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Diversifying Your Skill Set

I have been job searching in the Midwest for almost a year and a half. With varying degrees of seriousness and intensity, because job searching makes me want to bludgeon other people or myself, and it’s best for my mental health to take breaks sometimes.

Within that year and a half, the number of interested employers who contacted me back can be counted on one hand. Out of growing desperation, I accepted a half-time AmeriCorps position, teaching reading strategies to young students struggling to read at grade level. I was also working part-time at an agency that provides in-home assistance and care to adults with developmental disabilities. Both of those positions ended recently (one because the service contract was completed, and the other because I couldn’t stand to work any longer for almost minimum wage in such a negative and apathetic staff environment).

As I hit the ground job searching again, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had the skills that employers are looking for. What are my skills? Are those things that large numbers of other people can also do? Is there something that sets me apart from that mass of equally qualified people?

This process has not been pleasant. I realized I am a mediocre-ly talented human. I also realized that being a mediocre-ly talented human being in the present job market basically guarantees that I will not get hired.

How do you change this? How do you change the outlook and perspective of your future? How do you make it go from bleak to bright?

The best solution I have come up with is to diversify my skills. I have a bunch of generic skills, like writing, editing, photography, experience with office equipment, teaching abilities (but without an official license), being able to speak conversational Ukrainian. But so do a lot of other people (with the exception of speaking Ukrainian, maybe). I’ve been perusing Coursera’s website, and just started a Computer Science 101 course taught by a professor from Stanford. It’s an introduction to coding for people without any previous computer knowledge. So far it seems straightforward and well-explained. I’ve also started looking at what other open courseware sites (Khan Academy, MIT, Alison, iTunes U) are offering. Topics within technology are appealing because I don’t see the technology field getting significantly smaller in the future. And my antisocial side likes it because I don’t have to talk to people very often.

Has anyone else experienced trying to diversify their skills? What were your solutions? Did you find any useful courses?

16 replies on “Diversifying Your Skill Set”

We use Lynda.com at my university for training – they have a great mix of training videos for both technical skills as well as the soft skills/people skills like leadership, time management, project management etc. It’s $25/mo so much cheaper than taking some courses. I use the online courses for testing the waters on my areas of interest, then if there is something I want to follow up on I can take an in-person course at that point.

re what amandamarieg said, volunteering does look good on a resume – shows personal dedication and skills, and some good network/connections can be made within a lot of volunteer organizations. (Plus the time commitment is usually less/more flexible than interning). Good luck :)

A lot of what I’ve done in my college years and my employment can’t be quantified. You want numbers? I can say I’ve personally handled over $8,000 during an eight-hour shift, or in my first two years at my most current job I received an average of one customer service award per month, but I can’t say I led a company to an increase in profits or that my team’s project whatever blah, because you don’t notice profits or have teams or projects when you work at a gas station or a craft store.

However, I can test my typing speed online, and for someone who never had a job which required much typing, I can feel confident with my 65wpm average. I haven’t been getting much feedback from the places to which I apply, but I’m doing much better now than I was two months ago when it comes to feeling confident and refusing to settle for crap.

We are probably in the same boat with this. Most of my jobs have been working with people or situations that are hard to quantify on a resume. I hope you start to hear back from places. Ohh, that’s so important about feeling confident and refusing to settle for crap! I had to start a daily mini-meditation to overcome feeling all desperate and doomsday-y about my employment situation and it’s slowly started to build my confidence back.

As an HR person, I can tell you that there are tons of job applicants right now, so we can afford to be very, very picky. For example, for an hourly manufacturing position in the Midwest, we had 300 applicants in 3 days. For an engineer position posted over the course of 2 weeks, we had upwards of 60 applicants. Skills are important, but being able to demonstrate the use of those skills is even better. Also, try not to have a gap on your resume. The long term out of work go to the bottom of the pile. Fill it up with volunteering, interning, something.

Out of curiosity, what would be your ideal position? (Other than the Netflix binge job. We all want that.)

Yes, this is what I keep hearing! I don’t really have any gaps right now because my AmeriCorps position just finished at the end of June, and I’ve already started thinking about volunteering someplace if I don’t hear back from a bunch of jobs I just applied to. How would you suggest demonstrating skills to an employer, especially when a lot of applications are through online systems? I guess I’m just a little perplexed about how to hack the system to improve my odds…

Oh, that’s a tough question. My background is in journalism, then I taught TEFL for two years and reading strategies for low income students this past year. I think my ideal job situation would be teaching ESL for a non-profit and writing on the side. ‘Tis a lofty goal.

Come late August/September, if nothing has come up, you might consider looking for a job as a paraeducator, particularly in an ELL program. You’re probably more than qualified. The pay is crap, and you might have to supervise recess/lunchroom/etc. BUT, depending on the district, there may be a path to getting a teaching certificate (if you’re interested), and you’ll be adding to your list of education related skills, particularly if you take advantage of any Professional Development.

I’ll have to look into that. Thank you for the suggestion! It seems like a lot of the jobs I could conceivable get pay crap, so I try to factor in the potential for growth/advancement/better opportunities in the future to determine if it’s worth pursuing.

Many online application sites will allow you to attach a resume or cover letter. That’s a great way to explain a little more about what you did. And don’t underestimate your own experience! That was my biggest mistake when I was looking for a job. Teaching and nursing really teach you about things like prioritizing, crisis management, and time management.

That is an interesting job path. I don’t think I have any connections in that area though. My advice would be to rely heavily on the skills you’ve learned from the experience you’ve had. Demonstrable empathy and compassion go a much longer way than you might think.

It depends on the position applied for, and previous experience. So for instance, if I can look at it and go, “It looks like they got caught up in that layoff at ________,” I’m more likely to keep it around. I would say if you have NOTHING new for a year, or a lot of job hopping, your resume definitely goes to the questionable pile. If there doesn’t seem like a reasonable explanation for it or the previous experience isn’t really good, I’m going to move on.

You should also check out Codecademy and some of the free classes that Microsoft offers so you can become a Microsoft “certified expert” on things. Any technical skills you can offer, even if it’s just pivot tables, will be a huge asset for most employers, especially if you prove you did it on your own after getting out of academic environments.

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