Closing the Career Skills Gap

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This is a strange time for the job market. On the one hand, there appears to be a lot of jobs available, judging by the number of job posting sites I subscribe to. On the other hand, there still seems to be many qualified individuals who are underemployed or not working at all. The problem seems to be a gap in the skills required by employers. What job seekers have is not what employers need.  Employers are specific about what they want and are willing to wait for the right candidate to come along, even if it takes up to a year.

This is not an aberration. The skills gap is a very real thing, according to a new survey by staffing agency Adecco. In its 2018 Workforce Report, 56 percent of business leaders believe the skills gap is real, even though 96 percent of workers felt qualified or overqualified for the last job they applied for. What is more interesting is that business leaders said many candidates were lacking soft skills – communication, creativity, collaboration, ability to learn, and critical thinking, among others. These soft skills are just as important, if not more so, than hard skills, like writing and technology. Hard skills can be taught, while soft skills usually cannot. It might be beneficial to emphasize these softer skills on your resumes and cover letters. (Adecco recommends that hiring managers recruit for the soft skills and train for the hard skills.)

Add to this the fact that job titles and job requirements have changed significantly over the past few years. When I left the corporate world five years ago, communications manager meant one thing. Now the job description is more expanded with more and different responsibilities than before. It’s no wonder returning workers like myself feel cut off from the workplace. Employers expect a lot from their workers and job requirements reflect that.

So that leaves a lot of otherwise qualified individuals out in the cold. How does the person on the outside close the skills gap? Where can they go to get skills training that can open up doors for them in the job market? Here are a few sources to kick start your own skills upgrade program.

* Online courses. A quick Google search reveals a whole host of online course sites, such as Udemy, Lynda.com and Coursera, to name a few. Those in the public relations and communications fields might also check out Mediabistro, which offers more specialized courses for their industry. These courses are taught by industry experts who have real-world experience in their particular field. That said, the quality of information and teaching may not be up to par with what you need, but online courses are a great way to get up to speed on industry practices and terminology. Also, costs may vary, so check these sites often for special offers and discounts.

* Community colleges. For those on a budget or are looking for a quick, down and dirty training program, check out your local community college. Many of them offer certification programs from culinary skills to paralegal or medical assistant. This might be especially helpful if you are looking to change careers but don’t have a budget or time for a full four-year program.

* Business networks. Check out local associations for your industry which may offer workshops or one-day conferences about the latest practices. For example, here in Chicago, the Independent Writers of Chicago held an evening workshop about breaking into freelancing. Check out organizations in your own locations to find workshops in your area.

* Staffing agencies. Many of these agencies offer online resources, workshops and open houses covering topics such as resume writing, interviewing and writing cover letters. The job market is constantly changing so it’s helpful to learn the latest trends in resume writing so you can present yourself in the best possible light.

* Internships. Another option to explore, especially for those new to the workforce, is internships. Some are paid; others are not. Some are advertised on job sites; others you may have to dig deep. In any case, for a short period of time, perhaps as much as one year, you can gain valuable work experience and update your skills through an internship that you might not get anywhere else.

* Volunteer work. If you know you are lacking certain skills, such as sales or proposal writer, look around your community for organizations that might need someone to help with writing proposals or selling tickets for upcoming events. You’ll be acquiring new skills and helping your community at the same time.

These are just a few starting points for skills development, and there’s no guarantee that it will open the doors you hope will open for you. If anything, it will keep your brain and job skills fresh and ready to go when the right job does come along.

How Do You Know If You Are a Good Fit for a Job?

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It’s a tough job market these days. So many candidates for fewer jobs makes it tougher for anyone to stand out. Even if you possess top notch skills, there is no guarantee that hiring managers will be knocking at your door to hire you.

We’ve all been there before, mired in a job search that isn’t yielding many results. You send out hundreds of resumes for jobs you think you are interested in and are qualified for, but you never hear back from employers. The problem may not be you, and it may not be the employer. Instead, it may be that the hiring manager does not see you as a good fit for the job.

So how can you be sure that you do fit the job description? Staffing firm Careers in Nonprofits revealed a cheat sheet of questions job candidates can ask themselves when applying for jobs. I’ve outlined each of the four questions below.

  1. Does the job description match what you are currently doing? If the job description calls for someone with basic accounting skills and you currently do not have those skills in your current position, then that may one reason that hiring managers have dismissed your application. The more closely your current work matches the job you are applying for, the more likely a hiring manager will follow up with you.
  2. Is the job title similar to other job titles you’ve held in the past? If you held similar job titles in the past, that might make you more appealing for prospective employers. For example, if you have a history of working in administrative assistant jobs, it may be much easier to apply for a similar role. But what if you want to move up from an administrative position, perhaps into a managerial role? In that case, emphasizing your skills set would be critical, especially if you supervised other workers or managed a department or program. Those skills can be transferred to a bigger role elsewhere.
  3. Are you applying because you want THAT job or because you want A job? There’s a big difference between the two. It can be tempting to apply for any old job that comes along just because you’ve been out of work for a while and are desperate to find something, anything to pay the bills. But hiring managers aren’t interested in hiring someone who wants to collect a paycheck. They want someone who is committed to doing that particular job, do it well and do it for the long term. If you can’t commit to that, then you are likely not a good fit.
  4. Do you meet most of the qualifications? While you don’t have to meet every single requirement for a job, meeting most of them will help gain the hiring manager’s attention. CNP Senior Manager Kimmi Cantrell says being overqualified can be as problematic as being underqualified. Hiring managers tend to dismiss overqualified candidates believing that they are only interested in a short-term employment until something better comes along. However, if you really like a job, love the work you are currently doing and you meet most of the qualifications, then go ahead and apply.

While these questions are a great starting point for any job search, they don’t take into account career changers. What if someone worked as a teacher previously and now wants to move into nonprofit management? What if you’ve worked as an accountant for many years and are now switching gears to become a graphic designer? I imagine there are different sets of questions to ask yourself as you apply for those jobs.

As you investigate job opportunities in your own field, run through these questions and see where you stand. I think it’ll be easier to dismiss many jobs that are clearly not right for you. True, you will probably send out fewer resumes, but they will be more qualified applications. You will need to spend more time crafting your cover letter and customizing your resume so that you can properly showcase how your skills and experience match what is required in the job. But the extra effort can pay off.

Remember, it’s not how many jobs you apply for, it’s the quality of the applications you’re submitting. And that can result in more job interviews and ultimately, job offers.

 

Should You Reveal Your Salary History to Employers?

equality-1245576_1280I’ve been completing a lot of job applications lately.  I am appalled whenever an employer asks for my salary history. I understand that the question is meant to weed out candidates who may be perceived as “too expensive” for the employer. But it seems that this outdated practice smacks of discrimination.

Attitudes appear to be changing, however. As many as eight states, jurisdictions and cities have banned questions about past salary from job applications, including the city of Chicago for its city employees, and more states and cities may follow suit. Many private-sector companies are doing it on their own without any legal mandate. The belief is that banning this question will help close the pay gap between men and women.

It’s a good move in a positive direction. Asking about salary history is meaningless in the current employment climate. There are too many career changers, too many stay-at-home moms trying to return to work, and too many professionals taking career breaks than ever before. How are these workers supposed to present their past salary when there are gaps in their work history? Does it really matter what a person earned in the past, and does that information have any bearing on their current or future employment? Maybe that worked in the past, but not anymore.

In a recent LA Times news article, employment attorney Jonathan Segal said older workers and those who have taken career breaks and are trying to re-enter the workforce at a lesser pay can benefit from the question’s ban because they are more likely to be subjected to bias. “Eliminating this question not only helps eliminate the pay gap for women but may help older employees who are being excluded because employers think they won’t be happy working for less,” he told the LA Times.

Other questions should also be eliminated from the hiring process, such as age, graduation dates, skills and experience. Hiring managers can still get a sense of candidates’ qualifications simply by asking performance-specific questions, says executive recruiter Lou Adler of The Adler Group. He says the banning the salary history question can open up the talent pool with candidates who would otherwise not have been considered for the job. Adler recommends that hiring managers ask candidates what they accomplished in their career that best matches the performance requirements of the job they are applying for. Their response often will reveal their level of experience, skill and knowledge without managers having to check off requirements from a skills list.

Think of this performance-based question as an essay question on an exam rather than multiple choice or true-false questions, which don’t always reveal how much a person knows about a subject. Adler adds that unqualified candidates will self-select out of the hiring process because they won’t be able to answer the performance-based question.

Age is another taboo question in the hiring process. I was surprised when a job application I completed recently did not ask my birth date. Only problem was they asked what year I graduated from college. It can be all too easy to calculate someone’s approximate age based on their graduation date.

So how should you handle these taboo questions during the hiring process? Employment experts suggest the following tactics:

1. On the application form, leave the salary history section blank or put in zeros.

2. Delay any discussions about salary until you’ve learned more about the job. Most likely that means waiting for the in-person interview. Example: “I prefer to table this discussion until I know more about this opportunity and determine if it’s right for me.”

3. Don’t ask about salary up front in initial conversations. Adler suggests candidates miss out on job prospects because they are so focused on salary that they disregard jobs that  don’t meet their own salary expectations. The best opportunity may offer less salary but also offer other perks such as education reimbursement, retirement savings plans or additional vacation time. When assessing a job opportunity, consider the entire package.

4. When asked about education, put only the school name and the degree received on your resume and application. Leave off the graduation date. If the online application form asks for a date, put in zeros. It’s far more important for employers to know that you did attend college and earn a degree, but they don’t need to know when you graduated.

Of course, there is always a chance that employers could disregard your application on the grounds that you are not revealing these details, but then you need to ask yourself if this is a company you’d want to work for anyway.

In today’s highly competitive job market, you want to create a level playing field. You don’t want to reveal more about yourself than employers need to know.