Pieces of Paper Say More about Attitude than Skills


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Bernard Salt was giving advice in his Weekend Australian column.  He reckons that being over 50, he is entitled to do so (with the European cruise to come later, in his 60s).

Anyway, his advice was to kids, and it was simply two things that he believes are required  to ensure career and/or business success.  

1. the first thing you need is training.  I wouldn’t want to be … approaching the 2020s without an accredited set of skills.

2. the second thing is less tangible.  It is a set of qualities; the all important soft-skills, including the killer soft skill that … comes deep within the core personality.  Are you resilient?

I tend to agree, and wonder if these two are very closely linked.

A recent change: “I’m Stuck”

A funny thing has happened to me in the past 5-10 years.  As I head into my mid-40s I am confronted by the stark reality that enthusiasm is not enough.  Whereas once it seemed that my peers could move ahead in life no matter their qualifications, it now seems like some are hitting a wall.

A very frustrating wall.

Just 10 years ago, we all spoke of the same sorts of work issues, and we seemed to be on a level playing field.  At no time did it seem that the bloke who lacked any formal qualifications was in a different boat than the rest of us who dwelled somewhere in middle management.

But that has changed.

I have a couple of friends whose lament now is “I’m stuck.”  Suddenly – or so it would seem – they have no room to progress in their chosen line of work.  Instead, they are feeling the effects of some sort of glass ceiling.  They can see further career opportunities and progressions, but only for other people who seem to have too many pieces of paper and not enough on-the-ground experience; for some reason they cannot make their way up the steps toward them.  Sadly, most of them are becoming bitter about it, too.  They see little point in enrolling in a new course to get their skills recognised; for some reason, it is offensive to even suggest it.

A common theme

I was talking with another friend recently.  He has a few qualifications, and recently gained another promotion to be sitting at number 3 of a rather large institution.  We had always agreed that the key to successfully recruiting someone – based on both of us making some shocking decisions over the years  – is that old adage of employ the attitude and teach the skills.

Anyway, my friend is about my age, and he was telling me about some of his own reflections.

To help him work out how he got to where he is now, he started to think about the people that he had chosen to appoint since being in supervisory positions.  One thing appeared common to all his employment decisions. One thing was common to all the people he did not shortlist.

Pieces of paper. 

Those he employed had them; those he did not, did not.

He was shocked.

He was shocked because he always thought that real ability was more important than pieces of paper.  That he employed people for their attitudes, rather than just their skills.

After he told me this, I did a similar reflection on people I had chosen to employ and chosen to not employ and, you know, I found the same thing.

What matters?

Pieces of paper matter.

But, I thought a bit more on this and discovered what I think the real power is that is held by those pesky pieces of paper.

You see, I don’t think it was the pieces of paper so much that got them the job, but rather what it said about them.  Two people who present equally well, present a similar background of skills and experience, and present a similar set of responses to interview questions can be separated on the basis of one thing that the pieces of paper show.

To be honest, beyond the absolutely essential qualifications for any job, I really don’t care if someone has any extra bits of paper.  But I do care about their attitude.

I want go-getters, self-starters and people who are not just keen to learn more, but people who are able to be humbled by the knowledge that there is always more that they can learn.  People who, despite how good they are, wonder if they can be a bit better.

I want people who are prepared to invest themselves in exploring that question, rather than those who resent it even being asked.  I want people who are resilient enough to engage a journey of self-development no matter how tedius, boring or just plain uncomfortable it might seem.

I want people who are resilient.

Training builds resilience.

And that is what those confounded pieces of paper tell me.  Not only do they show me that someone else believes they have certain skills and abilities, they tell me that this is a person who possesses the attitude that I am prepared to pay for.

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