Pete Davison: Professionalism Is

Posted on May 9, 2011 by

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Skills are a funny thing. Unlike in the world of roleplaying games, it’s extremely difficult to quantify skills. Sure, you can go and get yourself a qualification, but it’s not a simple case of repeatedly doing the same thing over and over again until a chime sounds and the words “LEVEL UP!” appear over your head. (Unfortunately. Because that would have made assessing learning in the classroom a whole lot easier.)

No, the vast majority of skills that you (well, I) have are not quantifiable in any sense. I can write — well — but that’s difficult to prove except with, well, writing. I can’t point to a character sheet and say “Look! 85 skill points in writing!” when applying for a job. I can just say things along the lines of “I’m excellent at writing” and “I have a strong attention to detail and thing people who use the wrong ‘your’ should be abused with sledgehammers” or the like.

It’s even worse with IT skills. I can use computers, and I have a knack for being able to find creative solutions to problems if something’s behaving strangely. When putting my new PC together the other day, I found myself frustrated with the woeful instructions that came with it and just worked things out for myself. Sure, it took me a little while to figure out that you can actually unscrew and take out 3.5″ drive bays in order to fit a hard drive in them — I thought it was a bit stupid to expect Eugene Victor Tooms levels of contortion just to screw in a storage device — but I got there in the end. (Also, bonus points if you know the reference.) However, the ability to “find things out” isn’t quantifiable in any way, and short of someone plonking me down in front of a broken computer and saying “fix it!” there’s no way I can prove that I’m “good with computers”.

I guess this is where all those lessons you had in Persuasive Writing back in school come in handy. It’s up to you to convince people that you are The Right Person for the Job by using suitably flowery language and/or carefully referencing things you know about the person in question. And it doesn’t always work, as my year’s worth of “we have decided to pursue another candidate” emails and letters will attest.

But oh well. Some good has come of my skills and abilities — I’m writing for sites I like on a freelance basis, and that in itself is giving me a sizeable portfolio of experience that I can point at should I find myself in the running for a full-time position somewhere. While it may not be a character sheet with 85 skill points in the Writing skill, it’s the next best thing.

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