Good On Paper, So Where's My Paper?
Soft Skills vs. Hard Reality: My Job Search Experience
Paid subscribers and founding members have access to my audio narration of this article at the bottom of the page.
I did something recently that I haven’t done in quite a while. I applied for a job. 😱 It was a six-figure, director-level role at an organization that was wholly value-aligned with my personal mission and the work I already do. It was one of those jobs that I knew I could absolutely body. As these things go, I didn’t meet all the requirements, particularly years of experience, and I wasn’t familiar with some of the software they used. But I’m a tech-savvy youth who loves to dive into new systems and frameworks, so that didn’t intimidate me.
I grew up on computers. My dad studied computer science and always ensured that my sister and I had the latest technology. So, by the time I hit middle school, I was already typing 60 words per minute. In high school, I was the kid who charged my classmates $5 each to program their TI-83 graphing calculators. I made it so that they only had to enter the values for a, b, and c in a quadratic formula equation, and the calculator would give them the answer, saving them time on a very lengthy math problem. Today, I love to learn new programs, not because I have to, but because I think it’s fun. I’m still very much a nerd at heart.
Needless to say, I felt confident I could step into the role I was applying for and be an immediate asset to the company. So, I created a cover letter and resume and threw my hat in the ring.
My resume has two things on it, CEO/Publisher of Fag Rag Magazine and President of BaBEC, both of which I’ve been doing for three years. I don’t include anything else because sex work doesn’t go on resumes, and my career for fifteen years before the pandemic was cosmetology. Both roles I’m in are fulfilling and will hopefully one day provide me with a living wage, but right now, they don’t.
Despite my confidence in being able to step into this role with my head held high on day one, I had three things that I worried about holding me back.
Lack of institutional experience: Recruiters and hiring managers want to see that you’ve worked for someone. They want to know how you exist within a chain of command. Can you take instruction and deliver on that? Unless you are an entrepreneur from a company you’ve built to the point of brand recognition or major financial accolades, the things you’ve done leading up to that aren’t valued as much as experience in an established company where you were a valued employee.
Lack of interview experience: For almost two decades, my interview experience has been to show up with someone who needed their hair done, give them a makeover, and have a brief sit down with a salon owner or hiring manager (I’ve done this in break rooms, in the salon’s massage suite, on the salon floor, and if I was lucky, in an actual office). After that, I would usually get hired on the spot. Most of the other people applying for this director-level position have likely had ten years or more of interview experience aligned with a role like this.
Time: Given my commitments with BaBEC and Fag Rag, how much time can I commit to a full-time job? Very valid question and the answer is a lot. I am publishing a separate post in the coming weeks about my productivity regimen.
Before my interview, I considered how to turn these shortcomings into strengths. Something about me that has been true since grade school is that I love to learn. I constantly have a digital course that I’m taking or a book that I’m reading, just because, as a creative person, I’m curious. Not to mention that when you run small companies or organizations, you must do everything yourself until you can afford to hire people to do it for you. It’s not uncommon for me to mention one of my skills, only for someone to giggle and say, “Of course. What don’t you do?”
This is beneficial because I have a bevy of skills outside of the role I applied for and, better yet, support it. I have experience in marketing, copywriting, creative direction, strategic planning, team leadership, graphic design, web design, video editing, social media management… my tool belt may not be complete, but it is heavy!
The other benefit of my experience is that I’ve never had to exist in a role that required me to change who I am. Authenticity has always been a trait that has landed me in precisely the spaces that I needed to be in. So, I didn’t mind approaching the interview and keeping it real. What did that look like for me? It looked like an acknowledgment of hard skills vs soft skills.
The hard skills include the software and systems I am unfamiliar with but happy to learn. Anyone can learn hard skills. Soft skills matter the most (listening, teamwork, critical thinking, empathy). They're the bedrock of effective communication and relationship building. They’re also the skills that need to be instilled in you from childhood. As an adult, I can’t really help you if your mama didn’t hug you enough, and now you’re an asshole to your co-workers and bring down the morale of the workplace. I embody all of those soft skills, and if a hiring manager is as concerned with how someone will fit into the office dynamic as they are with someone knowing how to use System XYZ, I should be a competitive candidate.
My interview went well. To the credit of the interviewer, after I told them about why I wanted to work for the company, gave some color to my work experience, and let them know why I would be a good fit for the role, they told me on the spot that I was a good candidate, but they really wanted someone who knew their software on day one, which other candidates did. They also told me that because of my lack of knowledge of the software, I would be a prime candidate for a position below the post I applied for that would be opening up in a month.
As someone who has never held a salaried job, I have to admit that I felt validation in getting the interview at all. When people hear the extent of what I already do, I often feel like I sound good on paper. But if that’s the case, where’s my paper? 💸
We’ll see what the future holds. What I am sure of is that I don’t want to be in any role where I feel like a cog in a machine. Like everyone, I want to feel useful. I also don’t need it to be easy. I like to feel challenged and figure things out. And while I am disappointed in not getting the job, I feel more motivated to put myself out there. Please keep me in mind if an opportunity arises that you think I would be suitable for.
Do you have any advice for me? Am I all wrong about my assessment or approach? Let me know in the comments. I’m all ears.
Please help me grow my audience by referring someone you think would enjoy my newsletter.