Category Archives: Tech Skills

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Preparing Technical Skills during a Job Search

Overview, Context, and Outcomes

When it comes time to start a job search, what do you start to think about, how do you prepare, and what do you do regarding your tech skills?

Note: Tech skills might be a primary focus for you – when your job IS working with tech – or it might be secondary – where tech tools are part of what you do but more of a means to an end than the primary activity. How you approach your tech skills during a job search doesn’t really differ, though the priority may vary.

Here’s how it usually looks for me:

  1. Assess current skill levels, identify topics to improve and gaps to fill, and dig into new topics you’ve been meaning to look at
  2. Learn! – Skill up existing capabilities and fill gaps in your skill set
  3. Get Certified
  4. Update the resume, profiles, and other content sources.

Understand the outcomes you are looking for as you work through the job search process. Define the targets and goals that will motivate you through the process.

Assess and Identify Topics and Skills

I was kind of hoping this would be a clear 1, 2, 3 sort of logical progression, but I’ve found it’s more of an iterative and non-linear process.

  • You can likely easily discern between: “I have a bunch to learn” and “I just need to polish off a few skills”. Don’t sell yourself short, but also don’t oversell yourself. Try to be honest with yourself – it’s best for everyone to find that balance between humility and confidence. Smile
  • Don’t spend too much time overanalyzing it. You probably have a short list of topics you know you’ve been meaning to get to or areas you want to brush up on. Start there. It’ll help you get into the learning groove.
  • I’ve historically started by coming up with a list of accomplishments (projects, solutions, etc.) or activities (“keep the lights on” sort of daily or repeated tasks) and translating those into skills and categories. Thinking back on those activities leads to a decent list of skills I’m comfortable with, really good at, or raise a flag on areas I want to improve on. All solid info to build on.
  • If you want to get more comprehensive (after your first pass or two), you’ll need to invest a bit more time. You’ll need to both find an accurate and up to date list of skills or features and assess your skills and experience against that list. Also keep in mind that list is a moving target with products these days changing so quickly.

Learn

If you haven’t already, figure out if you have a preferred way of learning. Is it reading, watching videos, attending classes or conferences, or just clicking around in your product of choice?

Where do you find the resources you need to learn what you want? I’m a reader and doer, so I like to start with product documentation – online articles and content – while clicking around in the product. But I’m lucky to be working in a product space with generally really good content from the product company itself as well as access to learning versions of software and services. Not all products work that way. After I’ve read up a bit and learned the correct terminology, I’ll venture out a bit to see what the wider community has published. This is where I’ll generally find more of the pros and cons, best practices, and more practical knowledge.

If you’re taking the time to learn new things, take a few more minutes and journal the journey a bit. What are you learning? How can, will, or did you already use that new skill to do something notable. It’ll help you retain that knowledge and/or share it with others.

Test and Certify

The value of certification varies across products, communities, and organizations. Is it important in your company, community, or niche? Are you at a place in your career where you need to provide some sort of baseline knowledge, etc.?

If certifications exist that align with your skills, check them out. As you’re learning and in the midst of skilling up, topics and details are likely fresh in your mind and it’s a good time to take those tests.

There’s probably more to dig into on the certification topic, but not today.

Update your Story

Fine tune your story – ideally, your skills have grown and matured since the last time you looked for a new job. Update how you describe yourself – use defined roles – and your journey, the highlights so far, the value you offer, and the goals you have.

Updating the story itself takes a bit of effort, creativity, nuance, and probably some assistance and feedback. After that, it’s the practical cutting, pasting and making sure you’re using that new story consistently across the services you use to tell the world about you and connect with recruiters and companies.

  • Update your profiles, job sites, LinkedIn, etc.
  • Update your “About me” to include what you’ve accomplished, what roles you can fill, and your goals moving forward.
  • Prepare examples and stories that showcase your knowledge and experience to talk about with prospective employers.
  • Add more specific activities and projects/outcomes to your job description where the sites or services allow it.

Next Steps and Now Steps

The concepts above apply to more than just job seekers. Why wait until you’re looking for a job to learn something new, to write down something you’ve done and share it with others? Folks can learn from your experiences and examples right now. You can learn something new right now. You don’t need to take a class, attend a conference, read a whole manual to find those nuggets of info that will resonate with your situation. Yes, those are great ways to learn, but you can continue learning and growing in much smaller chunks on a more regular basis if you are motivated to grow. Why wait?

Learning in Public

This tweet got me thinking:

Building in Public

Presumably the context here is “Building in Public” which Arvid often talks about. The concept being if you’re building a company, a startup, a solution to some problem – that you talk (and publish content) about the thought process going into it, the decisions you’re making along the way. This process, this openness, exposes the “why” to your “what”. It makes the founder and the concept more approachable. It provides context for potential customers, partners, and clients to understand the solution, the impact, and the business more. It will drive engagement, and ideally end up with not just more customers, but more passionate customers.

Arvid and others can do a better job of explaining the “Building in Public” concept, but that’s the takeaway I have from it.

Keep in mind, talking, building, and having conversations doesn’t mean you’re *right* about everything, for sure. But you’re digging in and developing opinions. Ideally, you’re open to discussion on topics and tweaking your opinions as you learn and grow. 

Learning and Doing in Public

“Show evidence of your mastery” The context I’m interested in is around tech skills. And showing mastery here is just as important. 

How do you show evidence? Write a blog post or an article on a site like LinkedIn. Record a demo video. It could start with journaling for yourself until you’re comfortable writing for others. There are lots of ways of getting started and progressing from there. 

For Yourself

  • It can show your current employer what you know, what you’re learning, as well as how well you can communicate.
  • It provides more information to prospective employers if/when you’re looking for a new opportunity.
  • Sharing, writing, communicating: Great practices that develops soft skills.

For Your Company

  • Like individuals sharing stories, organizations can demonstrate proficiencies to clients and customers. 
  • Within a company, teams can share solutions to internal challenges. These often result in other departments wanting to implement similar solutions – not only resulting in business wins but added ROI for the tools and licensing companies invest in. 

For Others

The more you share, the more opportunities there are for folks to learn from you. People learn in different ways. You never know when your style of communication might sync with someone’s method of learning. You never know when that nugget of information you figured out is the one thing they’ve been trying to find.

Jobs vs. Roles

Overview and Context

“Jobs” vs. “roles”. What is a job, versus what is a role. It’s a bit of a baseline-setting, foundational topic to support future posts. Some folks might consider jobs and roles to be the same, or at least very similar. My perspective is that not only are they different, but that it’s important to understand how they are different when it comes to training, skills, and other “how can I fulfill the requirements of my job or even exceed expectations” topics.

The dictionary definitions:

Joba paid position of regular employment.

Role – the function assumed or part played by a person or thing in a particular situation.
Or, to make it a bit more readable:    the function played by a person.

While the definitions tell the difference, there are some nuances. I’ve seen the terms used somewhat interchangeably in business – often when talking with management or folks in HR. I don’t think this is horrible or worth correcting, but it can lead to confusion.

A job is your employment – described by who you work for, where you work, the “whole” of the expectations of you, etc. It aligns with a title you put on your resume, your business card, your LinkedIn Experience section. Job responsibilities likely include many roles, often capped off with: “other duties as assigned”.

A role is usually one of the many things you do, roles you play in your job. Some of those roles are related to soft skills, some are related to tech skills or platforms. In some cases, your job and role might overlap 100%. In my experience, most folks have one primary job with many roles.

To make things a little more confusing, if you work in or around the IT space, terminology used when developing and marketing products, apps, and solutions can overlap here as well. We have terms like “persona”, “user stories”, and “use cases”. These terms tend to have a lot in common with what the rest of us refer to as “roles” and are important when it comes to training and communications. These terms flip the perspective – from the person’s perspective to the product’s perspective. Thankfully the perspectives often meet in the middle and everyone gets along.

Examples

A number of technical products have some or all of the following roles associated to them.

User – A person that uses the capabilities of a tool or service. A consumer of the content or tool. Folks that use Word, Excel, OneDrive, etc. In most, if not all, cases, users have other more primary business roles. Their *job* is not “user”. More often than not these folks don’t think about tech or tool-aligned roles until they are forced to (communications from IT, training, etc.)

Administrator – An administrator might be at a product (M365, Teams, SharePoint, Workday, ServiceNow, etc.) level, or at a more granular team level. They have responsibilities for keeping the system running and configurating the tools and services. In some situations (team, site, or channel), administrators might have both admin roles and business roles. In other situations, administrators may administer many sites or platforms, but not have other business roles.

Developers – Developers customize or extend functionality of existing platforms or create new solutions. They might be exclusively developers but work with a variety of tools or platforms. They might have other business roles but do some development or coding as a part of that job. There are a lot of options. Development vs. low-code developer vs. maker vs. other names, titles, and roles might be a topic for another day…

There are many other variations. Often folks have more than one role with “user” generally being a more-or-less common denominator.

Note: Another potential post topic – When an admin or developer is NOT familiar with user capabilities…

Application of Roles

Why is it important to understand roles? Because roles often define the target audience and the context used for effective communication, training materials, and even functionality in products and services. When roles aren’t accurately understood, communication and training can drop in effectiveness.

HR is another area where understanding roles is important.

  • Understanding existing organizational capabilities and identifying skill gaps
  • Finding resources within a company
  • Assisting hiring managers when creating job descriptions
  • Finding appropriate candidates to hire
  • Assisting employees with skill and career progression

There are, of course, many more examples. Topics to dig into in follow-up posts…

Resumes and Job Sites

When looking for job opportunities in other organizations, we have resumes, LinkedIn, and other services that help folks describe both their jobs and the roles that they fulfill. That’s a lot of information to share – hence the art of writing resumes and getting as much information into as concise a description as you can, with enough teaser info to warrant a second look. Understanding roles, and sometimes giving a name to them, helps folks define themselves more effectively. If there are known, common, role names within an industry or product area, this can help. But individuals are often left on their own to tell their story.

Wrap-up

Why am I interested in clarifying this? I’m working on a project (a SaaS startup) that has to do with technical skills and learning. A core concept in this area are roles – specifically related to technology platforms.

Example: In years past, folks in my industry/community might say: “I do SharePoint”. Cool. Except what the heck does that mean? How do you work with it? What do you do? What are your capabilities? Ultimately, “What can you do for ME?”. It didn’t take long to drill down a bit if you were familiar with the platform. Are you a developer, a site administrator, a platform administrator, a user? Not everyone was familiar with the platform, so that made for challenges. We face similar challenges with platforms today and will likely continue to as new platforms come online and the services we have continue to evolve.

Navigating the skill requirements of roles is key to working effectively. It’s just one of many perspectives – soft skills, etc. are obviously also critical. As employers, managers, trainers, employees, consultants, and team members it’s critical to understand scope and context, to set expectations, and more. The more we understand these roles, the better we can train for them, align them with work, and ultimately set folks up for success.

Other Duties as Assigned

It’s easy to dismiss this often joked about phrase or caveat on many job descriptions. But it’s also useful to note that many folks have found their calling, or at least jobs they’ve really enjoyed because of “other duties as assigned”. I expect the examples are limitless. I spoke with someone this weekend at an aircraft company that got to his current position (and the last few within the company) because of seemingly random knowledge and experience paired with an open mind and open ears. He saw a need, had some input, and eventually moved into a new role.

We’ve seen this happen plenty of times within the IT space as well. Again, plenty of examples. Folks in business departments assigned a tech platform role – or to use a specific tool for the department (e.g., SharePoint Site Owner, Microsoft Teams channel owner, etc.) – that leads down a path they hadn’t considered before.

It’s a fun topic but can come with other challenges and use-cases to address in another post.

Rating Technology Knowledge and Experience: Skill Levels

What rating scales can be used to effectively rate technical skills?

Why is this scale important? Ratings can be inherently tough to measure because they are often based on abstract concepts (e.g. good, better, best…). Accurately defining each skill level reduces confusion by respondents, leads to better decision-making based on the data, and enables more effective processes to be put in place to encourage progress from one level to the next.

Personal Experience

When I hear “tech skills inventory” or “assessment” my first thoughts go to that dreaded spreadsheet companies present to new hires to fill out. Typically, the assessment is a list of technology products and services that an individual reviews and gives a rating of something like 1-10 for each item on the list. Totally subjective and almost completely useless.

Scope

Many technology platforms are so large and complicated these days that a single rating is, again, not useful. Someone might very experienced in some parts of these tools and completely inexperienced in others. How do you use a single number/rating to communicate your skill level?

Skill scope/granularity: A topic for another day.

Skill Levels are… Subjective

How does one effectively respond to a skill inventory with subjective rating systems? For example: 1-5, 1-10, “beginner to expert”, whatever the scale. These systems might be useful for folks to start a follow-up conversation, but really not much more.

Why do these systems not work? With a quick search, there are a number of examples out there that use ‘average’ as a descriptor in their rating systems. Some folks (trainers, consultants, etc.) might have enough exposure to have a relatively decent idea of what ‘average’ means, but most individuals won’t. Not having that broader view, that sense of “Average”, leaves these scales to individual perceptions and biases – not something that usually leads to accuracy.

For many consumers of these ratings systems, it would be helpful to try a less subjective system.

Suggestion

How about something like the following? Sure, there’s still plenty of room to improve verbiage and refine names and descriptions more. But a step forward from the purely subjective systems being used.

  • (0) None – Has no knowledge of a topic. May recognize the name of a skill or feature but doesn’t have a description.

  • (1) Knows About – Is aware of a topic, but doesn’t have practical, usable skill with it yet.

  • (2) Functional User – Have used the skill, feature, or discipline and can apply it in practical scenarios.

  • (3) Advanced User – Have used the skill, feature, or discipline extensively and can help others applying the skill.

  • (4) Expert User – Experienced in all aspects of the skill or feature, use the skill, and are able to teach or train others to use the skill.

I know, I know… you’re looking at that numbering system and thinking “a developer came up with this” because it starts with zero. Well, yes and no. I left it at “zero-based” because if you’re at the bottom of the rating scale, you have zero knowledge of that topic, subject, product, etc. It’s something we can discuss. Smile 

In my opinion, there’s good clarity between 0, 1, and 2. Between 2, 3, and 4 though, may still need some clarification.

Questions and Feedback

  • I’ve been working independently for a while now, are organizations still doing these “spreadsheet” assessments?
  • What have other folks seen out there? Systems that work or have positive components. 
    (I mean,  you can tell me about systems that don’t work too, but that’ll just be for the laugh…)
  • Does the suggested system make sense?
  • Is the system non-subjective enough to make a difference in value of responses?
  • What do or don’t you like about it?

I’d love to hear your feedback in Comments, on Twitter, via email. Whatever works.

Thanks!

References and Notes