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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