Advice for the job hunter: Know thyself first

Before you can sell yourself to a prospective employer, you must look at the actual skill set you possess and not what you'd like to have.

This post originally ran on October 30, 2008.

Sometimes when I'm combing through the multitude of career resources out there, I come across a piece of advice that seems to be clear-cut on the surface, but really isn't. I recently saw this statement:

"When looking for a job, you should find the best match for your skill set and experience."

Now you'd think that that would be so obvious that no one would even have to hear it. But some people not only need to hear it, but they need to put it into practice. I have seen many, many instances of the disconnect between the skills a person actually has and what he desires to do in life. (One only has to watch the first couple of episodes of a season of American Idol to see this in action.)

I also see the disconnect a lot in the publishing biz. As an editor, I get a great amount of e-mail from people who want to write for us, yet they can barely compose a coherent e-mail. Then I have tons of folks from our membership who I try to coax into writing for us based on the eloquence of their discussion posts. I usually have to twist their arms to convince them that they can write.

The hardest thing to do is to step back and look at yourself objectively. It's difficult because your self-perception is usually (in some cases vastly) different than how others see you. But if you don't take the step, you're going to continue to apply for jobs that you're not suited for and get continually disappointed.

Being objective about your work background is black and white. If you don't have any experience that a job opening specifically asks for, then you don't. There's really no reason to waste your time applying. If you have experience that you feel could be substituted for what is required, then explain why in your cover letter. Don't expect the hiring manager to do the work for you -- chances are, he has a stack of resumes from people who do have the exact experience he's looking for.

Other personal attributes are not so easy to be objective about. If you must, ask a couple of people who know you to outline what they believe your strengths are. Ask them to also list your weaknesses also -- if your friendship can stand the strain. It may surprise you what you find out.

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Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.


I have a Linux system downstairs on my 25 node home local area network. Windows 2003 Server, XP and have various networks in use by my clients. All Windows. Used to be Novell. But I would never EVER claim to have working knowledge of Linux. I really should turn the thing on and work with it more, but in hunting for positions, if it involves heavy or medium Linux work --- I do not go there. EVER.


Dear Tony, You are 100% right. But what happens in the case someone has practical skills but is not given chance at the interview to display them? It makes one look stupid at times, especially when you know you can perform very well at that job. Xavier


How about having the skills but not having worked in 8 years. I got hands on experience while earning my degree and I can't even get a call back for a help desk job. I would love to know how a person with a BS in ISS is not qualified for a job who's only requirements are a HS diploma and 1 yr experience. I think that it is an understatement that it is difficult to get your foot in the door in IT...more like it's impossible to get your foot even near the door.


IMHO, employers look for cookie cutter experience which will not get them through the next year, let alone serve them for the future. Their focus really needs to be on demonstrated talent, ability and willingness to learn, and flexibility. This can be viewed in terms of taking "what have you done for me lately?", which is valid when evaluating raises; and turning it into "what can you do for me tomorrow?" which is valid when hiring an employee to fuel the company's future. Skills can be taught. If someone has been programming in COBOL for 45 years, you just might want to consider that although they have the experience, they will never grow beyond what they are.

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