Geordie McClelland is the CEO and Founder of theThings.biz, an online career advancement service designed to help entry-level job seekers find work at companies where they are best positioned for success. theThings.biz provides searchable, reference-based professional profiles built around the transferable skills and personal characteristics that define how people work, and a job search engine that matches aspiring young professionals with companies looking for workers who will be valuable over the long-term.
As our economy starts to improve and hiring stubbornly picks up, one part of the economy is growing faster than most others – the freelance economy. The Freelancers Union estimates that one in three American workers are freelance workers and experts predict that this group could grow 6% year over year for the next five years. Companies like Elance and HourlyNerd are further fueling the growth of the freelance market, helping companies connect with workers who can get project work done quickly and at relatively low cost (compared to full-time employees). These marketplaces will continue to grow and provide companies with more, and more high quality options when they need the talent to get a job done as efficiently and cost effectively as possible.
There are a lot of benefits to freelance work, including flexibility and the opportunity to work with more people on a more diverse set of challenges, but with its unpredictability and the costs of things like healthcare, freelancing isn’t for everyone. So what are you to do in this changing economy if you know full-time employment is more your thing? How can you be the person that a company wants to invest in and develop at a time when companies are less inclined to invest in and develop people?
It will be about you, not just your skills
Though we are talking about the future, I think the writing is already on the wall – when companies can easily access a marketplace of workers who can deliver the “hard skills” they need to address near-term project needs, for full-time hires they’ll increasingly look to soft skills and attitude, the personal characteristics that drive retention and are more indicative of long-term success. Leadership IQ, a consultancy that works with the likes of Microsoft, IBM and GE studied retention of 20,000 new hires over a 18 month period and found that when people were fired, “lack of skill” was the reason given only 11% of the time – 89% of the time people were let go because of a mismatch in attitude and the intangibles that suggest how a person thinks and works. With the high cost of employee turnover, companies are now focusing more than ever on these types of measures.
Just check out the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ list of the skills and qualities employers want, the result of a 208- company survey across industries as diverse of manufacturing and government:
1) Ability to work in a team structure
2) Ability to make decisions and solve problems
3) Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work
4) Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization
5) Ability to obtain and process information
6) Ability to analyze quantitative data
7) Technical knowledge related to the job
8) Proficiency with computer software
9) Ability to create and/or edit written reports
10) Ability to sell or influence others
In the top ten, only two of these desired skills and qualities would be considered “hard skills”: #7 “technical knowledge related to the job” and #8 “proficiency with computer software programs” – and both of which, in many cases, can be easily taught to the right person. The rest of the top ten are more about soft skills and attitude, the personal characteristics and deeper measures of “the right person” that are learned over time through experience.
This isn’t new; people have been writing about the importance of hiring for attitude and training for skill for years now. What’s changed is that the market for short-term, skills-based hires has become so much more efficient (thanks to a thriving freelance economy). As a result, more companies can make better long-term hiring choices without worrying that their immediate needs won’t be served.
So to get that full-time job, sell yourself, not just what you can do
To sell yourself, you’ve got to know yourself and the characteristics that truly define how your think and work. That’s often a challenge, though, because the tricky thing about identifying and attesting to your intangibles is that they are, well, intangibles. To get around that fact, try tapping into your network and the people who know you by working with you, ask them how they would recommend you to a potential employer and listen for the language they use – generally it’s about you, what it’s like to work with you, not your pivot table prowess. And if they need prompting, ask them to choose the two things from this list that best define how you work:
- Ability to Communicate Complex Ideas
- Ability to Self-Manage
- Ability to Sell (an idea, a product / service)
- Ability to Work Across Cultures
- Ability to Work In a Team
- Ability to Work in Uncertain Environments
- Attention to Detail
- Decision-Making Skills
- Leadership Skills
- Management Skills
- Problem-Solving Skills
- Quantitative Thinking
- Reliability / Follow-Through
- Research & Analysis Skills
Ask a couple of people from different experiences in your life and soon you’ll start to see some consensus around your true, long-term value as an employee. Whatever that is, that’s what’s ultimately going to differentiate you from a hired gun and make a company want to invest in you.
That’s your value today and into the future: how you can sell yourself in today’s job market and even more so in the job market of tomorrow.