How to Apply your Tech Skills in an Unrelated Job (and Impress the Boss)

by Rae on July 18, 2011

Amazing Officephoto © 2007 Chris Meller | more info (via: Wylio)
There is a limited job market out there; the U.S. unemployment rate is 9.1% as of May 2011, according to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics. Recent graduates and novice professionals are especially wary of turning down any offer that may come their way, but in doing so, may accept a lower paying job than they believe their credentials are worth and subsequently forgo prerequisites that support overall job satisfaction. It’s easy to understand why a person would readily accept an immediately available job, but employers knowingly revel with easy pickings these days (though much more headaches in sifting through the resume mountains); it’s time to give some power back to the candidates.

You are your résumé; include some things you’re good at and love. Now, it’s common sense and prudent to leave out some hobbies, but you should include developed and even useful skills. Stay honest in expressing your competency level. Are you a novice photographer or graphic designer with a portfolio? Do you like to write simplistic code on the weekend for kicks? I didn’t major in anything related to technology, but you can bet I include my inner-techie and openly reference those skills when given an opportunity. I know from personal experience that employers don’t review applications in depth, most of the time. There are too many applicants and a bunch of other things to do, so unfortunately, your hard work may only get center stage for several minutes at most. You want to put something on there that will be positive, yet unusual – something that will stick out and keep you in their mind as a potential candidate and worthwhile to call back.

The following suggestions are methods I learned throughout and after college with positive results. Use, modify, and apply at your discretion:

1) Applying for the job: Strategically write a résumé highlighting relevant and underrepresented talents. Cater the cover letter to the employer’s mission and philosophy, but stay honest and true to who you are; nobody likes a suck-up.

2) During the Interview: Your résumé dazzled them and now you’re at the interview. Wonderful! Make sure you mention a few genuine examples or pertinent experiences [“I am used to multi-tasking…your company’s conference call preferences are great– I use Skype all the time (or I’m a quick learner who likes staying up-to-date with the most efficient technology)”] that align yourself with their policies and culture.

Remember, highlighting specific experiences during the interview will always beat repetition of what’s on paper (unless they didn’t read it closely enough and a few details bear reminding). For instance, my most recent interview was in an unrelated field, but the employer was interested in redesigning their website and adding content. I already have the appropriate background for the main tasks like many other potential hires, but they overlooked my interest in basic web design.

My interviewer took a second look at my résumé, smiled, and asked when I could start once I brought it to their attention again, casually.

3) Ask questions to show strengths and a genuine interest:

“What are your company’s current projects or immediate goals for the near future?”

“Are you open to cross-training among staff members with different talents or interests?”

“What type of skills would a preferred candidate have for this position?”

“What are you looking for in an employee?”

 

4) I got a job offer! Now what?

Develop an offered job description into one that meets an employer’s expectations, but also includes personal interests and talents. After all, they hired you because of qualities you bring to the table. How can you enhance their work while fitting in to what’s already established?

The main goal is to create a balance that showcases an employee’s abilities without getting exploited into covering two job titles at base salary pay. I feel it’s important to review and heavily consider a job offer for more than the potential paycheck because one’s earliest professional experiences profoundly impact their motivations and can shape career paths.

The most important question to ask yourself (aside from is the salary going to pay your bills, and any other caveats, such as if this position entails relocation) is:

Is this job something I can see developing or occurring as a step to a career? Jobs are great, but temporary. Is this field something I can grow in and learn from for my future, and is the right employer to begin guiding me there?

 

5) I accepted the job, but this isn’t what I expected. How can I make this job more ‘me’?

It’s not often that people can brag about how much they absolutely love work. You want to get there, which is admirable, but let’s get you settled in first. How is the environment? Are your supervisors or main boss supportive of your endeavors? Do they value feedback from all levels?

If you follow orders all day with little room to offer input, you may need to bide your time a bit. Perhaps they’ll be more open to you offering up ideas once you get more history with them under your belt. Still, don’t wait too long to take the plunge, unless you want to be a bobblehead on their desk for the rest of your time with them.

Make your ideas tangible. It’s great that you propose a change (depending on how formal your work environment is), but most people want to see prototypes or examples of what you’re thinking before your written words will carry more weight. Plus, remember how little time your current employer probably spent on your application? The last thing they want is more paper to read. So, invest some time. You might need to use up personal time off the record and without compensation; it all depends on how invested you are to this potential project and if you’re willing to undertake something that holds personal meaning to you with the risk of it getting rejected. It’s okay if you start to think about it and find that this extra work is not worth it. If you’re thinking and getting excited, continue reading.

Draw up that new logo you’ve been dreaming up to replace the dull one. Create a new and possibly improved customer service model that’s based on other reputable business models (every industry has a superstar that others emulate). Suggest sending out example surveys (via Google Apps or Survey Monkey) with a way to analyze consumer feedback into statistics. These changes can be as simple as using your love of tech to create fill-in .pdf forms or introducing your employer to the wonders of twitter. Whatever your talents may be, there are plentiful ways to implement them, but you will have to find an appropriate venue or opportunity. If your ideas do not coincide with your employer’s, you can always begin a side project (hey- I don’t rely on blogging or writing to survive either), or a new start-up yourself. This placement can be great to help you learn the ins and outs, make great contacts, and solidify your goals before you venture out on your own.

 

6) Train up and earn additional credentials.

You found something about your job or tech interest that you love and want to learn more. Your supervisor may also be admiring your skills by this point and asks for your opinion on what can be done with a certain technology or in-house procedure.

You are a true-minded techie and therefore, an ideal employee to most- always out to learn and better yourself, therefore improving your employer’s services and value. Research. Volunteer to attend (and eventually present) at conferences. Attend webinars and training sessions, and even study additional degree and/or certification credentials.

One can never know enough, because there will always be something to troubleshoot, improve, or a wildly new idea to introduce and implement. This is the way of technology; it’s powered by those who strive, even when faced with uncertainty and wary public opinion. Techies find like-minded people who are willing to take risks, but before you can advance something, you need to learn a little of the basics.

 

7) Lastly, don’t forget the social side of being a techie.

The most brilliant minds may have come up with innovative ideas, but there was support along the way for them to get others’ attention and financial support. Think tanks exist for the purpose of group collaboration- your job satisfaction can be improved by sustaining and building relationships with those you work with and for; remember to respect others and be human.

Decorate your workspace, no matter how big or small, with a few tasteful, personal touches as minimal as a framed picture with loved ones. My favorite employer gave every employee and intern a little stand with magnetic men to put on their desks as a relaxation toy and reminder that we were in the mission together. You also spend most of your time at work, so a peaceful, comfortable environment will likely engineer the same feelings in you more than something stagnant and plain.

Smile and greet your co-workers. Learn and remember individual names. Saying a personalized ‘good morning’ can dramatically improve the mood, even from the most stuffy executives and administrators, and it doesn’t hurt for networking purposes.

Socialization can be genuine and real, even with the possibility of having a professional connection later on- so many people concern themselves with the motives of why they’re being nice to someone without realizing that they more than likely would have been anyway if they met this person outside of a work-related setting. So, work hard, but don’t isolate yourself. You don’t need to be the office social butterfly. You just need to stay professional, yet friendly and approachable.

Be patient. Some people are not tech-savvy. It will take time for them to learn and to believe in certain technologies. Encourage them and recognize their progress with enthusiasm.

Share the wealth. Offer to cross-train or teach others what you know. Who will continue the upward momentum if you leave or call out for a day? You want allies in your projects, not skeptics. Gain friends to the cause by showing them that what you are suggesting holds value and can improve their lives and jobs in some way. Technology is world-shaking on a large scale, but can be life-changing as well. This can be as small as finding an economical, but more effective copier for the office, and as large as your imagination will allow.

Compromise. Not every idea you present will be accepted. Some might be too radical or will not fit in with your employer’s goals. Some people will continually resist because they are not comfortable with technology. Do not get disheartened. Find a different platform elsewhere, or adjust your plan to meet theirs halfway.

 

I wish you well with whatever you decide to do with these tips. You seem like the determined, motivated type, and I am sure that success will follow wherever your drives and passions lead you. It will take time, but keep getting your tech on and don’t let anything discourage you. People used to say that technology was the way of the future. We are in the future. Technology will never fade. Don’t let your skills or aspirations either.

Article first published as How to Use Unrelated Tech Skills in a Job (and Impress the Boss) on Technorati.

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