Tuesday, May 22, 2007

WSJ Article on Getting Jobs Without a 100% Skill Match

TODAY'S WALL STREET JOURNAL carried an article, "How to Land That Dream Job When You Lack Certain Skills" by Sarah E. Needleman, which reinforced a sentiment I've heard elsewhere in this job hunt. The nut:
If you're passionate about a certain industry but lack the skills commonly associated with its most visible leaders, you can try to pursue a career working on the sidelines. Being behind the scenes may offer more than just the opportunity to score freebies and gain exposure to your dream industry's superstars. The career choice may also help you enjoy what you do for a living as well as pay your bills.
In discussions with M, my friend and former supervisor, she said that my lack of full facility with design software doesn't disqualify me from careers in publishing that have tracks upward from where I left. Our bosses, for instance, had little to no modern experience with any of the software, hardware, or production methods we used to create our work. As a veteran of these particular trenches, I have an informed opinion on these areas, and I can make managerial decisions affecting them without stepping on scores of toes or wrecking a budget. I was also given sound advice along M's lines by the always awesome India Amos.

I found echoes of the career-consulting program in the article as well. "Think broadly about the types of employers to target," advises Needleman. Early in the program, job seekers are encouraged to do just that, including employers in industries outside the candidates' resume experience. I recall an example given in one of the program texts, in which a job seeker wants to break into the entertainment business, but — lacking the experience needed to do it as talent — does so by joining a business that serves the industry, thereby gaining contact with potential mentors and employers while remaining close to her passion. On this topic, Needleman also cites joining organizations in one's field to build a network, a linchpin of the counseling service's method.

I am mulling my next steps in the job hunt as well as in skill acquisition. The School of Visual Arts runs summer programs for continuing education (including one-weekend concentrated courses) in various software packages, including Illustrator and Photoshop. I took a combo course in both back in 2001, but based on the number of ads that cite both as primary skills, I feel I'd need a full-frontal immersion in just one of them to get in tune with the basics needed by most of these employers.

This article, and the discussions I've had with M, have me wondering whether this is a strictly necessary prerequisite. If I do some digging and make active contacts with hiring managers, maybe I can get into the head of one who might need me as I am . . . or as I soon will be. I have skills along the editing and writing axes as well, which makes me a potentially useful combination plate. (These are the images I use when I blog around dinnertime.)

If nothing else, I will be careful to avoid making the same mistake one person alluded to in the article made at McFarlane Toys. Apparently this dork showed up with a sheaf of comics for the boss to sign. As their HR director put it, "He didn't last very long."


India said...

I've already bent your ear plenty on this topic, but I just want to share another piece of supporting evidence: as I was on the way out of my job at Sweatshop Associates, Inc., a friend's husband e-mailed to say he was leaving his pleasant job in the publishing branch of a major test prep company.

I passed this information along to one of my colleagues, and she immediately applied for the position, even though she'd only worked in Quark, and even though the test prep publisher had recently switched all its production to InDesign.

Because of her solid experience, my friend got an interview, and they liked her and sent her home with a layout test. Months before, I'd lent her some InDesign training disks I'd picked up at the ID User Group, so she was a bit familiar with the program, and she did call me once when she got stuck (which I feel is a perfectly legal thing to do, as the designers I know ask each other for tech support all the time; in the real world, most tests are open-book). She did well enough to get the job, and she's been there for almost a year now.

Would it have been easier for her if she'd known InDesign going into the interview? Probably. But she's smart and very motivated, so a bit of a learning curve doesn't make a difference.</lecture>

Schizohedron said...

I appreciate the additional anecdote and ear-bending. Just to give myself a bit more of an advantage, and to fill in the gaps in my proficiency, I did in fact register for the Photoshop course @ SVA. Above and beyond meeting the requirements of more employers, I find myself struggling to do certain things in Photoshop that I'm sure a bit of focused study and demonstration can make plainer. I got by more or less teaching myself InDesign and Quark, but here, I just need to be in a classroom.