I recently came across an interesting situation involving an organization's ad and a potential candidate's resume. In response to a statement on the candidate's resume, “I know how to use Excel," the company asked, "How often did you use MS Office programs, specifically Excel. We use Excel extensively, so I need someone with strong skills." Related: 6 Job Search Reality Checks To Begin 2015 This is nothing more than a variation on a classic dilemma.
The company's add requires “Microsoft Office Skills" and many applicants' resumes state, “Experience with Microsoft Office." If there's anything good in this situation, it is the both sides are equally at fault – and guilty of a major error best labeled “lack of specificity." But this error actually pales in comparison to the highly likely result – a mismatch between the candidate and the employer with all the resulting implications for both the employer and the new employee. The employer may end up with someone that is under – or over – qualified. The new employee is dissatisfied because he or she is not qualified or not challenged enough by the tasks. There is another very important factor about this situation. According to a recent study from Burning Glass Technologies, an analysis of “middle-skills jobs" (roles that require high school but not college degrees), 78% of jobs call for fluency with technology. And the most commonly required skills are those involving spreadsheet and word processing (e.g., MS Excel and Word). According to the research, 67% of middle-skill jobs require proficiency with these tools – and the median pay rates are 13% more than jobs that require no digital skills. There's a valid question about individual's desire to learn and enjoy using these skills – but the opportunities should be clearly presented to people.
Typical ReactionsThere are two typical reactions to this dilemma of poorly specified skills and equally poorly stated requirements – that while partially applicable in some situations – they are also both seriously flawed. One of the first reactions to this situation – when the candidate is less skilled than the job requires – is the “ease of learning." Often cited are the plethora of learning options, online courses, YouTube videos, and so on for learning how to use “all" the features of the software. But the availability of learning resources does not guarantee the individual will both pursue the learning and enjoy using the advanced skills. My own example is simple: I'm moderately skilled at EXCEL but I have little desire to learn advanced features like “Pivot Tables" and even less desire to work regularly at that level of the tool." A second typical reaction is that it's OK for an “overqualified" applicant to apply or to be selected for a position. Absolutely in some cases. Maybe the company is growing rapidly and the challenges of the position are going to grow quickly to match the candidate's qualifications. Maybe the candidate is looking for a position with less pressure (or greater work/life balance) than a previous position. But what if the candidate is looking for an opportunity to really test and grow their application of the MS Office tools – and this job is not likely to ever present that opportunity. Then the result is dissatisfaction, fast turnover, or “quit and stay." None of these is a good situation.
The Employer SolutionI'll present the employer solution first because I'll argue the employer has the primary responsibility to solve this problem. No employer should ever run an ad or post an opening with “"Experience with MS-Office" or “Need someone with strong EXCEL skills" (or any similar variation with any software). The solution: Be specific! What are the specific “advanced features" of the specific software needed? What does the person “need to do" with the specific software? Some examples:
- Develop 2-3 MS-PowerPoint presentations monthly, 40-50 slides, with imported graphics, videos, and MS-Excel information. Includes regular development of advance templates working in consultation with presenters.
- MS-Excel work comprises 45% of this position, regularly developing advanced applications for the organization to include complex macros, Pivot Tables, statistical and financial formulas.
- A key responsibility of this position is producing an employee newsletter in MS-Word, including imported graphics and MS-Excel data, preparing the newsletter to be distributed electronically to employees in multiple locations internationally.
The Candidate SolutionThe candidate solution is, perhaps, a little simpler. But it starts with similar advice: NEVER put “MS-Office skills" or “Experience with MS-Office" on a resume. In reality, it states absolutely nothing about your skills or experience! HR or the Hiring Manager don't know if this means “you've seen a colleague using MS-Word" or you're an “Advanced Certified MS-Office Technician." First of all, your experience or skill with MS-Office, or any software, should not be listed on your resume just as a “skill." It should be reflected in the specific accomplishments, tied to a position held. “Having the skill" is not what's important. “Doing" something with the skill is the evidence – particularly when it's part of your top 3-4 accomplishments for a position on your resume.
- Developed and implemented a financial reporting system, based on MS-Excel, using complex macros, Pivot Tables, and financial formulas. Trained employees in five departments on the data entry and printing functions that reduced monthly financial reporting from 10 to 2 days after month end.
- Introduced automated MS-PowerPoint presentations into multiple trade show kiosks, based on unique templates for each of our 20+ products. Presentations included animations, advanced branching, and interactive (touch-screen) functions.