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20.1 Developing Your Skills and Experience

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the difference between work-based skills and transferable skills.
  2. Learn how to use jobs, internships, and volunteering.

The employment market and job-seeking techniques have changed significantly over the past ten years and will continue to change; it is not as easy as it once was to map out a clear career path. However, a clear direction can still provide enough flexibility to respond to the changing needs of today’s job market. In fact, building flexibility into your career plans is a requirement for achieving a successful career.

Consider the ways in which the job market has changed—and what it may mean to your planning:

  • You will likely be employed by many organizations in your lifetime. The idea of working for a single employer is no longer the rule but rather the exception. In fact, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada reports that people will have on average approximately three careers and eight jobs over a lifetime. This trend means today’s graduates need to be very flexible in their career plans and that they should make an effort to identify and develop transferable skills in order to navigate the changing employment market.
  • Five years from now, you may be working in a job that doesn’t even exist in the present. As new technology accelerates and national and global priorities (such as going green or national security) take on a new sense of urgency, new needs are identified and new jobs will be created to fill those needs. Think about this: five years ago, a search engine optimization (SEO) specialist was a job in only a handful of Web-centric companies. With the meteoric growth of Google, SEO is now a common role in just about any marketing department—and a job in relatively high demand. In the same way, the aging population has created new opportunities in elder care, and new discoveries and approaches in science have created fields like biotechnology and nanotechnology. Today’s students and job hunters must become lifetime learners to keep up with new trends.
  • The physical location of a job is no longer as important as it once was. Other than jobs that require you to serve customers in a specific location or region or jobs that require specialized equipment (as in manufacturing facilities), companies increasingly have off-site employees who stay connected via the Internet. This means that students and job hunters should be able to demonstrate the ability to work independently and produce results without consistent, direct personal supervision.
  • The growth of job posting sites online has created a glut of applicants for most posted positions. You have access to millions of job opportunities via the Web, but so do hundreds or thousands of other job seekers. Each employer must cull through hundreds of résumés received for each job posted on the Web. Strategies for standing out in this crowded field become very important.

These factors combine to create a job environment that is different from what most people might expect. The way you prepare for a career needs to be more flexible and more personalized. Technology will play an important role in your career development. Linking your demonstrable skills to the needs of a job will be a key to your success.

Have You Got Mad Skillz?

Many of the skills you will need are career specific: we call those work-based skillsSkills you need that are specific to your chosen career.. These include knowing how to use equipment that is specific to your career and mastering processes that are used in your field. While some of these skills are learned and perfected on the job, you may be in a vocational track program (such as for computer programmers, nurses aides, or paralegals) where you are learning your work-based skills.

These are not the only skills you will need to be successful. The second set of skills you must have are called transferable skillsSkills that can be used in almost all occupations. because they can be used in almost all occupations. These include thinking skills, communication skills, listening skills—in fact, most of the skills we have been stressing throughout this book are transferable skills because they are also key to success in life. This skill set is very broad, and your extent of mastery will vary from skill to skill; therefore, you should identify those skills that are most important to your career objective and develop and master them.

Donna Dunning, writing on Dan Schawbel's Personal Branding Blog, lists her Top 9 Transferable Skills as follows:

  1. Managing change
  2. Communicating
  3. Leading
  4. Learning
  5. Working with numbers and data
  6. Problem solving
  7. Achieving results
  8. Working on a team
  9. Thinking

As you reflect on the list above, you will find that you have at least some experience in many of them, but you probably haven’t thought that much about them because you use them in so many ways that you take them for granted. It is important to think about all your activities and consider the skills you have applied successfully; your transferable skills inventory is larger than you may think. For example, if you volunteer as a big brother or big sister, you have skills in active listening, mentoring, time management, and probably coaching. If you have written a college paper, you have skills in time management, researching, communicating, and writing.

Be aware of the ways you develop and master transferable skills. Keep a list of them, and update it every month or two. That will be a valuable tool for you as you work with your career development and ultimately with job applications.

Are You Ready for a Test Drive?

Are you frustrated by the fact that even entry-level jobs require some experience? Yes, employers look at your previous experience, and this often stumps students who are in the early stages of their careers. Relevant experience is not only important as a job qualification; it can also provide you with a means to explore or test out occupational options and build a contact list that will be valuable when networking for your career.

But how can you gain relevant experience without experience to begin with? You should consider three options: volunteering, internships, and part-time employment.

Volunteering is especially good for students looking to work in social and artistic occupations, but students looking for work in other occupation types should not shy away from this option. You can master many transferable skills through volunteering! Certainly it is easy to understand that if you want to be in an artistic field, volunteering at a museum or performance centre can provide you with relevant experience. But what if you want to work in an engineering field? Volunteering for an organization promoting green energy would be helpful. With a little brainstorming and an understanding of your career field, you should be able to come up with relevant volunteer experiences for just about any career.

Internships focus on gaining practical experience related to a course or program of study. Interns work for an organization or company for a reduced wage or stipend or volunteer in exchange for practical experience. A successful internship program should create a win-win situation: the intern should add value to the company’s efforts, and the company should provide a structured program in which the student can learn or practice work-related skills. Internships are typically held during summers or school vacation periods, though on occasion they can be scheduled for a set block of time each week during the course of a regular school term.

Once you secure an internship (usually through a normal job application process aided by a faculty member or the career guidance or placement office), it is important to have a written agreement with the employer in which the following is stated:

  1. The learning objective for the internship
  2. The time commitment you will invest (including work hours)
  3. The work the company expects you to do
  4. The work your supervisor will do for the college and for the student (internship progress reports, evaluations, etc.)

This written agreement may seem like overkill, but it is critical to ensure that the internship experience doesn’t degrade into unsatisfying tasks such as photocopying and filing.

Remember that a key objective of your internship is to develop relationships you can use for mentoring and networking during your career. Befriend people, ask questions, go the extra mile in terms of what is expected of you, and generally participate in the enterprise. The extra effort will pay dividends in the future.

Part-time employment may be an option if your study schedule provides enough free time. If so, be sure to investigate opportunities in your field of study. Ask your instructors and the career guidance or placement office to help you generate job leads, even if they are not specifically in the area you want to be working in. It is valuable and relevant to hold a job designing Web sites for an advertising agency, for example, if your specific job objective is to produce event marketing. The understanding of how an advertising agency works and the contacts you make will make the experience worthwhile.

If you are lucky enough to have a job in your field of study already and are using your college experience to enhance your career opportunities, be sure to link what you are learning to what you do on the job—and what you do on the job to what you are learning. Ask your supervisor and employer about ideas you have picked up in class, and ask your instructors about the practices you apply at work. This cross-linking will make you a much stronger candidate for future opportunities and a much better student in the short term.

Key Takeaways

  • Be sure you can identify and show mastery in transferable skills as well as work-related skills.
  • Experience through volunteering, internships, and part-time jobs will illustrate to potential employers that you can work in your chosen field, but it is also instrumental to help create a network of colleagues to enhance your career development.

Exercise

Transferable Skills Inventory

In the list of forty transferable skills that follows, underline five skills you believe you have mastered and then describe specific ways in which you have used each skill successfully. Then circle five skills you think are important to your career that you have not mastered yet. Describe specific steps you plan to take to master those skills.

Active listening Decision making Negotiating Researching
Active learning Editing Observing Selling
Analyzing Evaluating Organizing Speaking a second language
Budgeting Forecasting Perceiving Feelings Supervising
Coaching Goal setting Persuading Teaching
Communicating Handling a crisis Planning Teamwork
Consulting Handling details Problem solving Time management
Creative thinking Manipulating numbers Public speaking Training
Critical thinking Mentoring Reading Visualizing
Customer service Motivating Reporting Writing
Skills I have mastered                                     Examples of how I used them                                    

      

      

      

      

      

      

      

      

      

      

      

      

      

      

      

      

      

      

      

      

Skills I still need to master                             How I will master them