Knowing Yourself and What You Can Do

Knowing what you are good at is an essential part of doing well in a job interview. It is also important in other ways. For example, unless you use the skills that you enjoy using and are good at, you are unlikely to be fully satisfied in your job.

Most people are not good at recognizing and listing the skills they have. I can tell you this based on many years of working with groups of job seekers. When asked, few people can quickly tell me what they are good at, and fewer still can quickly present the specific skills that are needed to succeed in the job they want.

Many employers also note that most job seekers don't present their skills effectively. According to one survey of employers, more than 90 percent of the people they interview cannot adequately define the skills they have that support their ability to do the job. Many job seekers have the necessary skills, but they can't communicate that fact. This chapter is designed to help you fix that problem.

Learn the Three Types of Skills

Simple skills such as closing your fingers to grip a pen (which is not simple at all if you consider the miracle of complex neuromuscular interactions that sophisticated robots can only approximate) are building blocks for more complex skills, such as writing a sentence, and even more complex skills, such as writing a book. Even though you have hundreds of skills, some will be more important to an employer than others. Some will be far more important to you in deciding what sort of job you want. To simplify the task of skill identification, I have found it useful to think of skills in the three major categories: adaptive skills, transferable skills, and job-related skills.

Adaptive Skills/Personality Traits

You probably take for granted the many skills you use every day to survive and function. I call these skills adaptive or self-management skills because they allow you to adapt or adjust to a variety of situations. Some of them could be considered part of your basic personality. Such skills, which are highly valued by employers, include getting to work on time, honesty, enthusiasm, and getting along with others.

The Skills Employers Want

To illustrate that employers value adaptive and transferable skills very highly, I have included the results of a survey of employers here. This information comes from a study of employers called Workplace BasicsThe Skills Employers Want. The study was conducted jointly by the U.S. Department of Labor and the American Association of Counseling and Development.

It turns out that most of the skills employers want are either adaptive or transferable skills. Of course, specific job-related skills remain important, but basic skills form an essential foundation for success on the job. Here are the top skills employers identified:

1. Learning to learn

2. Basic academic skills in reading, writing, and computation

3. Good communication skills, including listening and speaking

4. Creative thinking and problem solving

5. Self-esteem, motivation, and goal setting

6. Personal and career development skills

7. Interpersonal/negotiation skills and teamwork

8. Organizational effectiveness and leadership

What is most interesting is that most of these skills are not formally taught in school. Yet these so-called soft skills are those that employers value most. Of course, job-related skills are also important (an accountant still needs to know accounting skills), but the adaptive and transferable skills are the ones that allow you to succeed in any job.

Again, this study shows the importance of being aware of your skills and using them well in career planning. If you have any weaknesses in one or more of the skills that were listed, consider improvements. Always remember to turn your weaknesses into strengths. For example, if you don't have a specific skill that's required for a job, let the employer know that you don't, but add that you are eager to learn and you are a quick study. This comment shows the employer that you are not afraid of learning new skills and that you are confident in your abilities. Furthermore, if you are already strong in one or more of the top skills employers want, look for opportunities to develop and use them in your work or to present them clearly in your next interview.

Transferable Skills

Transferable skills are general skills that can be useful in a variety of jobs. For example, writing clearly, good language skills, or the ability to organize and prioritize tasks are desirable skills in many jobs. These skills are called transferable skills because they can be transferred from one jobor even one careerto another.

Job-Related Skills

Job-related skills are the skills people typically think of first when asked, "Do you have any skills?" They are related to a particular job or type of job. An auto mechanic, for example, needs to know how to tune engines and repair brakes. Other jobs also have job-related skills required for that job in addition to the adaptive and transferable skills needed to succeed in almost any job.

This system of dividing skills into three categories is not perfect. Some things, such as being trustworthy, dependable, or well-organized, are not skills as much as they are personality traits that can be acquired. There is also some overlap between the three skills categories. For example, a skill such as being organized might be considered either adaptive or transferable.

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