Suppose you need someone to fix your air conditioner, now that you are back in the land of air conditioners.  Are you going to look through the Yellow Pages (or on the web…I know, I know) for someone who is a problem solver? Or who works well with others?  Or is a team player?  No matter how strange you are, probably not.  You want someone who can fix an air conditioner and don’t care about much else.

Now suppose you are hiring someone to looking to hire someone to run a building maintenance department.  Sure, you want technical skills, but you are looking for other things, including the skill to grow and learn as the job changes over time.  This person, if you’re lucky, will be with you a long time.  His/her ability to fix an air conditioner today, for example, isn’t so important.

It’s somewhat similar among companies hiring consultants for a specific task, and companies hiring for permanent positions.  I’m not talking about companies that hire people as ‘consultants’ just to save money on taxes, but have them in permanent positions.  I’m talking about a company, either domestically or on an international development project, that is hiring a person to do a pretty well-defined task for a set period of time.

In this case, the company cares most about ­what you have already done and wants you to do it again in this job.  They aren’t looking for people (generally) who can grow on the job and learn.  They want to be sure you can fix the stupid air conditioner, not translate lessons you’ve learned on other tasks to air conditioner maintenance.

If applying for this sort of job, tailor your resume specifically to the tasks at hand.  If you can’t really show that you have already done the tasks being called for, it is probably best to skip applying for the position.  (More on weaseling your way onto a project without applying for the advertised position in a later post.)

Consulting work, especially if of a decent duration and as part of a team, can lead to promotions and on-the-job learning once on the project, but in my experience that isn’t what hiring managers want up front.  People who can’t show they meet the exact requirements don’t get serious consideration.  (One note: I am not talking here about working with a consulting firm as an employee - that is getting an actual job, as described now….)

For a full-time position, a broader resume can be useful, and applying for positions you might not be exactly qualified for is OK.  Job announcements may ask for very specific skills, and it’s nice to have those, but you can be a bit more creative in your resume (and cover letter) since hiring people do want to pick someone who will be a long-term benefit to the organization, even if some technical skills may be missing initially.  Obviously you stand a better chance if you have the specific skills, but position announcements will often list skills (because that is what can be easily quantified and agreed to by the committee writing up the announcement) when what they are really looking for is a certain type of person.  When that is the case, you can make the case you are that type.  Or at least try!

Next post:  How to deal with age (yours, that is)?;

Upcoming posts:

  • Applying for positions you aren’t likely to get - how to make it worth it? (This is the weaseling noted above.)
  • Can you be overqualified?;
  • Targeting your resume - can there be too much of a good thing?

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