“Retraining” is a buzzword in today’s economy, but why?
Personal computers, automation, and the internet were game changers. Advancements in information technology created new industries, eliminated or downsized others, and changed the way we do business forever.
Because of this, many of us naturally assumed that the future of skills training (and retraining) meant more computers and more STEM. However, new findings cast doubt on what has been conventional wisdom for two decades, causing some HR professionals to ask: Is more tech and more STEM the answer? And, what skills are the right skills? As an example, let’s look at two industries profoundly affected by advancements in IT: Manufacturing and software development.
A recent survey of manufacturers found that the most sought-after skill for customer service and help desk agents was higher level writing. For technicians on the floor is was higher level reading.
Similarly, for software help desk technicians (the second largest IT position in the country), only 15% of jobs required a deep understanding of actual programming. Again, higher level writing skills were the most sought-after.
In both industries, only one-third of workers required any higher level math skills such as algebra or statistics, demonstrating that skills requirements are not distributed equally across the workforce. That means it is up to employers to design roles that fit the proficiencies of their employees, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach to training and retraining initiatives.
So when we talk about training, we have to be sure that we are talking about the right training without making assumptions about what we think our employees need. It turns out that not all training means more computers and STEM.
Unemployment in America has dipped below 4% for the first time in almost 20 years through a combination of modest, but consistent job growth and a declining yet recently stabilized labor force participation rate. For employers, this means your pool of potential applicants is being squeezed at both ends, making it that much harder to find the talent you need.
To explain the challenges faced by employers, some have pointed to the existence of a “Skills Gap,” a mismatch between the skills employers need and the actual skills in workers’ possession. But is any of it right?
The short is: No. The long answer is: It’s complicated.
A recent survey of employers in high-demand industries such as technical manufacturing, IT and healthcare (places where the demand for specialized technical skills would, in theory, be the highest) we see that most employers can fill positions within three months of their opening. Additionally, many of the more long-term openings reported to the study were during overnight shifts or reflected other more demanding working conditions, indicating that compensation or work-life balance was more at issue than skills.
Besides, it is tough to argue the existence of a persistent skills gap in an economy at or close to full employment with little to no real wage growth. If highly skilled or specialized talent were in such high demand, then one could expect to see companies willing to pay more to attract that talent, and at the moment only professions within the healthcare industry show any meaningful wage growth.
Simply put, the idea that positions are persistently being left open due to “mismatched” candidates is more complicated than many industry groups or employers would have you believe. Despite their protestations, companies need to rethink how they compensate and incentivize new hires while at the same time ensuring that their current staffs not only obtain new skills but the right skills.
Recent and upcoming graduates know, first hand, that many “entry level” positions aren’t really entry level – many require some amount of work experience. And for most students the best time to gain that experience is during the summer.
Internships are a great benefit to any resume, but for those who are unable to take an unpaid internship, summer work can provide the same, if not more, benefit, while still allowing you to earn an income. Even if your work experience isn’t as relevant to your desired career as an internship would be (think life guard, camp counselor or painting houses), employers will be intrigued by the skills and experience that you obtained. And since “soft skills” are always in demand, be sure to highlight the things you have learned and your positive attributes by pointing to your accomplishments and by earning recommendations from managers and mentors.
Internships (paid or unpaid) and work experience are the cornerstone of any resume. Whether you favor one or the other isn’t as important as the dedication and ability to learn and grow that you demonstrate to future employers by your willingness to work.
Giraffes are one of nature’s most compelling creatures. Every day, both zoologists and ethologists (scientists who study animal behavior) learn more and more about how they live in both captivity and the wild. Here are some interesting facts about giraffes, and what lessons we can learn from them about being more effective at work:
Be a team player…
Giraffes are believed to be one of nature’s least territorial large animals. Multiple groups (called “towers”) will frequently inhabit the same space in order to share resources and look after calves and pregnant females. These towers often come together to form herds, which can number into the hundreds.
Work well individually AND as part of a team…
Despite their easy-going nature and team-focused social structure, giraffes know when it’s time to go it alone. Smaller towers of giraffes will often split off from the main herd if an area becomes overcrowded or resources begin to become depleted.
Giraffes adapt easily to new challenges to survive in the wild. Herds of giraffes often split, merge and reform, only to do the same with new giraffes shortly thereafter. Giraffes also appear to be less sentimental about their herd-mates than other large herbivores, making it easier for them to form new alliances with new giraffes as needed.
It may seem to job seekers that cover letters are not as important as they once were, as we’ve all heard about how little time most hiring managers spend reading a resume or that a computer may actually scan your resume before human eyes ever do.
True or not, this does not mean you shouldn’t include a cover letter when applying for a job!Although your resume may be the only item reviewed during a company’s first round of selecting candidates for interviews, for the second round or beyond, you can be certain every piece of your submission will be carefully examined, and your excellent cover letter may give you a ‘leg up’ against the competition!
But what makes a good cover letter in today’s world? I’d like to give you seven simple steps to create the best personal/professional introduction (a.k.a. cover letter) you can submit.
1.Writing in the ‘first person’ and ‘present tense’ is the way to go:Within resumes, most candidates correctly refer to themselves in the third person and avoid using ‘I’ to create a more professional representation of their work history, but you should not do the same in your cover letter.You can speak to the reader in a more “normal” manner and tone, referring to yourself as “I” and discussing your past and your present in a manner that’s easy to read and understand, and will allow the reader an opportunity to sense your personality.
2.Keep your formatting simple and consistent: The header on your resume (that part at the top which contains your contact information) and your cover letter should be identical. You should use the same font and approximate size for the text in both, and in general make the two documents look as though they belong together.This simple organizational tactic reflects well upon you and will help you be remembered by the reader. Plus, should your resume and cover letter be accidentally separated, it will be very simple for them to be brought back together.
3.Don’t make your cover letter too lengthy or word-dense: Not only should your cover letter never be longer than one page, it should not look like a law school text. Asking a hiring manager to read a lengthy document about why you’re the right candidate for the job may be asking too much. Make sure there is a balance between the white background of the document and the black text.This will encourage the reader to engage in what you’ve written as opposed to just scanning it. Taking the reader’s time into consideration will go a long way.
4.Directly address the job you’re applying for and why you’re a fit for that job: Your resume submission should always keep the job you are applying for in mind and you should adjust certain information within the resume appropriately, but it should still read as an objective overview of your professional history. Yet, within your cover letter, it is totally appropriate to specifically address the job you are applying to – and stress why you’re a good fit for it!Share important highlights of your education, background and/or skills that are the most relevant to the position. If you know who the hiring manager is, or which department they’re within, you should be addressing them personally or by department.If not, “Hiring Manager” is acceptable.
If you are not willing to take the time to create a personalized and customized cover letter for each resume submission you make, then it is probably best NOT to use a cover letter.
5.Don’t make your cover letter a “mini resume”: The information or professional highlights that are within your resume should not be repeated verbatim in your cover letter. Your cover letter should be seen as a tool to either intrigue the reader into wanting to carefully examine your resume or, if it is being read after your first interview, to reinforce why you are a good fit for the position. Also, keep in mind that your cover letter is a great way to reference positive information about yourself that wouldn’t seem appropriate – or that wouldn’t fit – within your resume.
6.Highlight your main selling points: While your cover letter should read more like prose than a resume, it’s also always best to add a couple of bulleted or highlighted remarks within the cover letter. This will help to visually break up the letter and make it not only easier to read but will also make sure you get across a couple of your best selling attributes should the reader be in a rush.
This could be done by simple bullet points in the middle of the cover letter…
With five years of successful outside sales experience, I’ve developed strong interpersonal skills and the ability to connect with people in all levels of an organization.
With advanced proficiency in MS Office and experience with Oracle ERP systems and Salesforce CRM software, I have the computer skills necessary for this position
Or, it could even be done by addressing some of the specific needs listed by the company in their job description.
Your ad specifies: Strong interpersonal skills
I offer: Five years of successful outside sales experience that required working with people in all levels of an organization.
Your ad specifies: The need for strong computer skills
I offer: Advanced proficiency in MS Office, experience with Oracle ERP systems and in-depth knowledge of Salesforce CRM software.
7. A strong ending: Emphasize your interest in the position and, although it may seem obvious, always be sure to thank the reader for their consideration in a positive and professional tone. And be sure to sign the cover letter if it’s being delivered by mail or in person, and if sent via email, consider adding an image of your signature. This adds a personal touch and is sure to make you ‘stand out above the crowd’.
Now ‘Reach Higher” and get that job!
Karen Rae Horwitz
Karen Rae is President of JobGiraffe, formerly Paige Personnel Services, where she has guided her company through up and down economies for more than 20 years, advising both employers and job seekers on employment trends and challenges, and the strategies to meet them. She can be reached at KRH@JobGiraffe.com.
Hockey superstar Wayne Gretzsky once famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
This adage can also be applied to your job search. The unfortunate thing is that most job seekers often view themselves as unqualified for positions, when they actually are well qualified. By not applying, they deprive themselves of even the chance to be considered for the position.
After many, many years in recruiting and staffing, I feel this is not the correct way to approach a job search because frequently hiring managers, especially when writing a job description, list too many requirements and tend to include the experience and skills that they’d want the ideal candidate to have, as opposed to listing the core abilities that would actually lead to one being considered for the position.
OK, in defense of employers for just one moment, it is partly understandable; why wouldn’t an employer try to hit a home run and find that “perfect” candidate? Yes, there is a chance that the perfect person is out there, but the problem becomes these well-intended ‘top talent scouts’ inadvertently alienate and intimidate the really good, really qualified candidates!
This has actually become a substantial problem, as a recent Harvard Business Review study concluded that 41% of women and 46% of men report that feeling as if they are unqualified for a position is the number one reason they won’t even just send in their resume for consideration. They express sentiments like, “I didn’t think they would hire me since I didn’t meet the qualifications, and I didn’t want to waste my time and energy.”
It is never a waste of time or energy to apply for a job!
As recently explained in a similar GovExec.com article, “Hiring managers get overexcited and list too many things, even though only a few parts of the description are truly core. But the term “requirement” gets read very literally, and scares people off from jobs they could well get.” The author continues to say that people often forget how much of the hiring process is a human experience. This is a fact that should never be overlooked; you can often make up for not meeting certain requirements by bringing other things to the table. A steady work history, applicable education, strong references, prior professional accomplishments, a trainable nature and the right personality for a certain company culture; these things influence hiring managers just as much as your quantifiable skills!
At JobGiraffe we deal with this reality all the time. We often have to curtail the long “wish lists” from employers when writing our public job descriptions, understanding that by really only focusing on the core requirements we will actually be able to see more and better qualified applicants. We’d rather interview people to ascertain the totality of both their actual work experience and their unquantifiable qualities when deciding if they may be a good fit for a position.
But beyond JobGiraffe, the truth is, daunting job descriptions may not change, but your actions can!
Reconsider those positions you didn’t apply to because you felt you didn’t have the listed requirements. Even if it’s something that is seemingly concrete, such as a certain type of degree that’s being required. If you have the same experience and skills but not the right type of degree, do you really think an employer wouldn’t be willing to consider you for a position? Feeling like you could contribute to the success of the company will trump any kind of “perfect applicant wish list”.
A final side note; interestingly enough, women and men differ greatly in how often they let a fear of under qualification effect what jobs they apply to. Is it said that men apply for a job when they meet 60% of the qualifications, but women only apply if they feel they meet 100% of them.
This is an important lesson that all job seekers should learn; job descriptions are not rules written in stone, just wishful guidelines of the employer. Most all of us harbor a fear of being rejected, which is very normal, but when you let this fear effect how you job search you are only doing yourself a disservice.
Remember what “The Great One” said – “you miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take”, and you won’t get a job that you don’t apply to!