Monday, February 07, 2011

Mastery. Once a nerd ...

At a recent job-hunting seminar, I asked the audience if they had ever mastered anything. 100 people in the room. No raised hands.

"Nothing? No-one?" I asked. I then went on to admit that, gigantic nerd as I am, I had mastered the Rubik Cube in the early 1980s and that back then, I could solve it in an average time of 30 seconds.*

I talked briefly about other things I had obsessed about - Frisbeeing and martial arts - and how much work it had taken to get really skilled at these various activities. I then went back to the audience and started asking questions:
"How many people here have ever achieved Grade 8 in a musical instrument?"
"How many people here have ever represented their school? Their college? Their county? Their country?"
"Has anyone here ever won a medal at a major event?"
"Had anything published?"
"Graduated cum laude?" and so on ...
With each of these questions, various hands were raised as people started to realise the things they had achieved - albeit in activities that did not relate to their job-hunt. The group then went on to talk about how much work had been involved in mastering their chosen activities and, by extension, how much work was needed to stand out from the crowd in a job hunt. 

We've talked about this before here at the Oasis - being really good at your chosen profession is not enough, particularly in an arid market. Career management and job-hunting require skills that are probably completely different to the skills that make you good at what you do. So think back - think of something you have mastered in this life and think how much work that took. You might have only won by a nose or gained first place in the examination by half a percent. [I was beaten in the national Rubik's Cube championships in Ireland in 1981 by 0.2 of a second - bitter ashes] 

What does it take to stand out in your field? How much of it is reputation? How much is track record? Attitude? Sheer donkey-work? Do you know? Do you know?

Find out what it takes in your arena. Then look at yourself in the cold light of day. How do you measure up? This is foundational stuff - you need to know this. It is only when you have this basic information under your belt that you can start to present yourself to the market in the appropriate way.

* A couple of people came up to me during the breaks in the seminar and expressed doubts as to my ability to solve the Rubik's Cube, then or now. I didn't have a Cube with me - I'll make sure I do in future - so this wee vid I did today will have to do. The fingers aren't quite as quick as they used to be, but I'm still in touch with my inner nerd!

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2 comments:

Princess Frosty said...

I'm doing a nice line in sarcasm honing these days but I don't know if I've truly mastered the art.

RM, did you read the book Outliers whose author William Gladwell says that it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at something? Some interesting points there.

If not, 'tis a most interesting book.

John Groth said...

Transferable skills are tough for the job hunter to get their arms around. One mother out of the work force for over 10 years didn't think it all that remarkable that she ran and organized for over 6 years a carnival at her children's school that involved over 200 volunteers and earned over $15,000. The skills involved are similiar to herding cats, on time and exceeding planned net earnings each year.