What Employers Want that Job Seekers Aren’t Mentioning

A transcript from the full interview with Alexandra Levit on hiring trends in 2013 and what job hunters can do to improve their odds of being hired:

So far, it looks like the New Year will remain challenging for job hunters. 2013 began with a positive but mediocre job report for the month of December, with the economy seeing some growth but the employment market still very tough. And now, a new survey from Devry University finds a huge gap between the qualifications potential employers are seeking and the skills and traits that job seekers are focusing on when they go in for that crucial interview.

With me today is business consultant and workplace author Alexandra Levit to talk about the survey and what job hunters can do to improve their odds of being hired.

Scotti: So, first off, can you give me some details about this survey?

Levit: This survey is an annual study called the Job Preparedness Indicator and it was conducted by the career advisory Board established by Devry University. The survey is really designed to track the gaps between what hiring managers say they are looking for in candidates and the skills that candidates are actually bringing to the table.

Scotti: What are the traits that they’re looking for?

Levit: Well, there are a couple that I think are really important, in particular because they aren’t necessarily things that people are thinking about,  that come to top of mind. And the two traits that I want to talk about, first of all, is the ability to be cross- functional. Traditionally, we have always recommended to people that they have a niche, that they have one or two things that they are really good at. But now with all of the layoffs that have occurred recently, hiring managers really want people who can hit the ground running in a wide variety of disciplines. So they want people who can do a ton of different types of jobs, who can wear many different types of hats. So, for example, they might be skilled in finance and marketing and project management and client relations. That’s the ability to be cross- functional.

Also, I think a new and up-and-coming skill is global competence, or the ability to do business in a wide variety of cultures and countries. And this is something that traditionally only multinational firms looked for and they only looked for it at the senior level.

Scotti: So when you say global experience, can you give me some specific examples so if somebody goes in and they’re talking to a potential employer, they’re not going to just say, “I have global experience.” So can we break it down a little bit more?

Levit: Sure. So there are several ways that you can showcase your global experience, if you have any. And one of the ways is to talk about times that you might have studied abroad or traveled abroad. Any time that you have the opportunity to interact with colleagues in different countries. Maybe you have managed a project that was done overseas or included colleagues that were in many different areas of the world. That’s all global expertise. Even something as simple as reading The Economist on a daily basis and really having a good handle of the industry news that’s going on globally and that affects your company, those are really good ways to showcase that you are aware of the fact that there is a world beyond the U.S. and that we need to be concerned about it.

Scotti: And can you give some examples about the cross- training because, of course,  you want to say you have a niche, you want to be somehow specific in your field – but how do you also show them that you can do a lot of things at once?

Levit: That’s a great question and I really like the skills-based resume. I know that there has been some controversy over the skills-based resume, and I think the controversy is really due to the fact that people want to see a chronological job history and I think it’s still necessary to include your chronological positions on a resume. But I would also include a section where you list transferable skills or skills that are relevant across a wide variety of industries and goals. Things that we mentioned before like client relations, marketing and budgeting and show that you have concrete experience, that you have made a difference to an organization’s bottom line in a variety of different areas so that even if you are applying to a specific position, they say, “Hey, not only can she do this position but look, she has the ability to understand how other departments work.”

One other skill I’d like to mention is the ability to understand technology changes and be efficient and effective on social media as it pertains to your job. We have heard a lot about social media in recent years and I think it’s not just important for you to know how to use Facebook and Twitter but that you know what the importance is in terms of your role and how can you use these technology tools most effectively to do your job productively. And I think this is something, particularly people at the senior level, they forget about. They think that social media is just for kids, that it’s just a fad that’s going to pass, and the truth is, these communication tools are here to stay, so you need to become familiar with them, you need to make sure that you’re on them to track the changes and to really assess what can they do for you and what can they do for your organization?

Scotti: But how can you decide how much or how little you should use social media? I mean, does it matter in terms of how high up you are on the chain or how high up you’re looking to go? I mean, it’s hard to navigate….

Levit: It is hard to navigate and I suggest actually seeking mentorship. One of the great ways we recommend that people improve their job prospects in general is actually to talk to someone who is a couple of years above you on the ladder and find out how do they do things in general. So social media would be one example: How do they use social media to network and do their jobs more effectively? And you can also ask them things like what transferable skills do I need to impress hiring managers? Or what are hiring managers in our particular field looking for these days? And that way you can begin to customize your approach so that you’re more successful when you go on the interview.

Scotti: And why do you think there is such a gap. I mean, why don’t you think it’s obvious to people who are looking for jobs to mention the skills that you’re talking about?

Levit: I think there is a gap because people do not necessarily think that the skills that hiring managers are looking for are the most important. So, for example, when we poll job seekers, we often hear that they think things like work ethic and being able to communicate well are important across all levels. And while these things are indeed important, when you talk to hiring managers, you see that these are very basic skills. That having a good work ethic, for example, should be a given. So a job seeker might go in to an interview all proud of the fact that he has a wonderful work ethic when that is totally what the hiring manager is expecting. And it’s really just a lack of awareness of these higher order skills, these things like global competence and the ability to be cross functional and the ability to understand technological changes – these are things that aren’t necessarily on peoples radars and I think that’s what the gap is. And I think another reason for the gap is that people may have these skills but they might not be communicating them as effectively in their resumes and in their interviews as they could be.

Scotti: Overall, what do you think of the jobs market these days? What do you think about the last couple of months and where we are today?

Levit: I actually think things are improving. I think that the issue has been that it’s been much slower than anyone would have hoped. When the recession first hit us in early 2008, we were really expecting things to improve drastically within a few years and it has been very, very slow. But that said, I do see an uptick in hiring in most industries and I see that there are a ton of positions that are just waiting for the right candidates to come take them. So really I see this gap as being the primary problem that people can’t get jobs. Not that the jobs aren’t out there. So, it’s really a positive message for job seekers that there are just so many things that you can do to improve your marketability and your ability to go out and secure a job with only a few interviews.

Follow Christina on Twitter @ChristinaScotti