Many Americans are involved in prolonged job searches these days. With the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting the unemployment rate still hovering around 8 percent at the end of April 2012, competition among job seekers can be daunting. This is a good time to evaluate your viability in the job market, beginning with an assessment of your skills.
Tammy Newsom, Director of Career Services at Brown Mackie College – Birmingham, guides graduates through the process of searching for employment every day. “Employers can be picky. There’s a large pool of applicants to choose from,” she says. “Candidates must be sure to offer a well-rounded skill set, not just technical knowledge.”
Newsom reveals several must-have attributes employment candidates should possess. One skill that cannot be overlooked is computer competency. If you don’t know how a right click can help, or you can’t find a drop down menu on the browser, you need to take a class in basic computer skills and learn the programs used in your field. You’ll be glad you did; you will definitely become more marketable. Many companies require candidates to complete the employment application online. “In nearly every industry, everything from scheduling appointments to ordering lunch happens on a computer,” Newsom says. “Colleges have adopted technology, too. Many colleges, including Brown Mackie College – Birmingham, utilize iPads for classroom lectures, and assign eBook reading, to help students keep up with technology.”
Communication skills go hand in hand with computer skills. This includes both written and oral communications. Investopedia, a financial business website, names this as a top-rated skill that employers seek. If you can’t write a good cover letter, you won’t get the coveted interview. After all, every company depends on employees to be able to write at least a memo, if not lengthier reports. “During the interview, if you can’t speak well, you won’t get the job,” Newsom says. “Every sector of business looks for articulate employees who can effectively communicate with co-workers and clients and customers.”
Another competency that many employers seek as they evaluate qualified job candidates? “A positive attitude,” says Newsom. Quintessential Careers, a website dedicated to helping people find employment, includes this attribute in their list of top skills for job candidates. “A positive attitude is an essential skill to master,” Newsom adds. “A bad one affects everyone around you.” This isn’t something you can fake. “Body language reflects your true attitude, and people can read body language,” she continues. “A good attitude is especially important for managers, who must be approachable by the staff.”
Many unemployed people consider going back to school to beef up credentials or train for a different career. “I recommend mapping a detailed plan for finding a place in the job market,” says Newsom. “Education can be costly. Knowing what you want enables you to examine the rewards of gaining job skills versus the financial risk.”
“Taking a class or attending a seminar can be extremely helpful,” Newsom says. “It offers the reward of supporting your professional goal. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, no matter how long you have been out of school.” Additional knowledge not only strengthens your skill set and resume, the experience often provides optimal networking opportunities. Colleagues in the workforce can be invaluable to your search for a job.
Once you have quantified your skills, take ownership of all you have to offer a prospective employer. “Find your own motivation and passion, and look for creative ways to express your qualifications. Employers look for not only technical capabilities, but also for a good fit into the company culture.” Many well-qualified people don’t get the job because of fit. This is where research on a company can give you a leg up on other applicants.
After landing a job, Newsom recommends staying focused on motivation to succeed. “Go above and beyond the scope of your job duties,” she says. “When you see a lack, follow up on it, even if not asked to do so. Maybe you have a suggestion to streamline a process. Maybe you take it upon yourself to wash the office coffee pot.
Why take time to perform duties not assigned to you? “For advancement and promotion,” Newsom says. “It demonstrates willingness, thoughtfulness and dedication. It shows you are motivated to be successful.” This type of passion is what employers look for. Whether you’re looking for a job, or you are employed, it pays to grow these qualities within yourself and maintain them. “You can’t be an ‘average Joe’ anymore. He doesn’t stand out,” Newsom says.