Focus Your Job Search With A Skills Matrix by Phil Rosenberg

In Home on April 26, 2010 at 4:04 pm

One of the first things I have my job search clients do is to complete a skills matrix.

A skills matrix identifies gaps, to help a candidate determine what parts of their background might be considered weaker than other candidates competing for the same position. I present the idea of a skills matrix as a chart that compares your top 10 skills, skills needed for your target job, and skills you’d like to gain in your next position.

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To give an overly obvious example – If you are a janitor, and your target job is to be an airline pilot, you probably have some gaps between your skills and minimum job requirements. It’s important to understand those gaps, determine which gaps you might cover with close experience and if you will need to gain certain experience first before having a realistic shot at the job. Our janitor friend’s skills matrix might show that a few flying lessons might be a good start.

Your own skills gaps are probably less obvious but a skills matrix will make them much clearer to you.

I’ve included a downloadable link to the skills matrix I provide to clients at the end of this article. I develop a skills matrix as a simple spreadsheet, but by taking your time and really thinking about its completion you’ll likely see some eye openers. I’ve had many clients that have re-prioritized job goals after completing this exercise. Here’s what often happens when a skills matrix demonstrates inconsistencies between these job search goals:

  1. Ideal job – Often, when candidates step back and consider a job move, they start to look at the whole picture (What do they really want to do, quality of life issues, age issues if more senior, risk). This is even more likely if the candidate has been laid off or comes from an industry that has been decimated by the current recession.
  2. Market realities – It may seem natural that this is a good time to think about alternatives, but the hyper-competitiveness of today’s job market makes it difficult to compete for those “stretch jobs” or skill transfer positions. The easiest time to transfer skills, gain stretch positions, change jobs into promotions, change industries or functions is during an economic boom – when there are more jobs than candidates. Candidate shortages are more likely to force hiring managers to be more open to taking a risk on employees. However, when there is candidate oversupply, employers are less likely to take a risk – instead hiring candidates with direct and exacting experience. While this doesn’t mean you can’t beat the trend, it means the odds are against you – at a minimum you should expect a longer search.
  3. Competition – Due to the current economy combined with the perfect storm of candidate information, employer expectations, and automated hiring tools, candidates have never faced more competition than today. If the job you are applying to has been advertised online, even if you were referred by your network, you should expect hundreds or possibly thousands of competitors. This applies for lower level positions as well as executive positions – plenty of applicants aren’t even close to being qualified, but may click submit because there’s zero time investment and they “might get lucky”. That’s still competition for the well qualified candidates. Since most companies interview 12-20 people for a position out of a wide pool of candidates, the wider your gaps, the less likely you are to get the position or even an interview.
  4. Time frame – It’s critical to understand your time frame for finding a new job. While some passive candidates, or those with large savings aren’t time pressed to find the “right position”, many job seekers don’t have that luxury. When you consider it’s taking an average job seeker 6 months to find a new position, Senior Manager/Executives 9 months – 1 year on average, and CEO/Presidents an average 18 months to land a new job, making a search even longer can scare many from their ideal goals. These are averages – attempting to transfer skills, gain stretch positions, change jobs into promotions, change industries or functions all cause an expected longer search. Do you have this much time in your present work situation or savings level?

In better job markets, candidates had more chances to stretch their goals – and may have had more time to be patient to find their dream job. With housing values down, savings still suffering from the 2008 crash, fewer people are prepared to endure a long job search.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that making a career change is impossible. I’ve written dozens of articles helping people to change careers. But it definitely is more challenging and time intensive given the economy, and candidates are wise to make these decisions with as much information as possible. You can’t reclaim your job search time sent chasing goals with low odds of reaching given your own time constraints.

You’ll save yourself much frustration if you realize all of this at the beginning of your search, rather than a few months in – A skills matrix helps you.

Here’s how to complete a skills matrix, so that you can have this information, and gain an idea of how achievable your dream job is … or if you’ll want to take interim steps (example – flying lessons):

  • My Skills – List your top 10 skills going down the left column. Keep these short, capturing your skills in just a few words.
  • Market Demands – Research your target position online, looking at a number of ads for a specific job type. List the most common job requirements (10 requirements). B ebrief here also – just use a few words to describe rather than cutting and pasting a whole job description.
  • Experiences Desired – What are the top 10 skills you want to work on in your next job? These can be skills you currently have, or new skills you want to add. Keep this brief also
  • Why Experiences Desired? – Here’s where to get wordy, by describing why you want each desired experience. This helps you to see how important this experience will be. If you’re going for a job as a library researcher, and you really want to pick up sales experience – this conflict might cause you to rethink how you will pick up sales experience if it is important to you.

Nothing in this chart has to be a disqualifier in itself. A skills matrix merely demonstrates gaps and inconsistencies. Perhaps you can pick up desired skills through education, a part time job, volunteering, or starting a side business. A skills matrix also starts to outline a path to get from where you are now – to where you want to be. Maybe that means you take flight lessons on the weekends, to train for certifications.

A well done sills matrix can also clarify visually why you’re a perfect fit for a job, so you can more easily explain this to your audience – through your resume. Some clients do a skills matrix as a step prior to customizing a resume for a specific reader, so they can explain fit concisely and clearly.


Don’t Let Bad Advice Strangle Your Job Search by Liz Ryan

In Home on April 15, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Nearly every day I read at least one piece of jaw-droppingly bad career advice. It’s depressing. Still, we can’t blame the editors of the papers that print this stuff. It’s not like printing recipes in the paper. If readers write in to say “That caramel soufflé was the worst thing I’ve ever tasted,” the editor would have to take the feedback seriously. With job search advice, it’s nearly impossible to tie the bad advice to a reader’s failure to get the job – so the bad advice keeps showing up, year after year.

The worst part is that the bad job search advice flying around could hurt you. Here are the top three worst bits of job search advice I’ve run across:


They say: Keep Your Resume Formal

This is code for “write your resume in the stiff American corporate-speak boilerplate style beloved by millions.” That’s the style that government manual-writers and the most stuffy HR policy-writers use, too. That sort of writing sucks the life out of your resume. Don’t do it!

I say: Put a Human Voice in Your Resume

Hiring managers are starved for human ingenuity, personality and spark. Replace “results-oriented professional with a bottom-line orientation” with “I love to dismantle the ugliest project-management roadblocks and get amazing products to the market ahead of the competition.”


They say: If a Job Isn’t Listed On Your Resume, Don’t Mention It

The idea is that if you held a job so long ago that it no longer appears on your resume — before 1985, for instance — you can’t reference accomplishments from that job (or roles or skills or clients) elsewhere on your resume. The fear built into this bad advice is that if someone asked you “What do you mean here in your resume when you talk about Sales? I don’t see a Sales job on your resume,” you’d be caught in a lie of omission.

I say: Claim Everything You’ve Done, and Begin Your Career History Where You Like

People don’t list their entire career histories on resumes because they’re worried about age discrimination. No question, age discrimination is real. But here’s the thing: the ability to solve employer pain trumps age, and it trumps another dozen or so common job search worries. No one’s going to care how old you are if you can relieve the pain they’re feeling. No one is going to care that you don’t have the right degree or inside-the-industry experience, either. You can go back as far as you like in your resume, and if you choose not to do that, you can reference cool projects and satisfying accomplishments without actually listing the title, dates and milestones for every role you mention.

How would this look? Let’s say that your stint as Marketing Manager at Acme Dynamite is not included on your resume, because you left there in 1981.

Your resume Summary could still say this:

‘I’m a Call Center Manager who thrives on building nimble systems to get customers thoughtful answers to their questions. I built the Call Center for a voice recognition software startup and established the training, tech infrastructure and career path that allowed that company to grow 500% in three years. Earlier, as Marketing Manager for Acme Dynamite, I saw the strong connection between top-drawer Customer Support and long-term brand loyalty…”

Acme Dynamite isn’t listed on your resume. No problem! Your confidence and ‘brandedness’ in talking about your Call Center passion and mission come through. Not a hiring manager on earth would toss your resume because the Acme Dynamite assignment shows up in your resume Summary and nowhere else. 


They say: Write a cover letter template, and add employer details to customize it.

Nearly every cover letter advice article tells you to write a standard, boring letter and insert the company’s name in it, along with the name of the job you’re applying for. That won’t get you to first base.

I say: Write a pithy Pain Letter from scratch, one that names the dragon the hiring manager is up against.

To get your hiring manager’s attention, you’ve got to dig in, identifying the hiring manager by name in your letter, spotting and tagging the pain the hiring manager is likely to be feeling, and talking about your experience with that set of challenges in your Pain Letter.

Don’t fall for half-baked job search advice. Follow your instinct, trust your gut and your years of experience, and break the mold to get your job search engine humming.

Tips For Career Advancement by Hank Stringe

In Home on April 12, 2010 at 4:05 pm

We want to keep our jobs, advance in our career, we’re told to work hard, do our best and follow the leader, but is this really the best advice? Obviously it depends on the leader – we are best served if we

pick a good one to tie our future to which is not as easy as we’d like.

There was a time, when business models allowed for companies to invest in comprehensive training programs for bright graduates right out of college. IBM, Xerox, EDS are great examples and the programs resulted in consistent leadership, philosophies and actions based on cultures that worked. These programs elicited a high degree of loyalty and pride, as program participants and graduates bragged about their accomplishments and the companies they worked for. But alas those days seem to be gone. The efficiencies of business models today don’t allow for that level of investment, companies rely on business school grads, executive coaching and internal training programs and all have their positives – they just don’t provide the consistency the programs of the past did and as a result you don’t always get the best leader to follow.

So what do you look for in a leader? Here’s a few attributes to consider, if your manager / leader has these then work hard, learn all you can and let them know clearly your desire to advance your career:

  • Focuses on goals that move the company forward
  • Desires measurement and accountability
  • Enjoys competition and winning
  • Is fair and honest at all times
  • Rewards for a job well done more than disciplines for the wrong outcomes

And if you are not interested in advancing your career then find the right leader to support, as they move or advance in or outside the company your opportunities can increase…as long as you’ve impressed enough to follow your leader.