Over the years, I’ve pushed all of you to become subject matter experts because that’s what companies are searching for. Too many job seekers position themselves as generalists and think that they can rely on their personality to get a job and it doesn’t work out. Hard skills, such as being able to program in certain computer languages, are measurable and in high demand. This is especially true as we enter 2015 when millennials become the highest percentage of the American workforce and companies are expecting them to have these skills.
In a new study commissioned by my company, in partnership with Elance-oDesk.com, we found that HR professionals focus more on hard skills when hiring rather than on soft skills (like attitude or personality) – 55% said they focused more on skills versus only 21% who focused on soft skills. This focus will only increase over time. Here are some tips for developing your hard skills so you can compete:
1. Identify the skills you need. Based on your interests and the types of jobs you’re applying to, you should come up with a list of skills that are required. Look at the job descriptions for the ones you want to apply to and see what skills they all require and have in common. For example, if you’re interested in being a financial analyst, you’ll need to be able to evaluate the quality of securities, be proficient in financial analysis and spreadsheet software, and have a good working knowledge of finance and accounting.
2. Focus on the most important skill first. You only have so much time as you job search, or prepare for a career transition, so focus on the most important skill first. The skill that is mandatory and the one that you could use as a competitive advantage if it matches up to your strengths.
3. Take virtual or in-person classes. Once you know what skills you need, start enrolling in classes so that you can learn them first hand. Check your local colleges for classes that you can sign up for. There’s also online learning courses that you can take for free or low cost. Skillshare.com and Udemy.com are community education marketplaces where you can learn from subject matter experts. Coursera.org is similar to the other two, but offers free courses from more than thirty colleges and universities.
4. Practice your skills repeatedly. Use these new skills at your job or take on freelance projects where you can practice them, plus gain a record of success and references for future work. It takes at least 10,000 hours to master a skill but when you do, you become much more valuable to your company and in your industry. The more you practice your skills, whether that’s doing projects for yourself or someone else, the better you will naturally get.
Dan Schawbel is a workplace expert, keynote speaker, and author of the New York Times best-selling book, “Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success.”