today to add an internship to his resume. His goal is to be a financial analyst. The problem is that the internship involves little to none of the skills needed by that profession. His primary function is identifying and prospecting new business, which is not the kind of work this client wants to do in the future.
What should he do? He could quit the internship, but I think that would be a rash move. His first step should be to evaluate what he wants and talk to his supervisor about doing extra work that would involve his analytical skills. If the company won’t work with him on that kind of project or assignment, then it’s time to look for something else.
This example underscores the problem with many internships: They have little or nothing to do with the student’s professional goals. Before taking an internship, a student needs to define what she wants to get out of it, how it will be a resume builder that employers will care about. Here’s a simple test: what skills do you want to use in your ideal job? If the internship isn’t letting you develop and practices some of those skills, how is it helping you grow as a professional?
Make your internships work for you.
Several pages in today’s Chicago Sun-Times were devoted to honoring Roger Ebert, who died yesterday at age 70. One especially touching editorial talked about how Ebert was lucky to do work that he loved. In part, it was luck. However, it was also a matter of skill and good career management.
Too many people float from job to job without asking the important question: What do I want to do? When I coach clients who are thinking about changing careers, I ask them to think about those skills that they most enjoy using on the job. These skills are best thought of as “gifts.” The better we can align where we work with our gifts, the more likely we are to be happy on the job.
After you define your gifts, the next step is to identify positions that require those special skills. Then start to identify companies that are potential employers and begin to search job boards. The job search is never easy, especially for people trying to change careers. If your goal is to be happy at work, make the effort. Employers do not care if you are happy as long as you do your job. You have to be responsible for your own happiness at work. If you’re not happy, start looking – now.
I met a client today who kept finding reasons why no company will want to hire him. He had an 8 month gap between his two most recent jobs. One of his former employer has a “do not rehire” policy, which might make some employers think he did something wrong. These are legitimate concerns, but they do not help my client find a job. I asked him to think about the other side of the coin: Why would an employer want to hire you?
From this perspective, my client has a lot to offer. First, he has a proven record of reliability and performance. His duties have included management and training, which are required skills in the positions he is seeking. Finally, he is a fluent Spanish speaker in an industry where that language is vital. All in all, this client’s strengths strongly outweigh his weaknesses.
My advice to any job seeker is to put your strengths before your weaknesses. I’m not saying that every job seeker needs to be prepared to answer tough questions at a job interview. It is more important to know and sell positive reasons why you should be hired. Know your strengths, and be able to sell them.
What do you do best? What are your strengths? Core competencies are those skills and areas of knowledge that let you do your job well. For some people, they are leadership, problem solving, and organization. For others, they could be communication skills, relationship building, and networking. The first type of person would likely be a manager or supervisor. The second would be in sales or fund-raising. Once we define our core competencies, we can use them to plan and manage our careers.
Think about your most recent jobs (the last 5-7 years) and note what skills they require. Then group those skills to reflect broader skills sets. For example, if my current job asks me to lead presentations, negotiate contracts, and listen to customer complaints, I can list communication skills as a core competency. If the job requires that I do bookkeeping, calculate a payroll, and maintain client records, I have organizational or administrative skills.
If you’re having trouble defining your core competencies, I recommend Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath. This book defines different categories. More importantly, it offers an online evaluation that will give a detail report on your strengths.
Think of core competencies as your broadest selling points. Look at job postings for the kind of jobs you want to pursue. Do your current core competencies align with what the employer needs? If not, it might be time to look for a kind of job that matches what you do best. Too often, we find a job and do it. When we align our job to our strengths, we are more successful and happy. Discover your core competencies and use them to manage your career.
Seth Godin has a great post today on “Hunters and Farmers.” I strongly recommend reading it, but here’s a brief summary: We each have different skills, and to be successful in work and life we need to find ways to use our strengths.
Seth’s eventual point is to look at this issue from a marketer’s perspective. It is equally true and important for employees and employers. People who are put in the wrong time of work environment almost always fail. For example, a good inside sales rep can sit in a dingy workspace and sell millions of dollars worth of product over the phone. Put that same person in the field, and she becomes shy, stammering. Each of us needs to think about the environment in which we work best. If a hunter chooses to work on a farm, she will quickly become a very unhappy farmer.
To read Seth Godin’s post, click here.