Thursday, September 24, 2009

How to Use Stories to Leverage Employability Skills for Employment Success

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Employability skills are a range of generic skills that, irrespective of your technical expertise are considered by employers to be critical skills for high level performance. Employability skills are also known as 'transferable skills', 'employee attributes' and/or 'key competencies'. The level of expertise that you are expected to have in relation to these skills is related to the level of the job for which you are applying or striving to achieve. As an example the level of communication skills expected of a prospective CEO are different to those of a part time supermarket check-out operator. Yet both roles require some proficiency with regard to communication.

The ten specific employability skills to which we are referring include:
1) The capacity to work in a team;
2) The capacity to effectively communicate with a wide variety of people;
3) The capacity to solve problems both individually and in the context of a team;
4) The capacity to positively influence and lead other people in the achievement of organisational objectives;
5) The capacity to effectively manage your time and the resources that are available to you;
6) The capacity to demonstrate on the job learning and your approach to life-long learning;
7) Having a personal vision and understanding how your work integrates with the achievement of your vision;
8) The capacity to understand and use numbers for business purposes;
9) The capacity for self-management across a wide variety of life activities; and
10) The capacity to provide high levels of service in the way that you perform your work.

With more and more people throughout the world gaining academic qualifications, the point for differentiation and individual competitive advantage stems from how a person has continued to develop their employability skills. Some people believe that it is important to develop your employability skills so that you can obtain a job. Once you have a job then you no longer have to worry about developing these skills. This thinking is flawed. Jobs are no longer guaranteed for life and employees must continue to develop their employability skills if they wish to remain employable (hence the term, 'employability skills'). Seeking opportunities through on-the-job learning or through training and development experiences are critical to maintaining high employability while you have a job.
The benefit of maintaining a high level of employability while having a job is critical from the perspective of increasing your chances for promotion. Also, a high level of employability correlates with high performance. High performance is one of the most valid job security strategies that an employee can implement. While there are no guarantees in this world, an assumption that I am comfortable making is that if an organisation has an equal choice between letting a poor performer or a high performer go, the poor performer will nearly always be asked to leave first.

Consciously developing employability skills is an important process that many people forget to do. In our work with students we often hear them refer to their part time experiences like this, "I'm just an administration assistant", or, "I just work at a gas station." Having performed many menial jobs throughout my youth and undergraduate studies I have formed a view that there is never a situation where what you are doing is 'just a job'. All jobs create the opportunity in some way, even if only small, to develop employability skills. The same is true for full time employment.

Capturing your employability skill development experiences, in the form of stories then becomes another critical step in the process of being able to demonstrate your experience in an interview. If you haven't consciously developed your employability skills then you are unlikely to be able to re-tell your stories in an interview that demonstrates how you have used those skills in practice. As over 95% of interview questions are behaviourally based (that is, you are asked to provide evidence of having developed a skill, as opposed to making up an answer for a 'what if' style question) it is critical to be able to have a range of stories at your disposal to share in an interview.

For each employability skill we recommend the STAR technique for capturing your stories. The technique works as follows:
S = Situation - what was the high level situation that you were involved in?
T = Task - what was the task that you (usually in a team context) were trying to achieve?
A = Actions - what actions did you personally take to achieve the desired outcomes of the task?
R = Result - what was the result of your efforts?

Once you have captured your stories all you have to do is listen carefully in an interview to the questions being asked, and then tell the most appropriate story for that question. A significant benefit from recording your stories is that many stories contain a range of employability skills. For example, a leadership story may also include aspects of teamwork, communication, problem solving etc. Once you have your leadership story prepared you also have the capacity to tell the same story from the perspective of those other skills. In the context of an interview you may be asked a question about teamwork that, for one reason or another the teamwork story that you have prepared may not be the best story or example for use in response to that specific question. Your leadership story, on the other hand may be a better story to tell, but from a teamwork perspective.

In this way the ten stories that you prepare (one for each of the employability skills listed above) can turn into 40 or 50 stories when you walk into an interview. How confident do you think you would be if you walked into an interview with 40 or 50 genuine stories? Most people say, "I'd be very confident!". The key is to follow the flow of the interview and to select the most appropriate story for the question that has been asked.

In this context what are your employability stories and how have they helped you in an interview to be successful in being offered the job that you wanted? Alternatively, if you have been involved in employing people, how important are employability skills in the context of your recruitment strategies?

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