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Why Early Careerists Should Chase Their Ideal Skills, Not Their Ideal Roles

9 September, 2016

Ever heard the advice that we should follow our dreams? I have a different take on this piece of advice. I think you should follow your skills.
2016-06-13 Karen DeVigili 
Communications & Engagement Associate/
CEBer since 2014

Ever heard the advice that we should follow our dreams? I have a different take on this piece of advice. I think you should follow your skills.

I often think about the time between my graduation and landing my first corporate job, and I can almost still smell the fresh espressos brewing in the clamoring coffee shops I would frequent. Laptop in front of me, I would sit for a few hours on my days off from my part-time job at the time, ready to comb through as many job posts as I could. I would always start those coffee-shop days ambitious, and ready to tackle a few job applications. But almost without fail, about five job descriptions in, I would start to feel confused and a little deflated. The same generic descriptions of the “ideal candidate” in each post would start to blur, and each job post I looked at started to look like the last. It wasn’t until I re-read the job description of the first corporate job I took, that something clicked: Don’t sweat the jargon, don’t sweat the small stuff; it’s all in the skills.

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The Skill of Scanning Job Posts

When starting from scratch, scanning through multiple job posts is bound to be something you do while job-searching. As you browse the internet, there is a massive amount of available jobs at your fingertips, and finding the jobs worth your time and effort in an efficient way is key to helping you find your first gig. Even if it means skipping ahead, reading the “desired skills” and “qualifications” can help you in several ways. It cancels out posts for qualifications you may not yet have, but it also gives you the bare bones of the role first. Think about it. If you were a hiring manager putting together a job description, you would likely start out by thinking of what skills or qualifications you would want in all of your applicants. It’s only after that foundation is set that you would start to think through what your ideal candidate would look like. You may need to understand the structure of the role before you can digest the description of an ideal candidate.

The Skill of Selecting Your Winners

Scanning through job descriptions is a lot like spring cleaning. But instead of “keep”, “maybe”, and “toss” piles, you end up with (often too many) “keep” and “maybe” tabs open on your browser. These contenders are your nominees for your time and energy. For which job posts will you choose to submit a resume, write a cover letter, and fulfill any other requirements associated with the application? This is another place where a look at the skills associated with the role comes in handy. This time, reading over the whole description— not just the qualifications or desired skills section— through the lens of the skills you would need to be successful in the role can help you better understand what your day-to-day would look like and how the role may help you further sharpen your skills. The descriptive sections of posts often speak to the aspirational elements of the role and help answer questions like what would an ideal candidate look like? Or: How would an ideal candidate perform? But they can fail to mention the nitty-gritty details of what the jobs actually look like. Knowing what kind of software you may be using or how many “soft” skills (like language or communication skills) are called out in the job description gives you a better sense of what the job would actually be like, day-to-day.

The Skill of Building Your Career

Once you land your first role, don’t be discouraged if it wasn’t everything you hoped it would be. Fresh out of university, you may not have the required qualifications to shoot for your dream role just yet, but you can find related skills embedded in other positions. Remember that it’s the skills you master that make you marketable to employers. These skills are also the key to your success, whether it is your first job, your dream role, or both if you’re lucky enough to land your dream gig right out of school. And if you’re still undecided on what exactly you want to do, focusing on the skills you enjoy mastering can get you closer to determining what your dream role may be. Either way, it’s the skills you accumulate through your career that will comprise the thriving professional you will one day become.

Targeting the core skills behind your dream role is an excellent way to prepare you for success once you do land that dream role. So ask yourself: What skills would make someone successful in my ‘dream role’? And once you’ve set the target, follow your skills.

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