Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Focus Your Job Search With A Skills Matrix

One of the first things I have my job search clients do is to complete a skills matrix.

A skills matrix identifies gaps, to help a candidate determine what parts of their background might be considered weaker than other candidates competing for the same position. I present the idea of a skills matrix as a chart that compares your top 10 skills, skills needed for your target job, and skills you'd like to gain in your next position.

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To give an overly obvious example - If you are a janitor, and your target job is to be an airline pilot, you probably have some gaps between your skills and minimum job requirements. It's important to understand those gaps, determine which gaps you might cover with close experience and if you will need to gain certain experience first before having a realistic shot at the job. Our janitor friend's skills matrix might show that a few flying lessons might be a good start.

Your own skills gaps are probably less obvious but a skills matrix will make them much clearer to you.

I've included a downloadable link to the skills matrix I provide to clients at the end of this article. I develop a skills matrix as a simple spreadsheet, but by taking your time and really thinking about its completion you'll likely see some eye openers. I've had many clients that have re-prioritized job goals after completing this exercise. Here's what often happens when a skills matrix demonstrates inconsistencies between these job search goals:
  1. Ideal job - Often, when candidates step back and consider a job move, they start to look at the whole picture (What do they really want to do, quality of life issues, age issues if more senior, risk). This is even more likely if the candidate has been laid off or comes from an industry that has been decimated by the current recession.

  2. Market realities - It may seem natural that this is a good time to think about alternatives, but the hyper-competitiveness of today's job market makes it difficult to compete for those "stretch jobs" or skill transfer positions. The easiest time to transfer skills, gain stretch positions, change jobs into promotions, change industries or functions is during an economic boom - when there are more jobs than candidates. Candidate shortages are more likely to force hiring managers to be more open to taking a risk on employees. However, when there is candidate oversupply, employers are less likely to take a risk - instead hiring candidates with direct and exacting experience. While this doesn't mean you can't beat the trend, it means the odds are against you - at a minimum you should expect a longer search.

  3. Competition - Due to the current economy combined with the perfect storm of candidate information, employer expectations, and automated hiring tools, candidates have never faced more competition than today. If the job you are applying to has been advertised online, even if you were referred by your network, you should expect hundreds or possibly thousands of competitors. This applies for lower level positions as well as executive positions - plenty of applicants aren't even close to being qualified, but may click submit because there's zero time investment and they "might get lucky". That's still competition for the well qualified candidates. Since most companies interview 12-20 people for a position out of a wide pool of candidates, the wider your gaps, the less likely you are to get the position or even an interview.

  4. Time frame - It's critical to understand your time frame for finding a new job. While some passive candidates, or those with large savings aren't time pressed to find the "right position", many job seekers don't have that luxury. When you consider it's taking an average job seeker 6 months to find a new position, Senior Manager/Executives 9 months - 1 year on average, and CEO/Presidents an average 18 months to land a new job, making a search even longer can scare many from their ideal goals. These are averages - attempting to transfer skills, gain stretch positions, change jobs into promotions, change industries or functions all cause an expected longer search. Do you have this much time in your present work situation or savings level?

In better job markets, candidates had more chances to stretch their goals - and may have had more time to be patient to find their dream job. With housing values down, savings still suffering from the 2008 crash, fewer people are prepared to endure a long job search.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that making a career change is impossible. I've written dozens of articles helping people to change careers. But it definitely is more challenging and time intensive given the economy, and candidates are wise to make these decisions with as much information as possible. You can't reclaim your job search time sent chasing goals with low odds of reaching given your own time constraints.

You'll save yourself much frustration if you realize all of this at the beginning of your search, rather than a few months in - A skills matrix helps you.

Here's how to complete a skills matrix, so that you can have this information, and gain an idea of how achievable your dream job is ... or if you'll want to take interim steps (example - flying lessons):
  • My Skills - List your top 10 skills going down the left column. Keep these short, capturing your skills in just a few words.
  • Market Demands - Research your target position online, looking at a number of ads for a specific job type. List the most common job requirements (10 requirements). B ebrief here also - just use a few words to describe rather than cutting and pasting a whole job description.
  • Experiences Desired - What are the top 10 skills you want to work on in your next job? These can be skills you currently have, or new skills you want to add. Keep this brief also
  • Why Experiences Desired? - Here's where to get wordy, by describing why you want each desired experience. This helps you to see how important this experience will be. If you're going for a job as a library researcher, and you really want to pick up sales experience - this conflict might cause you to rethink how you will pick up sales experience if it is important to you.

Nothing in this chart has to be a disqualifier in itself. A skills matrix merely demonstrates gaps and inconsistencies. Perhaps you can pick up desired skills through education, a part time job, volunteering, or starting a side business. A skills matrix also starts to outline a path to get from where you are now - to where you want to be. Maybe that means you take flight lessons on the weekends, to train for certifications.

A well done sills matrix can also clarify visually why you're a perfect fit for a job, so you can more easily explain this to your audience - through your resume. Some clients do a skills matrix as a step prior to customizing a resume for a specific reader, so they can explain fit concisely and clearly.

I recommend my clients use a template similar to this:

Just click the image for a downloadable form.

How can you make a skills matrix part of your job search or resume preparation - to clarify how well you fit, or interim steps needed to achieve fit?

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Steve said...

Good article. Very useful.

Richard said...

This sounds great, being a visual oriented person, could we have an example?

Phil Rosenberg said...

Richard - Glad you asked. Did you notice in the article that under the picture of the template is a note that says "Just click the image for a downloadable form"?

Richard said...

Thanks, I got it downloaded. One other question, Could you provide an example of one filled out?

Phil Rosenberg said...

Sorry, Richard I don't provide completed exercises for a number of reasons:

1) It would violate confidentiality agreements with my clients.
2) Completed examples would apply to very few readers, since everyone has their own circumstances, industries, functions, job levels. Providing completed examples risks generating more confusion than help.

These are meant to be highly individualized exercises. Much like a resume, one size size never fits all.

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saywhat_143 said...

Richard probably isn't looking for one that is completely filled out vs one that has a couple of examples in it. And, it wound't violate confidentiality agreements if you used your own skills to fill out two or three rows within your matrix.

Phil Rosenberg said...

Saywhat, Thanks for your comment. However, it's unlikely that my own skills would be relevant to Richard's situation. Again, I've found through experience that providing generic completed examples generates more confusion than help.