APU Business Careers Leading Forward Podcast

How to Conduct a Skills-Based Job Search

Podcast featuring Dr. Marie Gould Harper, Dean, Wallace E. Boston School of Business and
Christine MuncyAssociate Vice President, Career Services

Are you ready for a new job, but your past positions don’t reflect the job you want? Do you have talents that you’ve been unable to nurture in previous jobs? In this episode, APU’s Dr. Marie Gould Harper talks to career services expert Christine Muncy about how to pursue a skills-based job search. Learn how to adjust your resume to reflect your skillset, talents, gifts and areas of interest to potential employers. Also learn how to conduct a self-assessment to understand your strengths and weaknesses.

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Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Welcome to our podcast today. I’m your host, Marie Gould Harper. My guest today is Christine Muncy. We are going to discuss skill-based job searching Christine, welcome to our podcast, and thank you for joining me again.

I want to remind our audience of Christine’s background. Christine Muncy is the Associate Vice President Of Career Services at American Public University. Throughout her career, she has focused on developing new programs and innovative services which benefits student development, typically focusing on the adult learner.

[Podcast: How Job Searching Has Changed in the New Norm]

Christine holds two certifications in the area of career development, global career development facilitator, and certified career service professional. She has published on multiple blogs, designs and facilitates comprehensive team building for organizations, and has presented at various conferences. Christine, thank you for joining me.

Christine Muncy: As always, it’s a pleasure to be here with you, Marie.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: A lot has happened since our last conversation. And based on what you know now, what are your thoughts about people who have decided, “I just don’t want to do the regular thing. I don’t want to look for jobs based on what an organization may call it. I’ve tuned into my special gifts and talents. How can I find a job based on what I know to be my skills and talents versus what they call a job?”

Christine Muncy: Yes, I have some great advice. This is, first of all, to say if you find yourself in this position, you are not alone. This is a rapidly growing trend. And if we think back about the historical career trends that we look at from our parents or anyone that you admire who is older than you and said, “How long did you stay in that role?” If the answer was 20 years, 30 years, that is not necessarily common if you look at those who are in your same age group.

There’s a huge shift in knowing that what you’re doing today doesn’t have to be what you’re doing five years from now. You could do something completely different in a different industry, using the skills that you’re gaining today. And that is based on the approach of doing a skills-based job search. So, if you look beyond where you are in your current title, whatever it is that’s telling you I am not happy. Not happy with your employer, not happy with your day-to-day tasks, not happy with where you’re living.

Or even if it’s not about happiness and joy, but not feeling fulfilled. If you’re not feeling inspired, you can take that and transform your work, the part that provides you a paycheck, to do what you want to do and love to do, and take it somewhere else. Consider your skills a permanent part of who you are, and that is owed to no one.

And so, if you can use those skills to do a skills-based job search, then you could find yourself in something that you enjoy every day, that you wake up and say, “this is very fulfilling and satisfying.” That’s incredible.

And there are so many articles being published about this and so many guides and tutorials that people could really dig into finding their way. Our career center specifically calls it PIVOT. It’s about perspective, innovation, versatility, opportunity, and then transition. That is what our team, that’s what we teach.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Oh, great. That sounds exciting. It sounds like it’s very timely, too. I’m glad that you did that introduction because as you were speaking, I was thinking of stories that I have either heard or I personally have experienced when attempting to explain to people how we are feeling as they coach us on what’s next in terms of a job search.

One of the things—at least how I feel about it—there are things that I have learned over the years. I may have gone to school for it, or I may have taken a short course, and so I have mastered the topic. But then there are different things that I call my talents and gifts that it comes naturally to me. I find a lot of excitement and pride into it, or I put a lot of pride into being successful. But it’s something that comes naturally and I enjoy it.

A lot of people don’t understand what this feeling may be. What are the first steps that you would tell a person that they could do when they have identified something that just makes them happy and they can master it naturally? It’s not something that they may or may not have to get additional training to do. I guess that first aha moment. How do you start a person from that point?

Christine Muncy: To me, that first part is really, that self-assessment piece in thinking about what do you not like doing, which is the opposite of what you’re asking, Marie. But if you think about what do I not enjoy, and then what do I enjoy. Because sometimes our brains are wired to first think of the negative.

And so, if you find that you keep getting tripped up on it, instead of fighting against it, say, let me list this out and be really specific here. I enjoy being outdoors for short periods of time. That is not the same as I want to work outside. It is like I enjoy the outside from a window. Doesn’t mean I want to work outdoors. That you come up with this list and allow yourself to break up with it and say, “Okay, these are the negatives. And now I want to focus.” And hopefully, that will open your eyes up to allow your brain to think about the things that bring you joy, experiences that have been fulfilling to you.

Our coaching approach here is that we walk through someone’s resume. Because sometimes it might be really hard to have a starting point. And if you have a difficult time identifying where to start, and if you go through your resume yourself and you walk through memory lane, and you go through those positions and say what did I enjoy about that job? And if the things you didn’t enjoy were like the people or the office environment, be more specific. I didn’t like that the office was always cold. I didn’t like that I had to ask permission to use the restroom.

And if you go through that and then say, but I did love these specific things, and let’s say it’s cultural, then you’ve started gathering a list. And then you start talking about the things that you found rewarding or easy. Like, “Man, I learned every new technology that was presented to our team faster than any other person in my team.”

And that is exactly what you’re talking about, Marie. But you’ve allowed yourself to walk to that conversation internally, because now you’re saying, “Oh yeah, I learned all of those things. I memorized every SOP, and I found every typo and misstep that was written in those that no one else noticed. And I did that in my first 90 days. And then I got bored.”

And so, now you’re saying, “Oh, you found skills. You found those talents that you were able to identify problems within a process. You were able to help the team fix that for new hires. Maybe then they asked you to help train people.” But it all starts with assessing yourself.

And really, sometimes that needs to start with backtracking through your career and evaluating all of those things that were opportunities that maybe you just, it was natural, so you didn’t notice it. But then when you really start digging and you’re going, I did learn that faster than everyone else. Talent, things that are easy for you that didn’t really take a lot of work, then you build your list.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Well, I like how you presented that. Because as you were speaking, it seems bizarre, but the first profession that I thought of was a hairdresser. And that’s because I’ve had many over the years, but I’ve always asked that question, “How did you get into doing this?” And it all starts with when I was younger, I was fascinated, and I was very creative when attempting to do different styles. And I just perfected the gift as the years have gone by, and I’ve found that I haven’t wanted to do anything else.

And that’s a good introduction to how they got started, because depending on where they are in their career, we have had to talk about that topic of being a business owner. And it’s been interesting about that particular profession, because the skill that they identified as a talent is very creative.

However, some of them have run into problems when they have had to be the business owner because that’s another skillset, and it’s a skillset that they may or may not like. They may do it because they have to, or, unfortunately, they won’t do it, and run into problems on the business end because that’s too structured. Have you ever run into anyone that they have identified some jobs, but there’s parts of that particular job that requires skills that are not their strengths? How do you reconcile that?

Christine Muncy: Yes, we do. The Gallup StrengthsFinder is based off of a lot of what we’re talking about, actually, and that’s an assessment tool that helps people evaluate themselves. And it’s really a positive approach, I think, to self-assessing what your skills are. I like that it’s a very, it doesn’t have anything negative. It’s not saying that you’re not good at this. It just says, these are your key talents, and then these are your strengths. Because we’re all born with a ton of talents. And the only difference between a talent and a skill is that those talents that have had opportunities to grow become strengths, and they become part of your skillset, like a really strong skillset.

So, things may come easy. You just may not be good at them. But with the ones that need help, they need enhancement, it may be also that they’ve never been in a situation where it’s been nurtured and it’s been afforded the opportunity or the attention to enhance something where a person can use what their knowledge is to grow that area of weakness, is what we would call it in the business world, an area that you don’t excel in or something you don’t have any experience in, that you can use other opportunities to learn to enhance that, to improve that.

And sometimes you do have to actively seek that out. But that comes to a willingness by the individual to acknowledge that that’s not a strength, and that it needs nurturing. And if that individual is not willing to participate, unfortunately that’s not an area that will actually grow because they’re not willing to absorb that information and use it themselves. And that is a problem we face with some of our clients.

And I always tell my team, you can teach. You cannot force someone to accept the knowledge. There’s a part that they have to have accountability and an onus and be willing to grow. Not everyone is.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: I’m glad you said that about growth. We have had a conversation about the gig economy and how different people are doing different things, being contractors. Have you ever given any of your clients another alternative? For example, I strongly believe that everyone has a gift, at least one gift, and that we perfect that gift and we do it well.

I personally, I know what mine are, and I also know ones that are not my gifts. And I have consistently stated that I would prefer to hire someone to do those skills and tasks that are not my strengths. And my argument has always been to do them, to do something that takes me longer or I’m not interested in, that’s time that I could be working on a contract or doing something else in my gift area versus trying to do something that should be done by someone else.

What are your thoughts on that? Especially because we’re talking about an economic issue and finances that, are you in a position to go hire someone to do that task, or how do you get to that point? What are your thoughts on that particular topic?

Christine Muncy: This is a great topic. It’s a difficult one as well. Going along the lines of areas that may not be to your strengths, I consider them to also carry an emotional burden in that they take up space in your mindset that it doesn’t free up all of your space to really excel at the things that you are putting your energy into. Because if you’re worried or if you’re stressed or you’re carrying that burden because you know, like, “I’m not that great at this part of it.” It could be bookkeeping. It could be keeping up with contracts. Whatever that piece is, you’ll carry a piece of that stress on your shoulders.

And I always tell people that your best friend is going out there and finding resources, because there are so many free resources that are emerging that are in the form of apps or open resources, that if you dig in and do some really deep research, you may find free applications to manage those pieces.

It could be using an app for calendars that automatically send reminders to not just the person who’s coming to the appointment, but you yourself like, “Hey, you have an appointment in an hour. Don’t forget. You’re supposed to call this person.” If it’s networking, if it’s closing a contract something’s due, like there are apps that will help you manage that part of your life. That could be billing, all of those things.

There’s a lot of open resources for learning new skills. But if that’s not something that is a skill of yours, and also you would rather use your time towards the things that you are exceptionally skilled at, invest a small portion of time to find something else to automate that process for you so that you can excel at what you’re doing well and leverage your skills to build your business, which is yourself.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Some of the tasks that we find, especially administrative tasks, that we may say we have to set aside time to do. But what happens to the time that you need to market your brand? And that may be something that you do better because that’s what you have a passion for. Another opportunity to balance things in your life.

I wanted to go back to what I call the traditional workforce. And I know for a number of years that most recruiters, and also managers I should say hiring managers, are accustomed to the traditional chronological resume. But as we have spoken today, people could have a number of different gifts. And they don’t want to focus on what they have done in the past, especially if they are tied to specific job titles. How have you assisted your clients with transitioning to resume that is more skill-based, and how have you assisted them with presenting it so it’s acceptable to people who are used to the traditional chronological resume?

Christine Muncy: The first piece I would say is to run the position that you’re interested in through a site that will make those word clouds. For anyone who’s listening who doesn’t know what I’m talking about is that there’s pages called like TagCrowd, or websites I should say, that’s like tag crowd where you would post in the portion of the job, and it is going to create this blob of words. And the more times a word is present, the larger and darker the word is.

And so if you have a hard time reading a job description and knowing what the key skills are, you can use this tool to help yourself identify what this job’s key skills are. I would encourage you to throw out your resume, ensure that you’re repeating the skills that you acquired at previous employers, but taking it back to how that might actually serve the new position you’re working at.

Chronological is still relevant. It’s what recruiters are used to. There definitely needs to be an increase in the rate in which recruiters are transitioning towards the skills-based job search because I think they’re a little behind. They still look at a resume with the traditional progression that you mentioned, and that’s not keeping up with the times.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Would you recommend, and have you seen a resume that may start out with some type of description for a skillset. And then have a paragraph describing some of the things that they like to do with this skillset, followed by the places of employment with the dates and maybe a one sentence descriptor? Basically make that the last section and shorter to give the recruiters what they need, but to highlight more on what they’re trying to convey.

Christine Muncy: I’ve seen a lot of really successful resumes that are similar to what you’re describing. I’ve also seen success where they have the, it’s almost like a left menu. Where on the left side of the resume, it has a highlighted area of special maybe certifications or certificates, specifically certificates, or any micro-credentials that they’ve obtained. Because maybe it wouldn’t be normal within their field to have obtained that, but they’re transitioning and they’re saying, “Hey, and I also have these specific trainings or specific skills that match what this position is looking for,” because it removes it from the whole resume. It really highlights the specific transferable skills that they’ve obtained. But I also like your description as well.

Sometimes it could be even smaller. Some places require cover letters. That is an amazing opportunity to really show your writing skills and to address why you are the proper fit. And don’t over embellish and sound overly excited. Be very methodical in saying, “This is why I’m a good fit for this position. This is how my previous experiences and my new and fresh ideas will help elevate your organization.”

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: I like that. And we had a conversation one time: Are cover letter still relevant? I think they are for the reason that you just stated. It’s almost like that’s your five-minute or 30-second elevator speech where you give some information that encourages them to continue to look at the resume, would you agree?

Christine Muncy: Yes, absolutely. And there’s no shame in getting help writing a cover letter. No shame.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Exactly. None. I mean, different people like different things. And I think if you have a coach or a person that’s working with you and you share what you want, that’s the outside person having the idea of where you want to get to. So, their perspective can be different than yours, and I see that’s where the assistance is. We under utilize resources by not giving the proper value to how it can help us out, especially when we’re going through a transition.

And I’m trying to think, again, of some of my stories that I have heard from individuals who are in this transition. It seems like they’re either in a transition of the actual job and they want to know how can I showcase how I fit into that position without actually having that title on my resume. And then it’s the other group of people that we were talking about. They want to be able to promote and market their ability to do their gifts and talents. I see those as two distinct groups because different things led them to get there. Do you have a different approach for individuals depending on how they got to you?

Christine Muncy: I do. And it also depends on what industry they’re trying to get into, because some industries are super active on LinkedIn, and some industries are not. And so, I’m first going to address those who are active on LinkedIn. LinkedIn, if you’re not familiar with the skill section, you can actually edit what is showing, and you can edit their order. LinkedIn will suggest it, but you can rearrange those and edit them so that the top ones are the ones that show.

But there’s also nothing stopping you from reaching out to people and saying, would you endorse me for this skill based on this project that we did? You’re not asking for them to write a recommendation on LinkedIn for you, you’re saying, “Hey, would you click that I would endorse this person for this skill?” And you can build your skills on LinkedIn to help showcase what you’re good at.

And that matters because sometimes the job search algorithm in LinkedIn will show you jobs that you are a very strong fit for based off of the skills that you’ve listed in your LinkedIn profile. And so then if you make yourself open to opportunities for recruiters, they also can search based off of certifications and skills.

So, on LinkedIn, that’s like the prime opportunity to list skills, but that doesn’t address talents. And so, that becomes more difficult on things like algorithms like LinkedIn. So, then I would say, if that is the place for your summary statement on LinkedIn, and that is for you to literally talk about your natural talents and how you leverage those in the workplace for whatever the project is that you’re working on or whatever the task is, and how you excel, and how it’s not a major lift for you and why. And it’s because this comes natural to me. And I’ve also really poured my energy into perfecting this talent to benefit those that I work with.

On your resume, I absolutely think you can have an area that highlights your talents, just like you would for skills. And I think on a resume, those two can live in the same place, but it depends on how you’d label that section on your resume. Because if you call it skills, you’ll need to make sure that you’re actually having skills in your skill section and not accomplishments or even talents. Be intentional with those sections, and then put the appropriate content within them. There is nothing wrong with putting talents and having a talent section, and then addressing how those talents have really been a useful tool for you in your career.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Okay, I didn’t even think about that, the separation of skills versus accomplishments. And I can see how people can get the two confused, especially if they’re not a professional, gifted in your areas.

Christine Muncy: We’re here to help.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: But I’m glad that you mentioned LinkedIn. I think it was 2017. I was getting that itch and I was like, I want to do something a little bit different. Not necessarily change jobs, but just wanted to do something different. And I took a year-and-a-half to “rebrand myself.” And I was amazed because when I started to discuss and share things that I had a passion about, even though I was still a little uncertain whether people took me seriously in those areas, I was getting responses back that they saw me as who I was trying to portray myself as.

And as a result, I had the opportunity to speak at a number of conferences and be a part of panels on the topics that I had a passion for, what I call my third career. I’m on my second one now. But what are your thoughts about that, just using LinkedIn as a method of testing. Will other people take you seriously in the area that you want to go in?

Christine Muncy: If it’s an area that your industry is active in, that is an excellent place to test those waters. I’ve found that some industries are not very active in LinkedIn, and that becomes more challenging.

And so, for those industries that are, I think LinkedIn’s a great place. Because it’s also a great place to learn, and you can follow other people that maybe you’d like to emulate and say, “I feel like I’m as qualified as this person. How are they presenting on LinkedIn? What information are they putting out there? Do they have their own branded website? Do they have a whole personal brand?” That’s an old term that’s still relevant today. It’s a professional brand. Like who are you and what are you presenting to the world?

And really, that comes down to how do you want people to see you? And if you start presenting that way, and then you speak eloquently on those topics, people will notice, and they will start to comment. What I always say is that if people aren’t commenting, but you look at your network and say all of these people are outside of my network or the network that I’m trying to get into, well, then it’s because you’re speaking to the wrong audience. And you might need to broaden your network and find new people to connect with so that you’re preaching to the right people.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Yeah, I like that idea, too. You’ll find that who you thought was your audience is not really your audience. And it gives you the opportunity to find out, sometimes by surprise, who your new audience is and what do you need to do to, I don’t want to say attract, but to spend more time speaking to that particular group.

I also like the feature when they show you some of the demographics of individuals who are reading what you post who happen to follow you on a regular basis. I’ve found that very helpful, too. And I think that also helps fine tune your message to the open web, as I say, and how people can get in touch with you.

But, Christine, I want to thank you so much for joining me today and sharing your expertise. It’s been very helpful. And I always consider September like January, one of those months where people are like, okay, summer’s over, it’s time to look for a new job or to see what’s out there. So, I think our conversation is very timely. By the time this airs, I think a number of people will still be looking for transitions, and I hope some of the tips that we have provided today will be helpful. Do you have any final words?

Christine Muncy: Thank you for having me, and I hope this has been helpful for anyone who’s listening.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: We have been speaking with Christine Muncy. This is Marie Gould Harper, thanking you for listening to our podcast today.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Dean of the School of Business at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist, and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of experience.

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