The past two weeks have been a bit complex – doing a lot of data manipulation on some proprietary and public software and getting used to the life of a commuter once again. It’s a long day – 8 hours in front of a screen and another 4 on trains. Which leaves my circuitry a bit fried at the end of the day. Alan Dugan, a poet who was giving me some guidance back in the day, once told me if I really want to write, then I should get a job as a cashier in a supermarket so I would have some energy at the end of the day to put pen to paper. I’m beginning to understand the wisdom of those words.
But, so you know I’m not completely slacking off, I put together an article for my LinkedIn account. I do have several lives…
Here’s a reprint in case you haven’t been drawn into the professional version of Facebook:
Back in the day, the desktops we sat at were worn wooden platforms you shared with previous generations that had left their marks with carved initials and ink stains.
Today, the newest digital versions of desktops don’t offer those lasting opportunities—instead they update and erase at dizzying speed as we move to faster, more convenient, and more compact versions. It seems that the definition of “capabilities” is something we apply more often to software than we do to people.
In a phone conversation last week with a peer about print producers in the industry, we spoke of the skills that, no matter how valuable they once were, are no longer needed, and how quickly we can age out of our careers. Where once, for instance, we had to work with outside vendors like compositors and separation houses, now all can be done in-house using templates, filters, and actions and in a fraction of the time.
But as much as designers still need composition and layout skills, there are still some things that can’t be chosen using drop-down menus and software.
Author and marketer Seth Godin touched on that point recently in his blog, writing about the need to personalize what we do, especially at a time when “the web now makes just about every task outsourceable with a click.” He gets into the details, adding that “clients will notice when you do it…they notice your presence, or they notice the unique nature of what you create… Because the work matters to you…”
But how exactly do you communicate those qualities, especially to those looking to hire you? That problem was brought home to me recently when I was suddenly thrust out into the marketplace. Now I had to confront and redo a resume that I hadn’t edited for nearly two decades. Using all literary and creative qualities I had both as a production manager and salesman, I came up with several versions that I also took comments on from close friends and peers. Had to be the hardest job I’ve ever tackled (Alan Watts once called the task of defining yourself as “trying to bite your own teeth”).
Then, after final editing and submitting to search firms and web sites with the reader in mind, I found out that most companies used filtering software to pick up on keywords and phrases to screen potential candidates. If you didn’t have those keywords, you were parsed into oblivion and left without a possible chance at an actual conversation.
But what about the qualities that you gain over the years that have nothing to do with the schools you attended or the titles you attained?
One potential employer, in a recent LinkedIn article, “What Kind of Soft Skills [Are] Required to Be a Great Project Manager?”, listed qualities such as enthusiasm, honesty, listening skills, and even a sense of humor. But are these things that can be measured by a robotic process? Data is what fits into templates—not people.
Résumés, for instance, are just snapshots and should be treated as such. We seek “engagement’’ —but how do we find it, or even nurture it, if it’s not part of the process? If you want someone to give you what you want, then certainly hire from the text version. But if you want someone, either employee or vendor, who will truly provide you those soft skills you need, and will fit into your own culture as well as your company’s, then you also need to spend some time using your own personal listening skills.
There just isn’t an app for that.