I was working diligently at my desk the other day, when I saw someone stirring outside. (This is either the good news about working from home: I have the ability to witness life's little activities - or the bad news: I have the attention span of a crack-addled Labrador Retriever). Turns out it was the neighbor's lawn care guy taking a short cut through my juniper hedge.
He and I talked for a moment (my need for human contact overcame my desire to yell like a crotchety old man) and I noticed a big sticker on his clip board- Certified "Something Or Other".
I asked him about it. Turns out that in the lawn care industry there are lots of these little certifications you can take. Pesticide Use, Rose Maintenance. Just about anything someone in that industry does, there's a certification you can get.
Some of these he got at his current employer, others he carried over from previous jobs because everyone recognizes these certifications as long as you have proof. They put both the customers (you don't want just anyone tromping through your juniper hedge, after all) and the HR people who hire them at ease (ditto with the staff dining room).
I started thinking about the thousand little things people are certified in, and it occurred to me that there's a huge gap in this market - namely middle managers. There are a million skills we are supposed to possess and we get asked about them in job interviews all the time - but how can we prove we possess those skills?
Many of these skills are demonstrable but hard to quantify. For example, it's one thing to say you know how to run a meeting, it's something else to run a meeting that doesn't end in tears, yawns or other involuntary physical responses.
The obvious answer, at least to people in hiring positions has been college degrees. If you have an MBA, it goes to reason, you will know more than someone how doesn't. For some jobs that makes sense. For the average person who started as an individual contributor and wants to move up, though, investing $40,000 and years of your life isn't always an option- especially to get a job that pays only marginally higher than the one they have now.
The other option is to put ambiguous terms like "possesses great people skills" on your CV and hope they know what that means.
Just a quick digression- putting "people skills" on your resume is of no help. Stop it now. You are a "people" and have all the requisite skills - opposable thumbs, higher reasoning etc. The only thing that would stand out on a CV is if you said you possessed "Kinkajou skills". A prehensile tail would be a definite advantage in some professions and at least is a true differentiator between you and the competition.
How to quantify and prove mastery of these management skills? The answer arrived at my doorstep a little later when the urchin down the street came to sell me my annual fix of Girl Scout cookies. Cute as a button, she stood there in her skirt, knee socks and brown vest covered in badges.
"What's that one?" I asked.
"That's my water sports badge- I'm a very good swimmer. Do you want the Thin Mints?"
"And that one?"
"Says I know how to find my way around using a map - how many Thin Mints?"
"What's that green one?"
" That's my ecology awareness badge. I'll put you down for 6 like last time. And yeah, I know, don't tell your wife. I'll bring them by when she's at work like last year."
I started thinking, wouldn't it be wonderful if, when we mastered and demonstrated a new management skill, we got a merit badge. Then, come the annual performance review dance, we could just slip on our attractive brown vest and dare them to challenge our credentials. Ditto for a job interview (it would certainly make planning your job interview wardrobe easier).
Here is just a partial list of badges that I'd love to show off during a job interview:
- Project management
- Reading a P &L statement without laughing
- Giving feedback without making them cry
- Taking feedback without bursting into tears myself
- Spotting nonsense in a budget
- Tolerating nonsense in a budget
- Justifying nonsense in a budget
The list goes on and on.
Oh, and since I mentioned this incident in a piece I wrote, I can write my Thin Mints off as a business expense. That's got to qualify me for my "creative finance" badge, right?