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Hired Because of Talents, Not Skills August 26, 2012

Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search, Management & leadership.
Tags: , , , ,

During my current job search I’ve been thinking a lot about the previous job transitions I’ve made during my career, looking for patterns and best practices that might be helpful this time around. There were times when I got a job by applying for a position after reading a job description and deciding that my experience and qualifications were a close match for the published requirements. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately, applying for jobs that I’m highly qualified for, but there are a lot of qualified people looking for jobs these days and it has become hard to stand out in the crowd.

There were other times when I was recruited by people who found me, either from word-of-mouth referrals or, more recently, from my public profile. That’s the networking strategy for job search: leveraging your network of friends and former co-workers, and getting out there to make a good impression on new people who might introduce you to other people who know other people, eventually leading to a job offer from out of the blue.

And then there were a few times when I was offered a job that was completely different from anything I had ever done before, when my experience up to that point was clearly and objectively a poor match to the published requirements. I had never worked in marketing, and then I was hired to be a product marketing manager. I had never worked in software, and then I was hired to be a software quality manager. I had never worked in a factory, and then I was hired to be a factory quality director. How did that happen? And what, if anything, can be learned from those career discontinuities?

I can only guess the reasons why I was asked to take a job when I seemed so unqualified on paper, but I think it’s because in each case the hiring manager saw something that wouldn’t have been flagged by a keyword search on my resume. In First, Break All the Rules (Simon & Schuster, 1999), Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman make this distinction between skills and talents: skills are things you can learn, talents are things you are born with. “A love of precision is not a skill. Nor is it knowledge. It is a talent. If you don’t possess it, you will never excel as an accountant.” (Page 85)

The people who hired me when I wasn’t qualified valued my talents, not my skills. They knew I would have to learn certain specialized skills in order to achieve success, but they also knew a person without certain talents would not succeed. Your talents may be visible and meaningful to those who have worked alongside you or know your reputation. Unfortunately they’re harder to discern and generally irrelevant to companies that are focused on hiring the best match to their job description. When there’s no allowance for a learning curve, there’s no tolerance for lack of knowledge or skills.

For job search, I think the lesson is that the people in your network who understand your talents might surprise you with a suggestion that seems inconsistent with your past experiences. I’ve had an interesting career, in-part because of the variety of jobs and experiences. My worry is that a career path with discontinuities that relies too much on “talent recognition” has turned me into a purple squirrel. More on that in a future post.



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