For Love or Money? Considering your Skills and the Market

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What job and career are the optimal fit for you, the one you’ll leap out of bed for (most days, at least) and enjoy contributing to all week long? As a recruiter, I encourage job-seekers to start with what they most value and love (see previous post) because it’s such an important frame to put around our options. Too many of us stumble into our jobs and careers, following a throughline from what our parents encouraged to what we studied in college to the connections we have formed since.

Like many of my friends and colleagues, I never even knew that any of the jobs I have held even existed when I was in college, majoring in constitutional politics and pre-law. But I’ve been lucky enough to find my way into some unique roles, and now get to match people up with the organizations and companies that align with their own interests.

Of course, passion is a great starting point, but isn’t quite enough to propel anyone into a job or career. For that, you’ll need to match that passion up with your skills and with what the market has to offer.

What are your skills?

Once you’ve explored your interests, you’re ready to go back into more traditional job-seeking territory by considering your talents -- although here again, they don’t have to be limited to those you’ve displayed at work. In fact, don’t think about this as "what job(s) have you done?” but rather, “where do you shine?”

This is often the most fun part of informational interviewing conversations for me, because it gives me a chance to surface someone’s secret “super-powers,” often bringing to light for them how their skills and experience are of unique and special value in the workplace. Sometimes it’s telling career educators that their knowledge about schools and pedagogy will make them insanely valuable to an ed tech firm looking to explain their product to teachers and school leaders. Other times, it’s encouraging a current director of sales and partnerships that his relationship building skills will make him an excellent nonprofit fundraising lead. Or it’s helping a statistician understand why her ability to analyze and interpret data will make her invaluable to a school district in desperate need to develop sustainable assessment management systems.

For your most recent role or set of roles you've had, consider the following:

What is your organization known for that you have led or to which you have contributed? What accomplishments have you or your organization nailed, and what was your role in that achievement?

What awards or recognition have you earned? What aspects of your job are most frequently mentioned in your performance reviews, by your manager or colleagues? What do people tend to ask for your help with because you’re the only one who can handle it or the best at it?

What makes you special? What are you uniquely qualified to do?

What are the duties that other people find challenging but you could do in your sleep, or at least with one eye closed?

To help you dig deeper, particularly if you’ve grown frustrated with your current position or organization, serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk suggests choosing 5-10 people that know you well, including a few you are similar to and a few who are completely different. "Then, ask one person from each category to honestly tell you what they think you’re best at, and what they think you’re worst at,” he says. “Maybe you’ve been blinded by the overarching strength itself because you aren’t passionate about it, but list all the things that that skill requires you to do. Don’t take them for granted.”

Sometimes, it’s easier to pick these out of lists than it is to brainstorm them off the top of your head. Check out this list of transferrable skills that teachers might bring them into non-instructional jobs, or this chart on applying your skills to the world of edtech. Career consultant Marcelle Yeager also suggests referring back to your own job description and look through the areas and tasks you believe you’ve knocked out of the park, as well as any that you’ve excelled at that lie outside your official position. “On that same paper, list specific accomplishments,” she notes. “Did you save a colleague time by helping him or her complete a task? Did you help compose a proposal that won the company new business?”

Starting to identify and quantify your skills will help prepare you to answer the last question, the one that too many of us start with rather than land on: what will people pay you to do?

What is the market?

Once you’ve identified your passions and figured out your strengths (and maybe also the weaknesses you need to rectify or avoid), it’s time to consider where you might fit into the education landscape. There is plenty of information online to help you with this, including:

Articles that lay out the big picture landscape, where you might work in education, or different paths into edtech jobs;

Reviews of organizations and jobs on sites like Glassdoor, which are valuable but like all online reviews should be consumed with a big grain of salt since reviewers are often the most happy or the most unhappy; and

Profiles and biographies of people who do the kinds of jobs you might like to do, at organizations you are interested in, such as those found on LinkedIn and on the company's own Web site, which can help you understand what different titles mean and the career trajectories that lead them there; and of course,

Actual job descriptions.

At the end of the day, although online research is great, live conversations are even better. Whether it’s through informational phone calls, coffee dates, or at networking events, try to talk to as many people as you can about the different organizations and roles in the market in which you’d like to live. Your best sources of information will be those who cross paths with many other individuals or organizations, such as funders, journalists -- or recruiters like me. Many job-seeking candidates forget that recruiters and hiring managers need many high-quality candidates in order to find the best possible fit for their searches. Send us your resume and set up a quick call to pick our brains on your next move. Chances are you will be helping us just as much as yourself.

Stay tuned next Wednesday for the last post in this series for job-seekers, on ways to "prototype" a major job or career change before you leap headfirst into it.