Build Your Skills, Not Your Resume

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Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook (insert snide comment about IPO here), shares some good career advice in her address to this year’s graduating class of HBS.

What I liked:

Build your skills, not your resume. Evaluate what you can do, not the title they’re going to give you. Do real work. Take a sales quota, a line role, an ops job, don’t plan too much, and don’t expect a direct climb.”

And further on:

“You’ll have to rely on what you know. Your strength will not come from your place on some org chart, your strength will come from building trust and earning respect.”

Everyone in Singapore is obsessed with titles. We assume that we all fit into these little boxes of a doctor/engineer/banker/lawyer/executive with a fancy title that come with our jobs. We assume that if we stick to the job and it checks all the boxes, we’d be happy and content, chugging along on our pleasant, 2-dimensional lives with a defined role and a jobscope. So if you’re an accountant, you’re supposed to be meticulous, quiet, unassuming, and emotionless. And if you’re in advertising, you’re supposed to be free-spirited, creative, and… lowly-paid.

But Sheryl’s speech reminded me that a career gives you a lot more than what the world stereotypes it to be.

My previous job posting was in operations – when I received my posting letter, I was like “WTF?! This has NOTHING to do with my degree!” (which was in Finance and Economics) And so I got annoyed. But 2 years into an ops job taught me how to negotiate with everyone from the airport authorities to a baggage handling agent, it taught me how to sweat the small stuff while keeping the big picture in sight, it taught me how to simultaneously juggle 4 ongoing projects, it taught me how to deal with 100 emails a day clamoring for my attention, it taught me how to set up systems that would run themselves, and it taught me how things really work. I don’t think I could have picked any of that up if I’d gone into my “preferred” department.

So hell yeah. I’m glad I did it. It gave me skills in areas that I sucked at, and gave me new business perspectives – real ones, not the theoretical, clinical, abstract ones behind a computer screen or an annual report. 3 weeks ago, I got moved to a new department in the same company, with a focus on a completely different skill set, one that was closer to what I studied, but not really. We’ll see where that takes me! 🙂

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Jobs and Salaries – How the Pros Negotiate

Received an amazing and detailed article on salary negotiation by Kalzumeus  today (hat tip @ramit), complete with step-by-step instructions, scripts, and the psychology behind some of these  tactics. Love it. Some gems:

On searching for jobs

“Many people think job searches go something like this:

  1. See ad for job on Monster.com
  2. Send in a resume.
  3. Get an interview.
  4. Get asked for salary requirements.
  5. Get offered your salary requirement plus 5%.
  6. Try to negotiate that offer, if you can bring yourself to.

This is an effective strategy for job searching if you enjoy alternating bouts of being unemployed, being poorly compensated, and then treated like a disposable peon.

You will have much, much better results if your job search looks something more like:

  1. (Optional but recommended) Establish a reputation in your field as someone who delivers measurable results vis-a-vis improving revenue or reducing costs.
  2. Have a hiring manager talk with you, specifically, about an opening that they want you, specifically, to fill.
  3. Talk informally (and then possibly formally) and come to the conclusion that this would be a great thing if both sides could come to a mutually fulfilling offer.
  4. Let them take a stab at what that mutually fulfilling offer would look like.
  5. Suggest ways that they could improve it such that the path is cleared for you doing that voodoo that you do so well to improve their revenue and/or reduce their costs.
  6. (Optional) Give the guy hiring you a resume to send to HR, for their records.  Nobody will read it, because resumes are an institution created to mean that no one has to read resumes.  Since no one will read it, we put it in the process where it literally doesn’t matter whether it happens or not, because if you had your job offer contingent on a document that everyone knows no one reads, that would be pretty effing stupid now wouldn’t it.”
On not offering a number before they do
“Every handbook on negotiation and every blog post will tell you not to give a number first.  This advice is almost always right.  It is so right, you have to construct crazy hypotheticals to find edge cases where it would not be right.”
“This vaguely disreputable abuse of history is what every employer asking for salary history, salary range, or desired salary is doing.  They are all using your previous anomalously low salary — a salary which did not reflect your true market worth, because you were young or inexperienced or unskilled at negotiation or working at a different firm or in another line of work entirely — to justify paying you an anomalously low salary in the future. Never give a number.”

I love this article. It’s not every day you get to read something that’s so much more than a superficial “Top 10 ways to get hired!” article. If every blogger/journalist/author got into this level of analysis, we’d have less of an info overload problem.