I talk to job seekers every day, and they have strikingly similar attitudes. They feel frustrated that the market remains so poor. Whether they are at junior, mid-, or senior levels, they find that the jobs just aren’t out there. And I, as a career advisor, am in the unenviable position of telling them that they’re wrong.
In fact, many organizations are hiring in droves. Much as job seekers would like to think the problem is the market, and they’re perfectly qualified, that simply isn’t the case. Candidates are failing at their job search because they don’t have the skills that employers want, plain and simple.
Companies across the country report having increasing difficulty finding qualified workers, and some economists believe this skills gap is nearing a crisis. A national survey, the Job Preparedness Indicator, conducted by the Career Advisory Board and Harris Interactive, polled 540 hiring mangers at top companies and 734 adults looking for work last month and found that only 14% of the hiring managers felt that the candidates they had seen had met their qualifications for open positions.
Honing in on Skills with the Widest Gap
As part of an effort to close the critical divide between what candidates have and what employers need, the Job Preparedness Indicator assessed the value of key skills across entry, mid-, and senior levels by determining what attributes employers consider most important but are rarely seen in candidates. Skills rated most important by employers but least common among job seekers were assigned the highest score.
At the entry level, the skills and traits with the highest indicator scores were a strong work ethic and the ability to get along well with others. For mid-level candidates, problem-solving and communication scored highest. At the managerial level, business acumen and global outlook did. Across all three levels, strategic perspective received the highest score.
The research found that employers were having the most trouble finding qualified candidates at the senior levels, and that 57% of the job seekers surveyed were pursuing mid-level or managerial positions that required leadership skills they didn’t have.
The implication is that the U.S. has already started experiencing the brain drain that was expected to begin in 2010 as a baby boomer first entered retirement. Many boomers have left or are leaving their traditional corporate jobs. and businesses don’t have access to the talent to replace them. Furthermore, much of their institutional knowledge isn’t being properly transferred.
Demonstrate Mastery of Critical Skills
There are three primary ways job seekers can use this research to help their careers. First, if you’re seeking employment, you should carefully examine your level of the skills and traits with the highest indicator scores, and develop marketing materials that showcase your mastery of these skills and traits. For example, if you’re going into a new field at the entry level, you might create a skills-based résumé that highlights team building, since getting along well with others is a skill that is perceived as rare among entry level candidates.
In the résumé, and subsequently in the interview, discuss quantifiable results you achieved as part of team building efforts. A statement to this effect mightbe:
Organized and served as the leader of 25-member cross-functional innovation team, resolving internal differences and mining knowledge that resulted in the launch of four new profit-generating services.
Statements like that can assure a hiring manager that you have the ability to work diplomatically with different groups, a skill that is apparently rare at the entry level.
Increase Your Repertoire of Critical Skills
Second, you should actively pursue opportunities to hone the skills with the highest indicator scores. Leadership courses, which tend to stress skills like communication and problem-solving, are excellent growth vehicles for any job seeker. Stretch assignments or job rotations in a current company or volunteer roles in a nonprofit organization can also be useful. To be systematic about skill acquisition, work with a boss or mentor to set concrete and time-bound goals for mastery.
You can also position yourself to take advantage of wide-open upper level opportunities by showcasing leadership experience, either in a previous job or volunteer role, and by regularly interacting with senior level advisers who can advise you on what the market and even specific organizations are looking for in leaders.
Predict and Illustrate the Skills You’ll Need in the Future
Finally, you should pay close attention to the desired skills and traits at the level above yours. Look for ways acquire and demonstrate skills and traits that have high indicator scores at the mid-level and senior levels, such as business acumen and global perspective. Also, review senior title job descriptions to determine the skills that are most critical for leadership in a specific organization. For instance, if you’re applying for an entry-level job at a multinational conglomerate and can demonstrate a history of interacting with other cultures, you will likely draw the attention of a hiring manager who is eager to groom future global leaders.
Self-awareness is half the battle. Now that this research has shown you the skills and traits you must focus on to be most competitive, you can think carefully about your own strengths and weaknesses and position yourself to take advantage of the current gaps between employer needs and available talent.