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What’s In Your Toolbox?

The Job Hunter

By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger

If only there were a mirror that you could stand in front of and see in it the things that really matter. When a job hunter decides what job he is looking for, the one where he can use his unique combination of talents, skills, and experience to do the job better than anyone else in the world, he has taken a huge stride toward finding that job. But when I ask a job hunter to write down those skills—the ones that are really important and will enable him to succeed—the room gets quiet. The pen doesn’t move. Because most people don’t have a clue about their skills and how they use them. If only there were that really good mirror.

Job-related skills are always the first to be discussed. These are the things you have to learn in order to do your job—whether you went to school, learned on the job, read a book, whatever. No medical professional was born knowing how to debride a wound. Some people naturally and effortlessly build connections to other people; nobody naturally and effortlessly programs a computer. So, if these skills are learned and are actually used to get the job done, you would think they would be easy to identify, talk about, and write on a résumé. And you would be wrong.

A nurse comes to me with her résumé. It lists the hospitals she has worked for, and says things like “Administered medications, maintained accurate patient records, followed patient safety procedures, etc.” This is equal to saying, “I’m a nurse, and I do what nurses do.” Not very memorable, and to a hiring manager, no reason to pick out this nurse from the many others who want the job. It is better to think of these things as the knowledge tools that are used to do a particular job. It isn’t very helpful for a carpenter to say, “I use a hammer.” What he needs to say is, “I build houses.” Even better, “I build colonial, revival, and craftsman-style houses.”

It is helpful to think of the skills you use in terms of “who, what, where.” That is, to/for whom did you do this work; what tools did you use to do it; and where, specifically, did you do it? So our nurse might say, “Administered medications to cardiac patients pre- and post-surgery (who) using PharmaCheck software (what) in a 26-bed surgical unit (where).” Using this approach to write her résumé and prepare for an interview, our nurse is able to grab a manager’s attention by stating clearly, “I’m a nurse and these are the problems I’m ready to start working on tomorrow.”

Some clients have protested that giving these specifics can narrow their search, excluding some employers where they might have had a chance. The truth is that, using our example, if there is a position in a different, say, non-surgical unit, two things are possible: either they say that this nurse’s skills don’t match their needs, which would have come up eventually, or they say that the skill set is adaptable, and a job results. So the increase in detail, explaining as specifically as possible what skills you have and how you use them, can only increase your chances of finding the right job.

Technology in particular has become so critical in so many jobs that it needs additional focus. The job hunter should specify the tasks that she can use the software to accomplish. At what level of proficiency? Can she troubleshoot? If there is a certification, does she have it? Did she help design the software? Train others to use it? Provide feedback to the vendor and test updates for effectiveness?

When a job hunter uses the “who, what, where” approach to specify the skills he is ready to use and what he can accomplish, his whole identity changes. Instead of a worker looking for a job, he becomes a solution in search of a problem. Good solutions are hard to find, because they very quickly become employees. v

Rabbi Mordechai Kruger is the founder and director of Pathways to Parnassa, an organization providing job-search and career coaching to our community. He can be reached at

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Posted by on August 23, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.