Survey: Skills Based Approach, How To Learn Skills

There are many ways to learn and build an expertise with skills in your skill set; this is what I call the building stage in a skills based approach. In the survey, Skills Based Approach, I posed a question regarding the effectiveness of learning a skill with various methods: taking a class; joining an organization; volunteering; reading a book; and taking on a project at work. My objective is to understand the best ways to learn a skill, so a professional can properly plan, learn, and build an expertise with a desired skill set.

Learning Skills
Learning Skills

Taking on a project at work is by far the best way to build a skill according to the survey; in fact, only one respondent reported it ineffective and 87.18% reported it as “very effective”.  This has two implications. First, if you are currently looking for employment, you should consider seeking a job that can build your desired skills and perhaps your only objective is to learn skills so the job is a “stepping stone” to a more long term job in the future. Second, if you are already employed, you may want to be assertive and take a role on a project that can help you build your desired skills; talk to your supervisors and tell them why you want to make a presentation or be the lead developer on a project, for example.

The effectiveness of taking a class and volunteering also elicited a strong favorable response; only a few respondents thought taking a class or volunteering were ineffective (1.71% and 5.08% respectively). An advantage with these methods is that they can often be addressed with few prerequisites; you do not have to get hired for a job or be accepted to take on a project.  Although the disadvantages are both require a commitment of time outside of your paying job, and you usually have to pay for classes.

Most of the respondents thought joining an organization or reading a book are “somewhat effective”. Personally, I can think of many times where I have used a book to learn a new skill – especially learning a new programming language or technology. I also think about the famous series of books, “… For Dummies”, which has become a staple for learning a skill with no prior experience.

Thankfully some of the respondents pointed out that I missed a very important way to build an expertise with a skill: finding a mentor. And, drawing from my own experiences, this is a very powerful way to learn skills. I had an excellent mentor in my second job, and the things I learned from him have had a lasting impact throughout my career. I strongly suggest seeking out a mentor to help build your skill set.

Survey: Skills Based Approach, Planning Stage

According to a recent LinkedIn study, one in three adults claim to have actually achieved their childhood “dream” job. You can improve your chances of landing your “dream job” by creating a well, thought out plan to acquire the necessary skill set. A professional website has functionality to support the planning stage of developing your skill set.

The planning stage in developing your skill set is a two-step process. First, you identify your strengths, personality traits, and inner motivations (passions) and then leverage them in selecting a career path and related skill set.  Second, you plan concrete ways to learn each skill in the skill set – such as taking a course or accepting a project at work. In the survey, Skill Based Approach, one objective is to understand how much weight a professional should put on each influence – strengths, personality traits, and inner motivations – when planning their future.

Career Planning
Career Planning

A clear majority of the respondents “strongly agree” that you can learn a skill “if you work on developing it and am determined to learn it properly”; moreover, 49.58% of the respondents disagree that you “should only develop skills based on your strengths”. Don’t be discouraged if you need to learn a skill and it is challenging to you, work hard and do your best to learn it properly.

The survey did not address the advantages in planning your career based on an evaluation of your strengths. Although, according to the Gallup website, there are a few advantages in utilizing your strengths: people who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged on the job; teams that focus on strengths every day have 12.5% greater productivity.

Many of the respondents – the largest segment (44.54%) – “somewhat agree” that you should “pursue a career and develop skills based on the results of a personality test”. This indicates that you should consider taking a personality test and evaluate the results as you plan out your career.

As the results of the survey unfolded, I was surprised by the response of a significant majority regarding how strengths, personality traits, and inner motivations should influence your career decisions; I was expecting the opposite.  My opinion is that you should take a strengths and personality test, find out your competencies and how you work, and then find careers that follow these results and consider your inner motivations as you narrow down the list. Maybe this is my over-analytical mind spinning, but I figure you should build your career around your core-competencies.  The clear message from the survey, however, is to follow your inner-motivations when you plan out your career; according to the same LinkedIn study, the most important characteristic of a dream job is “taking pleasure in your work”.

Survey: Skills Based Approach, Use of a Skill Set

Using skill sets is becoming more common in employment web services: LinkedIn has a search engine where recruiters can target skill sets and an interface where users’ connections can endorse their skills; and MonsterJobs has a sophisticated search engine to retrieve online resumes based on a skill set. One of the objectives of the survey, Skills Based Approach, is to understand whether searching on a skill set is a standardized, common procedure, and if a skill set is an effective way to summarize a professional background.

According to survey, most of the respondents (68.91%) have searched for candidates based on a skill set. Almost all of the respondents think a skill set is an effective way to summarize a professional background – the average ranking was 3.42 out of 5; only 2.52% of the respondents thought a skill set is ineffective in representing a professional background.

The results of the survey indicate skill sets are a standardized way to summarize professional backgrounds across most services and industries. This means there is utility in creating a plan to acquire skills to reach you career aspirations; planning your skill set is the first step in a skills based approach.

Use Of Skill Set
Use Of Skill Set

Survey: Skills Based Approach, Overview

I decided to take my skills based approach to the streets with a survey. My objective is to get a better understanding whether my proposed methodology is practical and effective, and can be facilitated with the use of a professional website. I distributed the survey to 119 Human Resource professionals from various industries and services; I chose Human Resource professionals because of their close proximity to employment evaluations and their interpersonal interactions with employees (the study could be expanded to include professionals in education and psychology as well).  I wrote a series of blogs based on the survey results, including: effectiveness of a skill set as a summary of a professional background; best ways to plan the development of a skill set; what are ways to learn and build an expertise with a skill; what is a good assessment for a level of expertise of a skill; and how a professional website works with a skills based approach.

Here are some of the summary statistics:

There is a very strong response that you can learn a skill if you “work on developing it and am determined to learn it properly”; 69.7% of the respondents strongly agree.  And 49.6% of the respondents disagree that you should “only develop skills based on your strengths”. Taking these two stats to together, there is a message that if you are passionate about something, whether or not it is in line with your competencies, you should still dedicate time and effort to learn the skills properly.

The best way to build expertise with a skill is to take on a project at work – 87.2% of the respondents reported it as very effective; volunteering and taking a class also had high rankings.  All of these approaches suggest being proactive to learn and develop your skills.

Most of the respondents (68.90%) have searched on a skill set and the largest segment (47.1%) think a skill set is somewhat effective in “summarizing a professional background”.  This indicates there is familiarity with a skill set among human resource professionals.

The respondents think a sample of work (1.83) is the best indicator of your level of expertise of a skill – they want to take an unbiased evaluation of something you have created.  This is followed by “years of experience” (2.28), “references” (2.77), and “certificate from a third-party” (3.12); although 21.0% of the respondents ranked “certificate from a third-party” first or second. Validating a skill is a difficult thing to measure across different services and industries. For example, in the IT world, a certificate is a very common way to evaluate a professional’s experience in a technology or application, however, in the marketing world, a sample of your work is much more relevant. There will be more discussion on the survey results about validating a skill in a later blog.

Verify Expertise With A Skill
Verify Expertise With A Skill

Here is some information about my sample.

  • 119 Human Resource professionals, all from the United States
  • 82.7% of the respondents are over 30 years old and the largest segment (41.8%) is between 45 and 60.
  • 60.9% of the respondents are women
  • 65.4% have a college degree
  • Over 20 different industries and services are represented

There were 9 respondents who did not report their demographic information

You Should Have A Personal Website

I want to summarize some of the key points from the last three blogs where I discussed what might replace the traditional resume and the concept of a professional identity and incorporated insights from publications by reputable authors (Dan Schawbel in Forbes, Sudy Bharadwaj in Mashable , and Susanne Markgren in College & Research Libraries). In this blog, I want to introduce some of the concepts from a LifeHacker blog written by Alan Henry called “How to Clean Up Your Online Presence and Make a Great First Impression”; LifeHacker has a large following and can be considered the pulse of the younger generation regarding personal branding.

I have two overarching conclusions. First, it is clear that a resume is going to morph into something new, something that takes advantage of the functionality of the internet including: delivering various types of media, enabling better interactivity, and using identities and networks. Second, there is this idea of a “professional identity” or “online portfolio” or “online presence” or “nameplate site” which is essentially a personal website with your own domain that acts as the primary node for all your interactions on the internet.

Professional Identity, Personal Brand
Professional Identity, Personal Brand

The standard employment platform is in a transition from a resume into a professional website and there are a few catalysts driving the change:

  • Recruiters are finding it more efficient to seek out candidates. This means there needs to be an accessible search mechanism, which requires a search engine and an index of personal websites or profiles.
  • Higher employee turnover.  In his article, Mr. Schawbel shares a startling stat that 84% of employees plan to look for a new job in 2011; people are on the move looking for the next best opportunity.
  • Accessibility to other forms of media. It is easy to deliver social media, video, files and rich text through the internet; this adds dimensions to an employment evaluation (as Mr. Bharadwaj argues in his article).
  • Facilitating the process. Adding interactivity, with searching, communication, and navigation functionality, is easy to do with a professional website.

Developing a professional identity is discussed in each of the articles. Some of the common themes include:

  • Get a personal professional website with your own domain name. This is your “home base” on the internet, a landing page for all your social media profiles.
  • Be prepared for what content about you is already out there. People are going to look for information about you on the internet. Mr. Henry suggests conducting a “vanity search” on Google to see what others are going to see when they search on your name.
  • Control how you are represented in search engines; you can setup an SEO (“search engine optimization”) and “clean up” what is already out there.
  • Publish content in a professional way. There is a thin line between what is considered professional versus personal. Ms. Marken says to consider publishing everything in a professional context, and Mr. Henry says to consider using anonymity when you publish personal content.
  • Present yourself in a flattering way. Consider the way you represent yourself with a resume, you want to standout as much as possible; don’t worry about possibly sounding conceited, though make sure you are accurate. On Quora, somebody posed the question: “Does a well-designed professional looking personal website make you look conceited?” and it elicited some good responses.
  1. Forbes article “5 Reasons Why Your Online Presence Will Replace Your Resume in 10 years”, Dan Schawbel
  2. College & Research Libraries article,  “Ten simple steps to create and manage your professional online identity”, Susanne Markgren
  3. Mashable article “4 Reasons Recruiters Should Stop Accepting Traditional Resumes” ,  Sudy Bharadwaj

Can Social Media Replace a Resume?

In the Mashable article “4 Reasons Recruiters Should Stop Accepting Traditional Resumes” ,  Sudy Bharadwaj argues social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, and Tumblr should become the focal point in an employment evaluation, replacing the traditional resume.  His approach is different from building an “online presence” or professional identity (discussed in an earlier blog What is going to replace the resume?) because he suggests using social media web services as the centerpiece. Mr. Bharadwaj’s argument is centered on four reasons:

“Better representation of candidates. “

Mr. Bharadwaj argues that social media profiles are a better representation of a candidate’s personal brand. I agree that social media profiles are an improvement from the traditional resume in some ways, but I think a professional website is an improvement from social media profiles. A LinkedIn profile has the most depth and could be used in a basic employment evaluation; however it does not yet use all types of media available on the internet and does not have much latitude in promoting a “personal brand” with a visual appealing presentation. Think about it, when a company promotes their brand with an advertisement, how much of their presentation is visual as compared to textual (like a resume, or a LinkedIn profile); obviously the underlying meaning trumps anything else, but there is value in displaying style and using other forms of media rather than straight text – it adds another dimension.  I think a professional website is more functional and visually appealing than social media profiles and therefore a better way to present a personal brand (both are better than a resume).

“Social media shows creativity.”

There are some social media outlets where candidates can show creativity, such as Pinterest, YouTube, and Tumblr (as Mr. Bharadwaj mentions), and demonstrating ingenuity is a good thing. However, I do not think we should completely abandon all aspects of the resume for two reasons. First, social media profiles are not comprehensive enough. For example, you can upload a great video resume on YouTube but would the video have enough information to make an employment evaluation – probably not.  Second, there has to be a common platform to make proper comparisons (i.e. apples to apples); a resume is standardized and is commonly recognized in every industry. A professional website solves these two problems. A professional website has all the content and structure of a resume with advanced functionality to promote communication and interactivity. It also supports all types of media in one place.

“Makes candidates three-dimensional.”

Mr. Bharadwaj suggests that adding various types of media, such as a video, allows for candidates to “present themselves three-dimensionally”. I often refer to a professional website as a “multi-dimensional resume” for this reason.   Ditto the arguments made above.

“Demonstrate Social Media Fluency.”

I guess it is worth showing you understand the nuances of social media, though this is vague.  Learning the “ins” and “outs” of social media is usually straightforward; some users might be more advanced than others but I am not sure how much of an impact that should have with an employment evaluation (unless it is what you will be doing everyday).

My answer to Mr. Bharadwaj’s question, “should recruiters stop accepting traditional resumes”, is yes. However, I think rather than social media, a professional website is a better platform for employment evaluations. I agree with Mr. Bharadwaj that social media can expand creativity and provide a much richer experience for recruiters, however, only piecemeal. LinkedIn has the best profile for an employment evaluation but is still not complete. A professional website brings everything together.

Personal Dynamics In Having A Professional Identity

I discussed how the concept of an”online presence” or “professional identity” is going to replace the resume in the last blog (based on an article by Dan Schawbel). In the article,  “Ten simple steps to create and manage your professional online identity”, Susanne Markgren thoroughly describes the important characteristics of a professional identity and their influence  on our personal dynamics. Managing how you are perceived personally and professionally on the pervasive internet is a difficult undertaking. Ms. Markgren breaks it down into 10 basic steps (the following list is in her words only).

Ten simple steps to create and manage your professional online identity

I think this is an exceptional summary of the personal elements involved in developing your professional online identity. People will conduct online searches about you, whether or not you are prepared for it and there is almost no delineation between personal and professional content.  Therefore, you should have a strategy as you develop your online identity and it should be professional in context and resemble how you want to be perceived – your personal brand. I suggest substituting what she calls an “online portfolio”, with a more advanced and functional professional website, and carry on with the same ideas of promoting it in your social media profiles.

I would make one addition to her list: setup your own SEO campaign, where you optimize your professional website so that it performs well in search engines – ranking high in areas where you want to represent yourself. For example, you want your professional website to appear when someone searches on your profession and where you live or the title of an article you wrote or the company whose website you built. Moreover, in the near future, I envision a search engine that indexes only personal websites which would make a SEO campaign even more effective.