'Versatilists' are in demand today

'It's all about the value you bring to the company.'

CorrespondentNovember 20, 2011 

Bridgette A. Lacy writes about resources for the unemployed twice a month.

One of the realities of the post-recession job market is that workers are asked to do more. A security guard may need to perform the tasks of an office assistant. A publicist may be required to function as a webmaster. A nursing assistant may be asked to juggle patient care and more paperwork.

As employers eliminate positions, the work that was done by those employees doesn't go away. Blue-collar and white-collar workers instead are finding that companies have combined positions rather than replace people.

Nancy Heller, a consultant with Right Management, says job candidates often tell her, "The job description says one thing, but once I got in for an interview, they were asking for additional skills."

Heller advises job seekers to be prepared to find that the position they're interviewing for may involve other skills or requirements than they expected.

"Companies may have unique positions where they are combining two related functions," she says. Job seekers have to recognize that employers are looking for a "versatilist" instead of a generalist, she says. "We can no longer put jobs in square holes. It's evolving. You need to be able to be versatile and adaptable."

This new reality also means that many job hunters are finding that they need more training.

Cheryl Stevens, a career coach in Chapel Hill, says those seeking work and those with jobs should ask themselves, "How can I expand my skill set to make a bigger impact in the company?"

Job seekers need to think about broadening and enhancing their skill sets. "It's all about the value you bring to the company," she says.

That means pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone to take classes and get additional training. If you have a job, volunteer for "stretch assignments" that highlight that you are willing to perform an unrelated task to show managers you can use your skills in a different way.

"The more you can take initiative, the more that helps the company see you beyond your initial job," Stevens says. "And if you are laid off, that gives you another bullet point on your résumé."

Mike Komives, a career and job search adviser in Carrboro, says he's noticed that many job descriptions now have an additional bullet item: "other duties as required."

This gives employers the leeway to tack on whatever they might need to the job. "The thought is they are looking for someone to perform skills that company may need at some time," he says.

So what skills are needed in today's workplace?

Some basic skills needed

Komives says professional office workers need a good understanding of the most recent version of Microsoft Office products, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and some sort of calendar program such as Outlook.

In addition, they need to have good writing, editing and proofreading skills along with reasonably good organizational skills.

"They need to keep the people they are supporting going to right meetings at the right time at the right locations," he says.

Jamie Glass, vice president for corporate and continuing education at Durham Technical Community College, is working with employers to address the expanding roles of jobs.

For example, health professionals told the college they wanted "multitalented nursing assistants." That meant people who could handle the traditional role of taking care of the patient as well as administrative duties, including customer service, patient admissions and medical records maintenance. Durham Tech added a "Health Unit Coordinator" course for nursing assistants students to address the demand.

Beth Pavelka, the lead recruiter for Matrix Resources, an information technology staffing company, says she often sees IT applicants who don't have recent experience in a particular programming language. "They need to be specialist instead of generalist," she says.

Another shortcoming she sees is a lack of certification. If you are a project manager, she said, you need Project Management Institute's Project Management Professional certification, which demonstrates that you have the experience, education and competency to lead and direct projects.

Or you may pursue the Microsoft Certified IT Professional certification if you want to be certified on the newer Microsoft technologies. Others may need Cisco certification.

While the unemployment rate may be in the double digits, the rate for IT specialists is more like 3 percent. "Hiring managers can be more specific and pickier about what they will accept," Pavelka says.

She suggests that IT workers without a college degree get one. Many IT people learned how to use the computers without going to college, but in today's job market, many employers can find applicants that have the experience and the degree.

Whether you are a white-collar worker or a blue-collar worker, you have work to do.

Blue-collar workers ranging from manufacturing to service industries need to stay in shape, Komives says. A lot of companies are looking for younger people to handle the physical demands of housekeeping, food service or maintenance positions.

Join a wellness and exercise group. In fact, Komives says, workers should connect with support groups that support their physical and mental well-being in these tough times.

Keep up

"Get current, and stay current," Komives says. Some resources he refers job seekers to include the U.S. Labor Department's "Occupational Outlook Handbook," which is updated every two years. It's available for free online at www .bls .gov /oco/ or at the public library. It gives current job descriptions along with the required education and skills.

Another resource is the "Best Jobs for the 21st Century" by Michael Farr.

The book rates more than 340 jobs in the fastest growing industries and lists the best jobs in 16 specialized target groups.

Job seekers should rank the most critical parts of the position and tailor their résumés or applications to focus on their strengths. Heller suggests job candidates paste several job postings in a word cloud application that identifies frequently used words to determine the core skills for positions. Some of those word cloud applications are www .tagcrowd .com and www .wordle .net .

"One of the things employers are looking for is flexibility and adaptability," she says. Ask yourself, "What are some transferable skills?"

When you walk away and you didn't get a job, it's important to evaluate what skills gaps you have and how to close them.

Lacy: RIFworker@gmail.com.

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