The right job skills can take you anywhere—even space. Even as a kid, I wanted to be a writer, but a more common answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is “An astronaut!” I thought about that I read about NASA’s astronaut candidate program. NASA’s website outlines the skills a wannabe astronaut needs. They include a bachelor’s degree in one of five STEM areas, three years of related experience (or 1,000 hours piloting a jet aircraft), and certain physical requirements.
Despite the intense qualifications, Fast Company reports that more than 18,300 people submitted applications during the latest astronaut search. From that huge pool of applicants, NASA accepted only 12. According to NASA public affairs specialist Brandi Dean, a team of 50+ people narrows the list and determines who to interview. Potential astronauts need more than a STEM degree and years of experience. NASA also looks for certain “soft” job skills—skills that won’t necessarily show up on a resume. For example, they care how well candidates can work as a team. Astronauts must be effective leaders and followers, depending on their role on a particular project.
The hiring process for astronauts fascinates me. I think it epitomizes everything you need to consider in a normal job search—from both the hiring side and the applicant’s side. If you were on the NASA hiring team, what job skills would you look for in potential astronauts? The right person will possess certain science and technical knowledge, and they’ll also have to convince you that they’re great under pressure. Crew members on the International Space Station often stay there for months at a time, living and working with other astronauts from around the world. The ideal astronaut would thrive in that setting. She’d be healthy mentally and physically, have great communication skills and an easygoing personality. (Nobody wants to be stuck in a tiny space with a cranky astronaut for six months.)
Of course, most dream jobs don’t involve leaving the planet—and when you apply for your dream job, it’s unlikely that you’ll be up against 18,300 applicants. The astronaut example is just a reminder: No matter how many candidates are vying for the same job, you have to find ways to stand out.
Make sure you have the right hard job skills.
How can you figure out what job skills your dream job requires? Look for people who have that job already. Seek out companies that are hiring for similar positions. LinkedIn is a great place to start the search. Is there someone whose career you admire? Read their profile to get a sense of their skills and experience. If you don’t have someone specific in mind, look for a company—even if it’s not local—that’s hiring for that position. What requirements do they include in the job listing? If you have a mentor, ask her for help identifying areas on your resume that need improvement. Then, ask for advice on developing or fine-tuning those skills. (Interested in learning to code? Start here.)
While hard job skills tend to vary depending on the job, some skills are useful in almost any career. If you speak a second language, make sure to list it on your resume. (For a refresher on the language you studied in high school or college, I recommend the free app Duolingo. The lessons are short, and a cute animated owl cheers your progress.)
Identify the soft job skills you’ll need to succeed.
A recent LinkedIn report on the U.S. job market emphasized the importance of soft job skills. Hiring managers look for things like adaptability, culture fit, collaboration, leadership, growth potential, and prioritization. You may not even think of these as job skills, but they’re the reason interviewers ask you to describe experiences you’ve had in the past. These are the tricky questions about “a time you were asked to take on a new responsibility” or “a time you had to collaborate with a coworker who didn’t share your opinions.” It’s a good idea to have a few stories in mind when you go to an interview. That way, you’ll be ready to reflect on moments that show how confident, creative, and flexible you are.
Another reason soft job skills like creativity are good to have? Computers suck at this stuff. If emotional intelligence is important to your job, you’re unlikely to be replaced by a robot. In most jobs, robots aren’t a serious threat… yet. As a freelance writer, I’ll admit I get a little nervous when I hear about robots writing articles.
Hybrid job skills could give you an edge.
It’s not just your specific job skills that matter—it’s how you combine them. A Bentley University report found that some jobs, like “social media strategist,” are becoming intertwined with other jobs. Job postings for social media strategists have decreased by 64%, but “social media strategy” is now listed as a qualification for jobs in human resources, sales, marketing and PR. Data analysis is another skill that can be beneficial in all sorts of jobs.
Look for ways to improve your existing job skills.
Even if you’re happy in your current job, and you feel like you’re up to date on everything you need to know, the world is always changing. According to a World Economic Report, “65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.” That sounds crazy—until you think about how much technology has developed in the past 20 or 30 years.
To make sure your job skills have value down the line, pay attention to how things are changing. Read industry news. Focus on keeping your education and training up to date. You don’t necessarily have to sign up an actual class. That’s one option, but if you commute on public transportation, find an app (or a recent library book) and study it as you ride. Keeping your job skills current and developing new ones takes work, but it’s work that gets you closer to your dream job. That’s work worth doing.
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