Saturday, May 1, 2010

So What About "Unofficial" Skills?

I'm fairly certain most all of us have "unofficial" skills that we've had training for or learned through the years. These are the skills that we don't put on our formal resumes but they are skills we've used on the job. Or maybe skills from jobs we had when were in school.

For me, these skills include the typing and data entry skills. Or going w-a-y back, skills from using old fashioned key punch machines (when I first got out of the Air Force, I listed "experience with IBM 026 and 129 Keypunch machines" on my first resumes - until I had a hiring manager quip "I thought all of those were in the Smithsonian").

We all have these skills but often do not list them all as part of the personal CV, whether due to space limitations or just the lack of relevance to the position(s) being applied for. For example, I've worked on numerous proposals in response to Requests For Proposals (RFPs) for Federal, State, and Local Government contracts. Sometimes, it was as little as revising my resume for submission with the proposal, highlighting where and how my skills matched the potential client needs or as much as being the Proposal Manager making sure the final proposal met all the stated criteria so that we could be considered "responsive." It sounds fairly straight forward but is often quite difficult. A lot of organizations put a page limit (excluding resumes) on the body of a proposal. The most stringent I can recall was for a DoD project one time for a multi-year contract for a communications system that was valued at, if I remember correctly, $25M. The page limit was 50 pages. Most of the time in DoD, we were limited to 100 pages so with only half the space to make our case, we had to be very succinct and straightforward.

Even after all the writing was completed, there were still all the production efforts. Formatting the proposal. Printing and copying the pages, exhibits, and resumes. Creating a graphic for the cover then binding all the copies and delivering to the appropriate office before the deadline. I've been with some organizations that had a formal production staff to do much of this (but as a Proposal Manager, I was still responsible for all the pieces). Other places, all of us had to chip in on the effort and do it ourselves after hours. And if you lose the proposal, the costs are lost.

A lot of positions ask for "sales and marketing experience." I have a variety of experiences in this area, some good and some not so good. I worked in a men's clothing store off and on through high school and into college and worked in a liquor store in college as well. Both jobs suited me (no pun intended) fairly well as I'm not a high pressure sales person although there were occasional times when a friend would come in to buy a couple of pairs of sox and I'd manage to convince them to buy a shirt, shoes, ties, slacks and sport coat or suit. But those were the exceptions. Then there were the couple of times I wound up in boiler room operations. The first time was selling discount coupon book ads with the hook that it was "advertised on TV" and allowed small businesses to group together to get some TV exposure. That one was run by a bunch of former door-to-door vacuum salesmen and lasted until a potential sale with national offices had someone check the supposed office in Denver for the firm. It didn't exist. I quit immediately. The other was the "charity" operation supposedly selling ads for the local "Fraternal Organization of the Police." I lasted one day on that one. But first and foremost, we are all, always, selling ourselves.

In my Air Force days one of my "additional" duties was "Office Safety" where I was responsible for making sure my co-workers didn't stand on chairs trying to reach something on the top shelf of a cabinet (one of the extreme examples). Another additional task was "Documentation Manager" where I was responsible for seeing that all our reports were properly labeled so they could be properly filed in the warehouse and actually be found if ever needed again. I've used both sets of skills on jobs in later years, especially the documentation skills. One of the control points for Software Quality is in control of baseline documentation of the Software under development and the associated requirements.

Now most every former GI has janitorial skills whether we like to admit it or not. We spent at least some period of time during basic training, tech school, and life in the barracks on "bay orderly" (the Air Force term). My skills in this go back to the days of high school where cleaning toilets, mopping and waxing floors (on my hands and knees with Johnson Paste Wax), running a buffer, dusting everything, and picking up every scrap of paper on the ground. Plus I even worked as a janitor in an elementary school for a bit.

Which brings me to the teaching skills. Through high school and college, I had numerous classes on presentations and such. I've been a substitute teacher and I've prepared and conducted classes on "Independent Validation and Verification" and "This is how you test computer software." The most fun was the time I had to teach the latter course to a bunch of nutritionists. Fortunately for us all, I discovered they could be fairly easily bribed with chocolate to go along with the rules. Who knew?

This has been just a sampling of the unofficial skills that I have. We all have them. We just want an opportunity to use them.


  1. What you say is true. We all have skill sets that do not fit into a neat package or resume, nor should they. It is the experience you bring to the job that is the gem that the employer is looking for.

  2. texasbetsy just alerted some of us about your new blog. Congrats!

    I hope you are able to find something that uses your wonderful skill set. After my last lay off I was underemployed for three years before I found a full time job in my field.

    How did I manage to finally land a job? I think it's because I dyed my hair. I'd taken my cousin to a lengthy multiple-Doc appointment at the VA Hospital and read Time magazine while waiting. Altho usually I won't touch it. There was an article about HR personnel's unconscious bias against people with gray hair. Given two equal resumes with photos, they'd always chose the person with not-gray hair. So I dyed my hair and within a few months i had a full-time offer at a company i'd been temping at off-and-on for nearly two years. Sigh. Age bias is alive and well.

    Hang in there Dakine!

  3. Thanks. Unfortunately, I don't have any hair I can dye (and I detest the bad rugs so many bald men wear)

    Eventually something will break, but I've got the blog (and Facebook group "Can I use this to Find a Job Or Should I Just Find 100K to Send me $10 each" as a partially humorous attempt to make a point. So please join the group and help out!