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Sizing Up the Field

Employees should learn about their professions, not just their jobs. Broader skills are also needed. How do you rate?

September 15, 1997|JENNIFER OLDHAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's tough to generalize about which skills job seekers ought to have to compete for jobs in the next century because so much depends on one's industry, profession and company.

What's certain, experts say, is that smart workers will thoroughly educate themselves about their field, not just their own job.

"Workers need to identify with a trade or a profession. The job is the ticket in the door, but it could disappear at any time," said Caela Farren, business consultant and author of "Who's Running Your Career?" (Bard Press, to be released in October). "I always say, 'If you take a job, you'll work for a day; if you craft a profession, you'll work for a lifetime.' "

That's not to say job seekers should ignore broader skills and personality attributes that employers will look for in recruits in 2000 and beyond. Take this quiz to see if you're prepared to compete in the evolving job market.

*

If you agree with the following statements, mark true; if you disagree, mark false:

1. Going to work each day and observing what's going on around me is the best way to understand my industry.

2. I don't plan to become a manager who must pay attention to the bottom line, so I don't have to learn how to read a balance sheet.

3. A successful manager proceeds with a new project or a new idea without getting the bosses' OK.

4. I can capitalize on the shortage of technology workers by developing a general range of computer skills that will help me obtain a high salary and a permanent job.

5. I'm an independent, caring person who enjoys making decisions on my own. I think these are crucial attributes to compete in the fast-growing health-care industry.

6. I'm not adequately trained for the job I want to do, but since we're working in a knowledge-based economy, I'm sure my next employer will take care of the training I need.

7. Paper resumes are being supplanted by online questionnaires.

8. Cover letters and resumes will become extinct if all employers adopt online job application forms.

9. If I work hard and my projects bring results, I don't need to toot my own horn about what I'm contributing to the organization.

10. Employers care little about job applicants' high school grade-point averages.

ANSWERS:

1. False. Workers must talk with colleagues in their industries who have different responsibilities and learn how to diversify their skills. Those who want to get ahead should also read trade journals pertaining to their profession to determine what changes will occur in their field and how they can best prepare to meet these challenges, Farren said.

2. False. Managers increasingly expect employees to understand their company's finances, what products it makes and who its customers and competitors are.

"What employers are looking for is what you bring to the table to help them compete. No longer are you a cog in the wheel," said Lynn Vavra, a Los Angeles-based employee development specialist who counts TRW and the IRS among her clients.

3. True. Willingness to take initiative is paramount for success.

"I find the less successful managers say, 'If I haven't explicitly been told yes, I can't do it,' " said Oren Harari, professor of management at the University of San Francisco and author of "Leapfrogging the Competition" (American Century Press, 1997). "The more successful managers say, 'If I haven't been explicitly told no, I can do it.' "

4. False. General computer knowledge alone won't do it. Those who recruit technology workers say specialists who concentrate on local area networks, programming, Web page design and Internet service provision will continue to be in demand in the next several years.

Specialists can command twice the salary of full-time employees if they work as independent contractors, said Joseph Strong, North American zone manager for Select Appointment Holdings, the nation's ninth-largest provider of IT contractors.

5. False. Those interested in home health aide or physical therapist jobs--or a whole range of health-care professions expected to be hot in the next five years--must feel comfortable working as a team with other health-care providers to interpret a patient's condition.

These positions also require endurance, because therapists must stand for long hours, and large helpings of tact and patience, said Lee Powers, director of recruitment services at Advance By Design, a Grand Junction, Colo.-based firm that specializes in placing health-care providers.

6. False. Job seekers can't rely on companies to help them develop their skills. Many corporations are downsizing their human relations departments and cutting their training budgets.

Whether you're able to receive training often depends on your position. Three out of four firms pay for either internal or external training for senior managers, professionals and middle managers, according to the American Society for Training and Development's 1996 "Training Data Book."

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