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  • Cindy Lee

Pitfalls re: skillset


Last week we focused on identifying your various levels of ability, with the intention that having this clarity you may begin to identify the types of opportunities to pursue within a certain range of your skillset.

There are some pitfalls to avoid in this exercise that can greatly restrict your search or else put you into roles you are not equipped to handle [yet] –

1) Avoid using labels. These are things like job titles and job levels. They can quickly limit your search and/or prevent you from representing yourself as accurately as possible. Instead, list out the various skills that you are trying to capture with that label. This will enable you to parse out your specific skillset and even identify your preferences.

Example A: project management → I know many Project Managers. There are so many permutations of the project management skillset across individuals. Some are certified; others are not. And within “project management” there are many skills required: to coordinate cross-functional teams, communicate effectively with stakeholders, establish vision and define scope, design a strategy, manage timeline/deadlines, etc.

You may love certain aspects of it and be good at them, and those skills may be found in other types of roles as well. By just looking for “Project Management” roles, you’ll miss out… especially if you dislike certain aspects of it and could actually find roles that avoid those.

Example B: It’s hard not to be focused on your career trajectory. But rather than looking for a job that just bumps up your title (eg, Director → Senior Director), consider the job functions and responsibilities that you want to do and gain, and look for a role that matches. Also, keep in mind that leveling varies across industries, so you may even find something you’d enjoy doing in another area of interest.

2) Mind the gap. Clearly distinguish between your “desired skills” and what’s currently accurate. By recognizing the gap, you can find opportunities that utilize your existing skillset while helping you gain what you still want to learn.

Example: You’re greatly interested in a role that has global exposure, as you want to gain global experience and potentially even transfer overseas someday. You learn about a job that requires the Spanish-language ability to support one medium-sized account in Mexico, which will be one account out of many that you’d manage. You consider yourself conversational in Spanish. Your four years of high-school Spanish classes may be sufficient in exchanging occasional emails with your global counterparts, but you’re hoping it’s such a small account that nobody will actually call to talk to you live.

If you picked it up well in high school, you might consider the role and dust off your language skills while even hoping to grow in your Spanish abilities. Or, on the other hand, if someone cannot expect that you can help them when they call to make requests of you in Spanish, then you are setting yourself up to disappoint in the role.

3) Choose the right level. We live in a generation of overinflated job titles – especially in the realm of startups, but many large corporations are top-heavy as well. It’s not uncommon to find 20-to-30-year-old C-levels and senior management these days. As I mentioned last week, people can have certain expectations of your skills based on your job title or level, and you want to be sure you can shoulder the responsibility. Being clear about what you are able to do and what you are not yet equipped to handle will help you enter at the right level rather than being way over your head – you can stretch yourself without setting yourself up to fail.

Example: Many young companies (eg, startups) require employees to wear a variety of hats and its few workers often have executive-level job titles. If you launched into the corporate world from college and have 8 years of experience doing marketing in various large corporations, you may be enticed to pursue a role of Chief Marketing Officer for ABC Startup. The team is young, and you may have more marketing experience than the others. But, you also know you have been one member of a large team in your previous roles, with guidance from above and limited accountability and exposure.

While you may be the most senior and skilled candidate for the job opening, there are expectations that you are meant to fulfill and requirements to produce results. Strip away the title and look at the actual job functions and responsibilities — can you handle them? If you decide to go for the role, make sure you are and will be equipped to succeed in the role, with a proven track-record and mentors/leaders (even external ones) lined up who can help you develop and sharpen your skillset. If you realize you still need guidance to manage the work, consider finding a role that provides support and grace for you to learn and grow in these areas.

Can you relate to any of these potential pitfalls?

Refine the exercise we did last week to make sure the bottom of your list is clear with those skills that you desire to gain but haven’t yet. Take a moment to review your list overall with an eye for these pitfalls!

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