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Seize the day, and every chance to acquire skills


I recently chatted with a reader in New Hampshire who, a short time ago, ended a bleak, year-long job hunt. Like so many middle managers these days, he wasn't able to find a new position at the level of his old one. Plus, companies were looking for skills that this former head of customer service at a software company didn't think he had.

Increasingly, companies want workers with highly specialized backgrounds. If what they say they're looking for isn't your strongest suit, you may think you're out of luck. But there's good news: You can hedge your bets in a tight job market by seizing every opportunity to expand your skills and highlighting all that you have to offer.

Our customer service manager decided to play up a skill that was only secondary at his former position -- the ability to use accounting software. A month later, he landed a position staffing a telephone hot line for users of accounting software.

His working knowledge of accounting began with a course that covered basic accounting principles (his former company paid for it). Afterward, this industrious worker taught himself about accounting software and used it.

He initially mentioned his accounting abilities only in a brief item on his resume, and didn't raise the subject during most job interviews. He assumed that his strong background in customer service would qualify him for a variety of jobs.

He was wrong. Only after redoing his resume to tone down the management experience and play up the accounting did the tide turn. True, his current salary is one-third of what it once was, and the job involves no management responsibilities. But it's a foot in the door.

What does this experience teach us? If you're still employed, seize every opportunity you can to learn new skills or expand existing ones. There just may be something there to help you make the cut.

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