There was a time when we spoke of education in the singular. Tell me about your education. One must have a good education. She is pursuing an education. Then came the binary world—“traditional” and “alternative” educations. Running parallel to of this, but operating in a sort of educational netherworld, was the ever shape-shifting concept of “vocational” education.
Now, as we enter what is being called the Fourth Industrial Revolution (”characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres”) we are experiencing a disrupted world of learning; a kaleidoscope of theories, strategies, and approaches each trying to gain a foothold, each making a case for being the most strategic path to a secure future.
The “Prove It” Economy
As it turns out, there may be no one right answer. Each of us may instead need to assemble our own personal learning construct—an aggregate of experiences, skills, and accomplishments that together symbolize our leverageable “value” as contributing members of a workforce. A recent article in The Atlantic offers a succinct description of this new reality:
“The country has entered a “prove it” economy in which codified skills are currency.”
I remember the day my boss told me I would never be an engineer. I was sitting on an itchy gray wool sofa in a glass-walled conference room, hands under my knees, eyes on the floor. I looked up startled at the words: “You want to be an engineer, don’t you? Well, you’re never going to be one.” The possibility had actually never crossed my mind, which made the accusation more intriguing than insulting, so I just laughed and shrugged it off. Looking back, I see the young woman on that couch. And while I hardly recognize her, I know now that she is a future engineer.
I got hired. Three magical words. It sounds so simple, but the process itself often feels like a fragile house of cards, capable of collapse after one wrong move. That said, understanding the hiring process as a process is definitely the right way to approach things. There are steps you need to take, and one success leads to the next, until finally, the BIG success. The three words. I got hired.
Grit. The word seems to be everywhere, and every hiring manager and recruiter seems to be on the lookout for candidates who possess it. But don’t be suspicious of it as a trend—grit is real, and it’s an important trait to nurture within yourself.
But is it everything?
The Biggest Skill You Need
We are in an age when all job-seekers must understand personal branding, and everyone must be a lifelong learner to succeed. What then, do we make of advice like this?
“The biggest skill you need to have these days is curiosity.”
Marketers love to talk about “brand.” So do recruiters. Company brand, personal brand. In the weeks leading up to—and in the days following—the Super Bowl, everyone talks about brand. Which means, whether anyone realizes it or not, everyone is talking about storytelling. This year’s assortment of Super Bowl ads were heavy on story-as-brand. A recent Forbes article noted that:
- Some companies are using their ads to make a political statement (intentionally or not).
- There seem to be more ads focusing on the brand level instead of individual products.
For some, this was a successful approach. For others, not so much. One thing we can all agree on, is that story works, when it comes to provoking emotion. Whether you liked the Audi and Coke ads or not, chances are you discussed them. A very good friend of mine worked on the Airbnb ad, which was a textbook example of story-as-brand in action, and by almost all accounts, a very successful version thereof.
But what does this have to do with getting a job?
Some might say we’re currently experiencing the triumph of technology companies. Others might say this is actually the end of them. A recent Medium post by Rob Thomas (Vice President, Products, IBM Analytics) is in fact entitled exactly that—The End of Tech Companies. In it Thomas writes:
The era of “tech companies” is over; there are only ‘companies’, steeped in technology, that will survive.
Data-driven hiring models are increasingly able to include and assess soft skills, so it’s critical that students and job-seekers understand how this impacts and informs the process of building a successful candidate brand.
Hard skills are generally defined as those teachable skills that can be measured and quantified. Soft skills, on the other hand, are understood to be more subjective—these are the qualities and attributes we tend to think of as comprising “people skills.” Traditionally, soft skills are considered much harder to quantify.
So can soft skills really be assessed using data? The answer is: Yes.