Land A Dream Job with Preschool Skills (Part 1)

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When the recession hit in 2008, I naively thought it wouldn’t affect me—not in a personal way that meant losing my job, a foreclosure on my home or being unable to afford medical care. I had a steady job, a place to live, and was single with minimal expenses. Entirely of my own choosing, I quit my job in 2011 in order to travel abroad. When I returned to the States I had to recant my naïve assumption of immunity to the economic crisis.

I spent the bulk of my time job searching. I experienced multiple interviews with no offer; haunted the empty job boards; slept on an air mattress in my sister’s living room and applied for jobs way below my experience level. During this process I came to ask this question constantly:  "What skills are they looking for that I don’t have?!" It’s been the dust bunny floating around in my head, my dreams at night, the song my family has listened to me sing repeatedly.

What I came to believe after many interviews, and during the hours spent reworking cover letters, is that we don't have to look much farther than the intangible skills we learned in preschool: How to play well and communicate with others; how to experiment with new games; how to trust our intuition to choose what station to play at next and how to focus and listen at story time.  And yes, sometimes how to slow down enough for naptime. It may seem like the transition to adulthood required that you adopt a completely new skill set, but the qualities employers are looking for, the ones you can rely on to help you succeed in your career are, in many ways, directly connected to the skills we learned in childhood.

Curiosity is the beating heart that nursed us into the adults we are today. Imagine what you'd be like now if you hadn't had the curiosity to touch the hot stove or ask that fascinating girl or guy on a date or audition for the debate team. Without those experiences, which were fueled by curiosity, you wouldn't know who you are or what you enjoy doing. Applying that type of child-like curiosity on the job will take you far. If you know of a simpler method to complete a task, give it a shot. If you want to learn about Web design while on the job, see if the company's Web designer will let you assist with routine tasks. Take the time to stay current on the Microsoft Suite, whether through classes or on-the-job training.

Jessica Jones, IAAP member and new employee at Analytic Services, believes it was her combination of skills that landed her the job she’s in today. "I think I had the right mix of confidence, experience and the drive to learn." The mix of soft and hard skills is essential. Taking an investigative look at your skills and goals could lead to a wealth of discoveries. 

Networking widens your view of the opportunities in the marketplace, gives you the connections you may need to do a job well, and puts you in touch with experts. Most everyone's an expert at something. The mailman has the scoop on USPS price increases. The barista at the Starbucks downstairs knows of a new legal copy business going in down the street. The potential employee that you didn't hire might be a perfect fit at your best friend's start-up.

Dr. Jennifer Rosenzweig, a expert in the field of employee performance improvement, and research director for The Forum: Business Results Through People, said that these days networking is key to securing a job, and “having a Web presence, whether it's through Linked In, a professional blog or Twitter, will keep your name out there and give you contacts when you need them." Always have your business card ready. Make it a point to talk to someone new when you attend a seminar or take a class. And smile! As they say, you never know when someone is watching.

Communication skills have always been fundamental to success, but with the takeover of instant communication and with the advent of virtual offices, it has become vital that everyone be able to write, speak and, dare I say, text proficiently. Learning to craft a concise sentence or convey an important idea effectively seem routine but are irreplaceable tools in making you a top-notch employee.

According to Mario Apurzzese, Founder and CEO of Employees Only, an industry-leading human resources consulting company,the inception of the remote office has highlighted the need for efficient communicators and employers and employees have to be more flexible than ever before. This flexibility requires trust and, in turn, the ability for all levels of employees to communicate well, both verbally and in writing. If you work remotely, Apurzzese stresses the importance of regular communication with your team members and clients, “Ambiguity in communications may be the employer’s only view into an employee’s performance.  It could be the death knell to employees’ careers if their communication skills are poor or haphazard.”

Entrepreneurial spirit is the drive behind many of today’s innovative trends. It’s the spirit that creates companies like Kiva and produces products like the iPad.  Vision, energy and a tenacious courage to try new things define the lifestyle of an entrepreneur. The office routine may seem like the antithesis of the entrepreneurial spirit, but if you want variety and opportunity, try adopting the values entrepreneurship as your career resolution this year. In many ways, entrepreneurship goes hand-in-hand with curiosity. Respect that new idea you have, no matter how small, and see what you can do to make it happen. Even if it fails, you've probably gained a new skill or perspective that will help you in the future.

(This is the first of two parts. Check in Thursday, March 6, for four more preschool skills that will land you a dream job. Ruth Hoffman has a degree in English and works full-time as a legal assistant in Kansas City, Mo.  In her spare time, she’s a freelancer with a passion for creative writing.)

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