22 June 2011

The battle between book smart and street smart

In continuing with my theme of job-search related posts, I wanted to take a moment to discuss job descriptions and, more specifically, education and experience requirements.

Now, I believe that having a degree in a related subject to what you'd like to have a job doing is a good idea. There are definitely tenets I learned while completing my Bachelor's degree in Public Relations that I needed to know to compete for a job in that industry. The fact that my first job out of college was in advertising and now I work in the advertising and marketing industry is secondary to the fact that what I learned about the basics of these jobs is the same: communication, communication, communication, good writing, the right medium and oh yeah, communication. In the end, the line between advertising, marketing and PR is pretty thin although those industries don't like to admit it.

So, could I have applied for and gotten a job in Human Resources with my Public Relations degree? Maybe. There are Corporate Communication roles that typically require someone not in HR to bridge the gap between C-level executives and the rest of the staff. By hiring someone outside of human resources, it helps to dispel the "us vs. them" mentality that is prevalent in large organizations.

But I couldn't have applied for and gotten a job in say, Information Technology. I don't have the skill set. Nor really the interest.

But now, after having worked for a little over eight years in the professional world, how important is my degree when compared to my experiences or even my passions? I contest that the things I've learned on the job and the things I've absorbed from living life with a sense of curiosity are far more important now than my degree. At some point in your career, your degree simply becomes an example of your commitment to stick to something for four years.

However, if a job description lists a B.S. degree as mandatory, even though I am qualified for every other aspect of the job, what are the chances a recruiter or ATS will drop me automatically into the circular file when they see B.A. on my resume? It's hard to know for sure. Many organizations have dedicated recruiters who spend a lot of time reviewing resumes and online profiles to ensure that they're finding the right candidate for a position. But with our current job market flooded with overly qualified candidates for a handful of positions, carefully perusing resumes is probably not on the top of the recruiter's list. They need a quick way to skim through a stack and using the posted requirements for the job is the easiest way to do that. As it should be; that's why descriptions are written in the first place.

What I'm arguing is that job descriptions might need a little fine-tuning, especially when looking to fill a role that's anything but entry-level. If I'm looking for a manager of customer service, I don't really care if the candidate has a degree in business or human resources--I care that they've held customer service roles in the past, managed people before and have glowing reviews from their colleagues and direct reports. I care if they've worked in a similar industry (I don't think they need to be the same, but that's another debate). And I care that when I meet with them or talk to them on the phone, their passion for providing excellent customer service as well as their ability to problem solve quickly is clearly evident.

I do believe there is philosophy shift happening among human resources professionals and company executives regarding passion and commitment over exact experience. Studies have shown that people who are dedicated and engaged in the workplace, can be taught the skills they need for the role. However, someone who possesses the skill but could care less about the work, will not be the employee you want hanging around.

And, maybe most importantly, this critical indicator of success--passion & dedication--has never been accurately captured on a resume or in a cover letter. I believe it can only be conveyed in person (maybe over the phone if you're really good with the phone), and yet many of us never get the chance to make a case for ourselves, because we never get past the gatekeeper of mandatory requirements.

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