My previous post has triggered intriguing discussions – about writing, identity and what I called an ‘online persona’. As far as I remember I borrowed this term from David Weinberger’s book Small Pieces Loosely Joined – sublime reflections on the way the web has impacted culture and communication.
I have asked myself sometimes: How should I describe and portray myself on so-called professional social networks … given the fact I have tried to re-invent myself but / and / or not want to raise any false expectations or come across as Dr. Know It All Jack of All Trades Master of None Interested in Too Many Irrelevant Things.
Websites and profiles are not so much my home on the internet, but tools that support the ongoing experiment of uncovering my unique voice. Yet professional social networks as LinkedIn are rather intended to provide an online CV or a skill matrix.
This article is a comprehensive review of the Linkedin skills feature. In particular I like this quote: I too have been receiving endorsements from people I’m out of touch with, who are endorsing me for skills I didn’t even know I had’, like “food writing” and “celebrity” (whatever that means).
The list of my skills on my LinkedIn profile and its evolution is a great experiment in social dynamics (…plus game theory, plus artificial intelligence software testing…) – although the skills people tag me with are as intriguing 😉 I have experienced the following effects:
LinkedIn tries to extract – generic – skills from your profile that neither you or your contacts have yet added to your profile and asks your connections to confirm them. So the set of skills is impacted by LinkedIn’s bias.
I developed tools related to managing digital certificates – these are cryptography-based digital counterparts of national IDs – and the related management systems, Public Key Infrastructures. My main role in a project was PKI Consultant, and I never tried to sell myself as a developer. So the exact term should rather be Programming for PKI. But nobody uses that specific terms in his/her profiles so I did not object to add programming. Yet such generic terms can raise false expectations (which was actually the trigger to write this blog post).
Endorsements could make it harder or easier to change your focus and specialty due to the amplification fostered by LinkedIn.
You add skills to your profile or LinkedIn guesses at your skills and suggests them to others. Thus some connections will endorse you, and other members of the same community will notice as per the LinkedIn activity stream and endorse you as well. This might put emphasis on certain skills that you do not leverage that much on a daily basis or you do not want to use in the long run. On the other hand your network might endorse you for a very ‘old’ or ‘new’ skill and the self-enforcement of endorsements could help with changing fields of expertise.
But I strongly believe your most important skills cannot be represented in a ‘profile’ anyway. I dare say I did make some projects a success by using skills that have never been part of any skill matrix. These skills are attributed to you in private 1:1 feedback only.
Today’s hiring processes are often based on pre-screening applications for key words and three-letter acronyms. In discussion group I recently read: I hope the selection is not done by machines. Unfortunately, it nearly is. You might replace machine by HR people following some checklist.
Based on my experience I think there is a hierarchy of skills. I am aware of the vagueness in terminology I am going to introduce here.
- Technical skills are a must. Replace ‘technical’ with whatever specific skills your education or experience has provided you with.
- Top technical ‘guru’ skills – ideally communicated by an endorser, not by yourself – are the reasons customers might favor you over other applicants.
- But social skills are the reasons they remember you. Probably these should be called general skills, including e.g.: perseverance to meet deadlines, writing flawless and precise e-mails, acting as an abritrator between people hostile to each other.
Also Verbal / quant skills – as depicted in diagram in my recent reblog of Dan Mullin’s post Philosophy Degrees Are Undervalued – all belong to the general skills category in my point of view.
Employers or clients will admire you for general skills after they have worked with you, but I am skeptical if such skills can be communicated in a way that helps in passing the barrier set up by the HR bots.
HR experts do not want to know that you have a proven track record on working with very different techniques in measuring physical properties of advanced materials and related data analysis. But you may be right in believing that your most valuable skill is your ability to learn about new technologies quickly – based on your experience with related technologies. (Insert clichéd but true statement about the fast pace of evolving technologies.)
They rather want to see that you are capable of working with the Improbable Hyperspace Microscope analyzing samples of the recently detected rare earth metal Zaphodium, and analyzing data using Most Buggy Scientific Software Tool, Version 42.42. You need to have more than 4.2 years of experience – it might not be sufficient to have worked with version 42.41 even if you have 4.3 experience with that one.
I am not making this stuff up, expect for the product names. You might be asked for 4.2 years of experience with a product that has been available on the market for 2.4 years only.
I had been lucky so far in circumventing such selection processes because I knew the person or department who was really looking for resources. In Austria, we have a strong tradition in bypassing processes in an informal – probably non-compliant – way. (But international corporations gradually manage to add our distinctiveness to the collective.)
As this should not be your typical nerds ranting about clueless managers post, I try to distill some advice from my experience:
Some communities or industry sectors are more open to reasonable assessments of skills. For example, I learned from the IT security ‘hacker’ community to value skills demonstrated right in front of me. Hackers detest bragging with certificates or degrees.
Squeeze your ‘technical’ skills into very few key words, even if that hurts the generalist in you. I believe you need to be super specific: PKI worked better than IT Security, Heat Pumps works better than Renewable Energy. It is like picking a tag line for a blog.
Don’t follow any advice, including guidelines about well-crafted social media profiles. My alter ego, the Subversive Element started writing the bloggy weird website subversiv.at at night when I was a serious IT consultant by day. I did not promote the site at all. Yet in a kick-off meeting in a new project a new colleague greeted me enthusiastically like that in front of all the other suits:
You are the Subversive Element, aren’t you? 🙂
Weird – or generally: unusual, outstanding – features in your profile constitute a filter – you filter potential clients by sense of humor for better or for worse.
Don’t speak about yourself in your professional profile in third person – in ‘speaker bio style’, such as: Elkement is a seasoned expert in hunting aliens, well-versed in intergalactic diplomacy with a proven track-record of efficiently destroyed foreign planets.
Don’t write walls of text.