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Why You Should Stop Looking for a Job, and Improve Your Skills Instead

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Search for skills, not a job

Today’s job market is changing dramatically. Companies are constantly hiring and firing and the days of lifelong careers at a single organization are over. We’re living in a “gig economy” where one- to five-year stints are the norm and people need to plan their careers around a market that’s becoming more unpredictable.

From an employer’s perspective, it’s all about relevancy. How relevant are the skills you have to solving the problems my business faces? From an employee’s perspective, it’s about building marketable skill sets to leverage from one opportunity to the next. In this marketplace of skills, why do people still focus on finding jobs?

Take a look at resumes. Resumes speak to who you were — jobs you held in the past, education completed, etc. They do not reflect what employers really care about — how you will help them advance their organizations. Employers hire skills and future potential, not credentials and past accolades. (Click here to tweet this.)

This idea of “skills” has changed how I perceive my career planning as well as that of the people who work for me. Rather than looking at positions as jobs with specific pay and responsibilities associated, we try to look at them as periods in which you’re developing specific skills that will help grow our business. This philosophy enables honest conversations around each employee’s role and allows us to work together to develop skills that we need and that they want.

In pursuing a skill-focused career planning philosophy, I look at three aspects that help answer the question: What skills do I choose to acquire and how do I position myself to receive opportunities that leverage/grow these skills?

1. Finding yourself

About nine months into starting my company, Growth Spark, I had to decide whether to continue freelancing or to build an agency. I figured the best way to determine what hires I needed was to examine the role that I saw myself playing in the business.

So I developed what I call “base analysis,” which I conduct annually to determine what skills I need to develop. Base analysis looks at the individual tasks I perform and asks three questions:

  1. Am I good at this task?
  2. Do I enjoy performing this task?
  3. Does this task directly contribute to growth for the company?

I get as granular as possible in evaluating the answers to these questions. Anything that scores a yes to all three, I continue to perform. This same process can be applied for skills-focused career planning to look at current (and past) jobs and list the tasks/roles you’ve performed. Focus your career planning around leveraging your strengths and going after “Level 3” skills.

2. Growing yourself

Once you’ve identified the skills to develop, set yourself on a track of continual learning. I like drawing from the Japanese work philosophy “kaizen” about continuous incremental improvement. In a market where technology evolves at a pace that can retire skill sets in just a few years, continuous self-improvement is a necessity.

Luckily, many entrepreneurs have capitalized on this trend by creating alternative education companies. Organizations such as General Assembly provide online and offline courses to help working professionals continue building skills in marketing, design, business strategy, etc., at a fraction of the cost of traditional education.

3. Positioning yourself

The last piece in skills-focused career planning is about positioning yourself to get opportunities to continue to refine these skills (while getting paid). I often suggest to people evaluating job opportunities that they view themselves as a consultant. The potential employer is a client who needs help solving a particular set of issues that match your skill sets.

The most successful consultants focus on marketing themselves as a unique brand and sell their portfolio rather than their resume. Consultants continually demonstrate their expertise through blogging and social media, as well as by speaking and building a personal website to showcase their portfolio.

4. Learn before you earn

During college I had an internship with a consultancy that worked with startups. My boss (now mentor) said something that stuck with me: “Learn before you earn.” The idea of building one’s career around learning and acquiring skills develops the resiliency necessary in today’s unpredictable job market.

Ross manages Growth Spark, a Cambridge, MA, based agency that helps e-commerce companies design interfaces that convert visitors into customers. A graduate of Babson College, he is a serial entrepreneur in the technology space with experience in digital marketing, business development and strategic management.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Rosieo

    it really helps that nobody needs a job also…then you can just work on your life and fun stuff….I actually had a HR phone interview lady tell me I was excited enough for the job as if that would matter to me getting my work done. How narrow minded and power hungry people are to think I have to be doing cart wheels or I couldn’t do a good job despite my reputation. How do you all sleep at night?

  • http://www.yourpersonalbrandname.com diana swan

    Hi Ross,

    Great article I particularly like this ‘Employers hire skills and future potential, not credentials and past accolades.’

    You are so right. A person can demonstrate perhaps the most voted for skills of 2014, those being: Critical Thinking or problem solving, Collaboration, Adaptability and Communication via their own website or blog. Not only does it prove the skills but also stamps the person as an habitual study, a great asset in a world where change is the only constant.

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  • jrandom421

    Okay, while your learning, who pays the rent, buys the food, clothing and assorted supplies that are needed for living in modern society today?
    Also, if you’ve never done the job or anything similar before, how can I trust that your “potential” will be fulfilled and that you won’t screw up bad enough to make me regret hiring you?

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  • fawad

    Great article.Quite beneficial post.Seems helpful.Thank you for sharing.

    http://inworldmarket.com/

  • http://careerstair.com Mary Isabale

    But learning through earning or learn through experience is the best way to learn,anyway great article indeed.

    http://careerstair.com

  • BeeKaaay

    Yes, improve your skills. Get new skills. Then get rejected and no job because you have no “experience” in the new skills. Then the employers whine about not being able to find people with skills. Hypocrites.