How to uncover hidden jobs: try rearranging your skills

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

THE job market may be tight these days. But there are jobs going unfilled and job seekers going unemployed because the applicants, innocently enough, actually ''hide'' jobs from themselves.

If you keep hearing, ''Sorry, we don't have an opening for your type of work, '' then it's time to create new kinds of work for yourself. How? By rearranging your skills and giving the new structures other titles. It's all legitimate, all valid.

You did the same thing as a child. You took a pile of building blocks, and, depending on your game, sometimes you built a bridge. Sometimes you erected a tower. Sometimes you tore the tower down, discarded some blocks, added others, and built a castle or a corral or a cabin. The same process creates new job opportunities for you.

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To begin, you need lots of building materials. Placement officers and employment specialists call these ''marketable skills.'' You probably have been asked several times to ''make an inventory of your skills.'' It's a good idea, but how do you go about it? And what, really, is a skill?

A skill can be an ability developed by formal training. A skill can be an activity for which you have been paid. It can be a specific technical competence. Or it can evolve from the tasks of a craft. But that's not all.

Your skills include all the means and methods by which you accomplish day-to-day living - the way you deal with people, how you use information, and what you do with things. You started accumulating skills in childhood. You continue adding to your skills as an adult.

A thorough inventory of all these useful abilities gives you a wealth of materials from which to construct and perform other jobs.

Consider the case of Carol, who is employed as a general office clerk (her employer calls her ''the bookkeeper'') for a small automotive repair shop. The boss is retiring and the business will close. She is looking for another job.

In her present position, Carol makes out invoices, receipts, estimates, policies, statements, and payroll checks. She receives and pays out the money and makes bank deposits. She keeps stock inventory records and does the reordering. She computes wages and taxes and makes out the checks. She gives information to customers and adjusts complaints.

Carol also operates the office machines - the typewriter, adding machine, and a copy machine. She opens the mail and prepares the correspondence for her employer's signature. She purchases office supplies, answers the telephone, and runs errands.

All these skills Carol has listed on her personal skills inventory, but there is much more she has not considered. After some prodding, she adds these: She has been active as a Four-H club leader and a Girl Scout leader. She often does volunteer work in community services. She writes promotion for her club and church, plans programs and meetings.

In school she was deeply involved in the school newspaper, both as reporter and later as editor. She has considerable ability with crafts such as needlepoint, sewing, stained glass, and pottery. She has taught these skills to the children in her Scout and Four-H groups and at the summer camps where she was a camp counselor.

Carol has wide reading interests and is particularly fascinated by behavioral science. She enjoys people and studies behavior in individuals and groups. In her contacts with others Carol has exhibited a special skill in helping them solve their problems. Although she modestly disclaims this, Carol is also tactful and persuasive.

Persuasiveness cannot be measured by a time-and-accuracy test in the same way typing speed is determined, yet persuasiveness is an equally important and marketable skill. We often overlook the intangible abilities we have and only count those skills that can produce something we can feel, see, touch, taste, or smell.

Carol now has identified a broader range of talents that will allow her to seek a variety of jobs confidently. It is obvious that she has four major skill areas: office skills; public-contact skills (tact, diplomacy, persuasiveness, and teaching); arts-and-crafts skills (creativity and manual dexterity); and organizational skills. She is free to move into occupations that emphasize any of these. By picking one area, for example, public contact, she does not forfeit the use of the rest of her talents. These will come into play as supportive or auxiliary abilities.

If Carol elects to do the same work she has been doing, she can apply for jobs under several titles. Some employers call her present tasks a ''girl Friday'' job. Some call the job ''bookkeeper,'' ''secretary,'' or ''receptionist.'' More correctly, the Dictionary of Occupational Titles names this cluster of tasks: ''administrative clerk'' or ''general office clerk.''

If she wants to broaden the scope of her job search, she can do so by emphasizing other skills in different combinations. By combining her office skills, her experience with parents and children, her proven planning and organizing talents, and her tendency toward responsible independent action, Carol might consider applying for a job as school secretary. Drawing on her strong interest in books and reading, Carol might apply to be the bookmobile driver for the city library. Here she would bring into play her inventory skills , her record-keeping, certainly her public contact skills, and her rapport with children, plus the ability to plan and organize.

Carol's talent in various hobby crafts and her persuasive teaching abilities and public contact experience come into focus in the position of recreation leader with the city parks and recreation district. Or she might decide to teach these skills to others at the community college adult school level. In this event she would apply for work as an instructor. Both of these positions require program planning, which is one of Carol's strengths.

There are other possibilities: She could use her writing and communication skills as a reporter on a small daily or weekly newspaper. She might move to the other side of the desk and become an employment interviewer, where her skills in communication, persuasion, and problem-solving would help others to find work.

Carol, and you, need not have worked under a particular job title previously in order to apply for that job now. Whatever you have the ability to do (paid for or not), you have the right to try.

Now, collect your building blocks. Include not only your paid-for skills, but those intangibles you have overlooked. Think back, even to your childhood. What have you done that has brought you appreciation, a sense of success, accomplishment, and satisfaction? You may find these talents so natural to you that you tend to underrate them. When you have a large pile of blocks (skills), rearrange them into different job structures. Give each combination a name. Call yourself that name: ''Doing this, I see I am a widget designer.'' ''I am a promoter.'' ''I am a trainer.'' Employers put names on task clusters (jobs). So can you.

Rearranging your abilities, you build new job opportunities for yourself. You uncover jobs that, for you, had been hidden.

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