Have you ever gotten to the “Skills” section of your resumé and been a little embarrassed?
You consider whether to put “Basic Spanish.” You decide against listing the tango class you took that one time. You really can’t put “Microsoft Word.” If you couldn’t use Word, how would you even have a resumé? PARADOX.
Sometimes you want to say, “Sure, my skills are pretty much talking and writing and doing normal stuff, but REALLY, REALLY WELL.” Yeah, you can’t really put that either. You need proof. You need quantification.
Here’s a question I think a lot of ladies can relate to:
I just read your How To Make A Career Out Of The 10,000 Things You Want To Do column and was struck by the feeling I don’t really have any skills. Like, reading and writing better than some people, some moderate project management skills maybe from volunteering, but nothing that feels substantial. I’m not really sure what my question is, probably along the lines of help?! This may be because I’m soon to get out of university in a humanities subject…
OK! Let’s talk about that.
I think this is a widespread problem in a so-called “knowledge economy,” but I think women have this problem even more than men, because, for better or worse, young men are more likely to be pushed by their parents into majoring in something “practical” in college. Which means there are more men pursuing jobs they don’t really want while wishing they could’ve done studio art — but more women graduating with nebulous, unmarketable skill sets.
It is also the case that, specifically, too many women have specialized in reading and writing. And then many of them try to write for blogs, thus driving prices down to close to zero. It’s a problem.
Many hard skills really aren’t that hard to pick up, at least to achieve a sort of Level 1-2. And then, if you’ve got the English/writing background, you can often beat someone in an interview or other competitive situation who has Level 3-4 or higher skills, because the interviewer isn’t really qualified to evaluate those skills, and you are better at talking and social skills and writing good emails.
For example: Take an Excel class. My university had “miniversity” classes that ranged from tango to, I think, Excel, and were inexpensive and not-for-credit. It’s nice to have an in-person instructor, but here is a list of 40 free resources for learning Excel online.
Excel is a consumer product; it’s meant to be easy. It’s not like learning to code. So you can become an Excel Level 1-2 expert fairly quickly. Now come up with some kind of evidence of your expertise that you can explain to an older person who doesn’t know much about Excel — or who may turn out to be an Excel expert well above your level. This might be as simple as printouts of Excel docs in a binder that you can pull out and show. If you actually bring that binder and talk intelligently about your Excel skills, your Level 1-2 skills may very well beat out the skills of the Level 16 person who is not so personable and prepared (and most real jobs don’t need Level 16 anyway). I am still regularly using the HTML I taught myself in college OVER 14 YEARS AGO. And I am sometimes astounded when I send an article to someone who works for a website/blog and they paste my perfect HTML (I tested it in my own WordPress) INTO VISUAL MODE and then MANUALLY FIX EVERY LINK LIKE THEY’RE USING WORD (for instance).
A million girls can write about themselves, and about lady stuff. If I were hiring at ladyblogs, I would be severely in favor of any job candidates who brought both clips of their writing, and some kind of evidence that they could use a computer better than the other candidates. (And, while we’re at it, a deep expertise in one or two areas, the way former EIC Jennifer Wright was able to use her classics degree to bring Shelved Dolls to TheGloss, or some kind of Youtube channel of makeup tutorials, or an encyclopedic knowledge of fabrics and sewing techniques. Something you can prove, not just “I write a lot about dating.”)
You don’t need to know how to code to work in content production at a website. But it would be very helpful to be very good at WordPress, basic SEO, and basic HTML. WordPress Visual Mode is nice, and I use it myself, but sometimes you try and try and try, and the thing you do in Visual DOES NOT LOOK LIKE IT IS SUPPOSED TO when you publish. It would be helpful to be the only one in the office who can switch into HTML mode and put a fucking carriage return there with a couple of tags.
I just don’t think there’s any excuse for, “Oh, I’m just bad at technology.” Would you say, “Oh, I’m just terrible at English?” Probably not if it’s the only language you know, right? There’s nothing cute or praiseworthy at claiming incapacity at something that is now an inextricable part of any job.
Being terrible with computers is simple illiteracy. It’s not something to brag about.
Furthermore, tech skills – even if you don’t want to start a tech company or work in IT – 1) help make you more self-sufficient as an entrepreneur, and 2) give you solid, concrete, verifiable skills that no one can deny, even if he or she doesn’t like what you look like or where you came from.
Also make some kind of online portfolio that demonstrates both your English/communication skills and whatever else, like Excel, you are able to pick up. Get online certifications where possible, or take online classes (many of which are free) that have final projects that you can post.
Are you still volunteering? The kind of project management most people do in a volunteer organization is pretty unstructured. Learn to use a GANTT chart (I’ve found that most project management techniques and resources are intended for software development, so you’ll have to wade through and get creative). Apply this to the volunteer organization.
Track how much productivity goes up. Find a way to quantify — this year’s project got done 25% faster, or was able to be completed on time with only 6 people instead of 9. PRINT OUT THE GANTT CHART. Bring that shit with you to interviews. Put it in the binder with the Excel stuff, and on your portfolio site. Practice explaining your GANTT charts and spreadsheets, both to, say, your friend who is a computer science major, and to your grandparents.
I think that if you spent one month (three would be better, but one could work) seriously gaining these kinds of skills with the same level of structure and dedication you applied to college, you would be way, way ahead of your classmates in the job market.
In addition to gaining hard skills, there are also ways to quantify softer skills — the sorts of things that a lot of people can do, but don’t. For instance, you’re good at “networking”? Cool, can you prove that in some way other than just … telling me you’re good at networking? Can you say you have a database of over 150 people in the industry you’ve met personally and followed up with? Can you tell me you have a list of 30 buyers of whatever it is my company sells, because, as a student, you politely asked these people to complete a survey and they kindly complied?
Maybe you can hit up some conferences while you can still get student pricing. Maybe you look up the speakers whose presentations you plan to attend, tell them on Twitter that you’re looking forward to their talks, try to meet them in person, and then send them nice emails afterwards. That might result in real connections, and being able to do some nice name-dropping later on. Or maybe you pitch yourself as someone who not only can do the job you’re applying for, but who can also, when called upon, attend events on behalf of the company.
(See also: Bullish: Be A Badass, Not An Intern.)
Also, anyone can be published now. If you’re not trying to get paid, it’s really easy to get published online someplace that’s not a personal blog. Ask to submit a guest post. Don’t say you’re a student. Put up your own website first. Then say you’re Anita Chung, of AnitaChungCommunications.com, or whatever. You may be asked to pitch a few ideas, or to send along a post for consideration. Blog posts are, in general, much shorter and less rigorously researched than university papers, so this shouldn’t be too difficult compared to your degree program.
Finally, you’re young, right? Use that to your advantage. You will have a hard time claiming to be an expert at management — instead, you will naturally gain some credibility as a manager around age 35. But everyone will believe you, based on the shoddiest of evidence, if you claim to be an expert in some kind of cool new technology or social media thing that all the kids are using these days, and that executives are sort of scared that they don’t understand and maybe should do something about. Get a lot of followers on Vine (but without making a fool of yourself). Could you make some kind of educational or professional-seeming Vine videos that people would enjoy? I don’t know how to do that, but I’m sure you could figure it out in a month, while also learning Excel. And maybe there’s something more bleeding-edge than Vine right now. Find out. Your youth will work in your favor if you do.
Good luck! Remember, most of the people you’re competing against are the kinds of people you already know: Lots of C students. Lots of slackers and fuckups. Lots of obedient rule-followers with little ability to act independently. And some people who are theoretically smarter and faster and more skilled and more connected than you, but still just don’t bother to do stuff. Most people just don’t bother to do stuff. That leaves you a lot of room to win.