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Facts and fallacies about skills Facts and fallacies about skills
by Joseph Gatt
2020-05-14 08:23:08
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Correcting a few mistakes that HR managers make when reviewing resumes.

Myth: If someone attends an elite university, he/she must be a genius.

Fact: Some of them of course are geniuses. But don't limit yourself to looking at their alma-mater. You want to look at their skills and experience.

Because students enter a university at 18 and graduate at 22, what they did during those four years is as important as the university they attended.

skil001_400Myth: “I don't look at skills. I want generalists. I look at elite universities, because they are “well connected.”

Fact: Larry David once said on a talk show “this guy comes up to me and goes: Larry, my name is Harry Rosenzweig. And I go like, why the hell are you telling me your last name? Do you think that because you're Jewish I'm going to give you a lead role on my show?”

Larry David is a smart man. The same applies to Harvard, HEC, Sciences Po and SNU. You think that because you hired a guy from SNU or Harvard he is connected to “all the people in the network” when “the people in his network” are going to react the same way Larry David reacted to Harry Rosenzweig.

Myth: I don't care about skills. People can learn skills.

There have been quite a few suicides in Chinese, Japanese and Korean companies of employees who did not speak English, yet were sent to negotiate deals overseas in English without interpreters. Their employers thought they would pick up English fast enough.

When you hire someone, that person will have very little time to pick up new skills! And they have a life as well! When employers expect their staff to constantly pick up new skills, they are really messing with their employees' work-life balance.

Bottom line: read the “skills” section on resumes very, very carefully. Test for skills during job interviews.

Myth: I don't look at skills on people's resumes, because applicants lie about those anyway.

Indeed, many applicants lie about their skills, and that can have dramatic consequences. A friend of mine who only spoke very basic Spanish wrote that he spoke “fluent Spanish” on his resume, got a job at the International Olympic Committee, and was assigned to work with Latin American nations. He suggested I do his work for him; I suggested that he man up and quit. He did quit, in disgrace.

But, just because people sometimes lie about their skills on their resume, doesn't mean you should discard skills and only look at experience and/or diplomas.

What I suggest you do is anticipate what skills you will need the employee to perform, test those skills, get an opinion from an expert on whether those skills are certified Kosher, and hire the candidate.

Myth: Skills are useless.

Reality: All jobs involve a series of tasks, and the very performance of those tasks demand skills. Driving is a skill, working behind a machine is a skill, typing is a skill, so is professional writing. Sales is also a skill, any task your employees perform involve skills.

The very definition of a skill is: the ability to perform a category of tasks.

Final myth: Languages, public speaking, writing, driving, reading, those are not real skills.

Reality: there's a huge difference between driving half an hour from home to work, and driving 12 hours a day around the city. Driving from home to work perhaps is not a skill, but driving 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, locked in a car with nothing but the radio as a companion, now that's a skill.

Just because we can all speak, doesn't mean public speaking is not a skill. I've seen plenty of talks out there, and many of them were really, really bad. So Public speaking is indeed a skill! So is writing. And reading, yes, is a skill. We can all read newspaper articles. But if you need to hire people to read 600-page contracts, you're going to have to hire someone with that skillset.

Final, final myth: I don't trust people when they mention skills. So I want them to back up their skills with certifications.

Reality: Big mistake, buddy! Most certifications provide diplomas in exchange for cash, and while some of them really learn a ton of stuff during training, some people get their certifications without really having mastered the skill.

Let's put it this way. I had a long chat with a language school director. He told me that in the old days, they used to test students at each level and fail students who did not perform well. But these days, some students make a huge deal out of failing, and sometimes have government officials come over and threaten to shut the school down if the student fails. So they no longer test, and pass everyone, and everyone gets their certifications! Those are the times my friends.

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