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May 12, 2014
Stop Looking for Jobs, Start Looking for Skills
There is little doubt that today's job market has changed dramatically.

Companies are constantly hiring and firing, and people no longer expect "lifelong" careers at a single organization, ending with a fat pension. Instead, we're living in a "gig economy" where one- to five-year stints is the norm. So how does one embrace this environment and plan their career in a market that's becoming ever more unpredictable?

From the employer's perspective, it's all about relevancy. How relevant are your skills to solving the problems my business faces today? From an employee's perspective, it's about building marketable skillsets they can leverage from one opportunity to the next. So in a marketplace of "skills," why do people tend to focus on finding jobs?

Take a look at resumes, the embodiment of the job hunt. Resumes speak to who you were — jobs you've held in the past, education completed, etc. They do not reflect what employers really care about —how you will develop in the future and, specifically, where you'll help them take their organizations. Employers hire skills and potential, not credentials and accolades.

It's this idea of skills that has changed the way I perceive my own career planning, as well as that of the people who work at my company. Rather than looking at positions as "jobs" with associated pay and responsibilities, we try to look at jobs as periods in which you're developing specific skills that will help us grow the business. This philosophy promotes more honest conversations around each employee's role. It allows us to work together to develop skills that we need and they, as employees, want.

In pursuing this sort of Skill-Focused Career Planning philosophy, I look at three fundamental things that help answer the following: What skills do I choose to acquire and how do I position myself to receive opportunities that leverage/grow these skills?

1) Finding Yourself
About nine months into starting my company, I was at the point of deciding whether to continue working as a freelancer or try to build an agency. I knew there were certain things in the business I wanted to do and other things that I did not. I figured the best way to determine what hires I needed to make was to determine the role that I saw myself playing. So I developed a process I call BASE Analysis, which I conduct annually, that has helped determine what skills I need on and the role they'll translate in the business. BASE Analysis consists of looking at the individual tasks I perform and asking three questions:

Am I good at this task?

Do I enjoy performing this task?

Does this task directly contribute to company growth?

I get as granular as possible and evaluate the tasks on these questions. Anything that scores a three (yes to all three), I need to continue performing and developing. This same process can be applied to Skills-Focused Career Planning, where you look at your current (and past) jobs and list the tasks/roles you've performed. Focus your career planning around leveraging your strengths and going after "Level 3" skills.

2) Growing Yourself

Once you've identified the skills to develop, set yourself on a track of continual learning. I like drawing from the Japanese work philosophy of Kaizen, which is about continuous incremental improvement. In a market where technology evolves at a pace that can retire skillsets in less than a decade, continuous self-improvement is a necessity.

Luckily, there are many smart entrepreneurs that have capitalized on this same trend by creating "alternative education" companies that provide access to self-driven professional development resources. Organizations such as General Assembly provide on and offline courses that allow working professionals to continue building skills in marketing, design, business strategy, etc. These resources come at a fraction of the cost of traditional education and are often taught by industry experts.

3) Positioning Yourself

The last piece in Skills-Focused Career Planning is about positioning yourself in a way that can get you the opportunities to continue to refine these skills (and be paid). I suggest to people evaluating job opportunities that they look at themselves as a consultant. The potential employer is really a client who has brought them in to help solve a particular set of issues.

Look at most successful consultants and you'll see they focus on marketing themselves as a unique brand and sell their "portfolio" rather than their resume. Consultants have acquired specific expertise and continually demonstrate it through blogging, social media, and speaking. They build a personal website to showcase their portfolio, whether it's design, development or writing.

You can do the same whether you intend to bill yourself as a consultant or not. Employers want to see the skills you've acquired in a tangible way, and a portfolio/blog is the most effective means of doing so.

Learn Before You Earn

During college I had an internship with a consultancy that worked with startups and growing businesses. My boss (now a mentor) said something that has stuck: "Learn before you earn." This idea of building your career around learning and acquiring skills allows you the resiliency necessary in today's unpredictable job market.

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Ross Beyeler co-founded For Art's Sake Media, Inc., a technology company servicing the art industry, and Growth Spark, a design and technology consultancy focused on helping eCommerce and B2B service companies excel. (Growth Spark has completed over 225 projects and led Ross to a 2010 nomination as one of BusinessWeek's Top 25 Entrepreneurs under 25).
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