The third of five articles this summer on job search stepsHow do you know you have the skills needed for the work you’re interested in pursuing? That’s the pertinent question for the third of five steps in this summer’s series on job search basics.
As a refresher, columns in June focused on Steps 1 and 2 (Identify the work you’re seeking, and Research the work you’ve chosen). Coming up in August, I’ll present Steps 4 and 5, which are about identifying and contacting potential employers to secure the job.
But for today, the focus is on that middle step, which is to take a good look at the skills you’ll need in your next job and refresh any that are not quite ready for the market.Let’s start with the review process. Suppose you’re interested in working as a grant writer for nonprofits. Having done your research, you knows that grant writers typically need the following skills: The ability to tell a story in words; the ability to understand and present numbers and budgets; strong organizational skills so they can write multiple grants and track them while waiting for answers; experience using word processing and accounting software; and creativity and adaptability so they can respond to a variety of funding opportunities.
These tasks sound manageable to you, but what if you’re not sure your skills are strong enough to perform the work? This is tricky. For example, suppose you’re a good writer but you’ve never written a grant. Should you apply?
If you’re asking me, I would say no. Not because you couldn’t do the work, but because you might not perform well in the interview. Part of the reason for conducting this skills review is to get a head start on giving credible answers when someone asks, “How do I know you can write these grants for me?” If you can’t say more than “Because I write well,” you’re not quite ready.
In this example, to be more certain of your skills – and to have the answers an interviewer will need before hiring you – you need to confirm your ability to do the most critical aspects of the work. Your process could range from reviewing successful grants that others have written to volunteering to write grants for a small nonprofit to taking classes where your work will be graded and commented on.
Which brings us to the second half of the equation for this basic job search step: Having found the gaps in your skills, you now need to concentrate on filling them.
Building or refreshing skills is a process most workers can relate to. Most of us have had the experience of realizing we don’t understand a computer program we’re expected to use, for example. For these kinds of “simple” skills – the ones that can be developed relatively quickly – the answer might be equally simple. Gaps in experience using specific software can be remedied at least in part by downloading samples of the software, or by taking online tutorials.
The more complex the missing skill is, the more intense the process will be to gain mastery, or at least an entry-level ability. If you have time and financial resources, enrolling in related classes or certificate programs can remove some of the guesswork. You’ll learn at least the baseline needed for the field, and will probably have some work samples to share as well.
But what if there are no classes, or you can’t afford the time or money to take them? Assuming yours isn’t a licensed field (no, you can’t really learn nursing on your own), you still have a multitude of options. Here are just a few:
-if the skill involves equipment, rent, buy or borrow it so you can practice;
-if it’s a process, such as grant writing, look for textbooks, or even a “Dummy’s Guide” that can provide step-by-step instruction;
-if there are professional associations representing the field, check their web sites for internships or other training opportunities;
-if you see lower-level positions in the field, consider taking one so you can learn by being near the work before asking for a promotion to the job you really want.
However you decide to handle the gap between the skills you have and the skills the employer needs, remember that being skilled is only half the game. You’ll still need to prove you can do the job. To do that, it helps to have examples of work you’ve done, even if it’s “make believe” projects from your classes or volunteer efforts. The more the employer sees of your skills, the more credible you’ll be as a candidate.
Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.