The 4 Ingredients of Competence

In today’s job market, more and more people are finding themselves working in unfamiliar situations/industries/companies. They don’t really care about the company, or the product, or the customer, or the work itself. They only care about the paycheck.

And that’s fine. I’ve been there. And when you’ve got a family to support, you have to grab at any income source that makes itself available. But if you care so much about getting said paycheck, you have to make sure you’re competent enough for the company to keep around. Companies are struggling, too, and they can’t afford to keep dead weight. Granted, some companies are full of people who live somewhere south of Mediocrity, LLC, but that’s no excuse. Do you really want to be at risk the next time the HR Axe comes swinging?

Even more important, in my opinion, is making sure you’re not going to be risking the axe in the first place (well, maybe a little). I’m not saying you can’t apply to things outside your field–you can, and you should. But don’t overstep yourself. Don’t apply to be an industrial chemist if all you can mix is chocolate milk. Don’t hire yourself out as an IT specialist if you can’t even turn off your computer. Don’t–well. You get the idea.

Think of competence as the staple of your meal. Your rice. Your potato. Your soup base. The filling stuff on which you pile on the flavorful viands of proactivity, passion, and people skills. You can have those three; but if you ain’t competent, that dish is gonna run out fast.

So what makes up a healthy dose of competence? How can you make sure you’re ready to go out into the role of (insert job title here) and stay afloat?

Four things come to mind:

1. Experience/stock knowledge

You don’t have to be literal in this regard. Gamers have been trying to prove their skills to be transferable ever since their mothers first started nagging them to play outside and get some sun. But applying some aspect of your last job to your next isn’t just a good interview tactic. It’s a good way to see if you’re actually ready for what the new job entails. Even stuff you do outside the office can be transferable. Athletic activity or volunteer work. Maybe even your hobbies, if you can find some way to channel that into the new job.

2. Skill

I’m separating this from experience because this isn’t quite the same thing. I’m not talking about what you’ve done in the past. I’m talking about what you can actually do (or not do). Are you a clumsy person? Then for your own good, stay away from jobs handling sharp pointy things. Not a people person? Don’t go into sales or customer service. It seems like common sense, but you know what? Common sense is not common.

3. Learning ability

The one thing that makes career shifts work is your ability to pick things up. If you’re going into a complex field, you better be damn sure you can handle all the jargon, concepts, and technical thingamabobs they’re going to be feeding you. Because you know what? This stuff ain’t real.

4. Self-awareness

This is probably the biggest factor affecting all the above ingredients. There’s a thin line between confidence and delusion, and not many people know where they stand. If you’re not sure you can judge yourself impartially, ask a REALLY good friend or co-worker what they think of your past performance. And then buy them a beer to apologize for putting them on the spot.

So the next time you decide to take the plunge and try another career, please TRY to think about whether or not you’ll be competent enough for your new line of work. Do it for the sake of your co-workers’ sanity. And if not for them, then for yourself.


EDITED on 4/3/12


The Big Top


Welcome to Avi’s home-within-a-home! It’s not much, just a little place where she can kick back, relax, and enjoy a women’s magazine or two (yes, she does read those. She likes health articles the best).

Every so often Avi will have guests, but the fire code limits the number of occupants to two full-sized adults at a time (and one baby).

Hiatus Highlights Ep 3: Freelancing

I’m happy to report that the business is growing. I am expanding my client base and stocking my portfolio, and things are looking up.

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned over the past few months:

  • Craigslist is full of scammers, idiots, and charlatans…
  • …but it’s also full of great opportunities.
  • Regular, low-budget work can be a bigger source of comfort (and income) than large but rare windfall projects.
  • Clients DO appreciate good customer service.
  • Customer service is more than being polite. It’s being a client’s ally.
  • You CAN outgrow clients. And SHOULD.
  • … but never burn bridges. Who knows, the client might grow with you.

And stuff I have yet to learn:

  • Learn to say no. No. No. No.
  • Figure out a foolproof way to collect on invoices that doesn’t rely on people’s good will.
  • Working until 4 am doesn’t make you more effective. It just makes you sloppy.
  • I REALLY need to start making clients sign contracts.

Stuff I’ve discovered:

  • Freelance radio. One of the best freelancing podcasts out there. It’s a must-listen for any self-employed creative.
  • Grammar Girl. Well, it’s not a recent discovery. But she still gives great tips on how to use proper English.

Voila! End of recap. On to our regularly scheduled programming!

Hiatus Highlights Ep 2: Fictioneering

My fiction has probably been the biggest casualty of my schedule.

I’m still managing to make the required number of critiques to keep my writing group from kicking me out. I’ve stopped writing and submitting short stories, though. Not out of frustration from my lack of success (well, maybe a little), but because I need to devote what little time I can scrape together to moving the novel forward. I’ve had to resort to some pretty drastic solutions there, including writing two chapters at the same time–one at home, and the other at work during my breaks (I write it in the Google Drafts page. Not very safe, I know). The good news is I’m having fun writing it. When it works, it works, and my writing group has been really enjoying what they’ve seen so far. The challenge there is keeping it consistent.

One a side note, one of my writing friends has recently gotten a story published. It’s a charity anthology named “The Gruff Variations”, which is a collection of stories based on the fairy tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. The anthology was edited by Eric James Stone, and his story will appear next to a bunch of published novelists like Mary Robinette Kowal (Shades of Milk and Honey), Rick Walton (Bullfrog Pops! and other children’s books), and Dan Wells (The John Cleaver trilogy). I’ll post a link to the anthology when it comes out. Congrats Joe!

Hiatus Highlights Ep 1: Avi

Remember last post when I said a lot happened? Well don’t worry, I wasn’t going to leave you hanging. This here is a 3-part recap of the stuff that’s been going on since last I posted. And I’m starting with Avi’s update because I know she’s what you’re really here for. 😉 Don’t worry, it’s the same for me too.

So without further ado.

Things that are new:
–Now brushes her teeth willingly. Maybe it’s because her parents keep cheering like mad with every stroke.
–Her new favorite food is Flossie’s blueberry and banana muffin. She can’t get enough of it, and neither can the rest of the fam.
–All of her pants are now capris. Talk about growing into style.
–We can afford to let her run around a “safe zone” without worrying she’ll tip over and hurt herself. Now if only we could expand that zone to the entire house…

Things that stayed the same:
–still talkative
–still afraid of strangers (grandparents be warned)
–still hyperactive
–still hates her high chair/car seat
–still cute (just more so)

Mea Culpa

Oh, god. I just checked the date of my last post. I can’t believe I let this blog slip for almost 3 months!

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa!

Things have been really busy lately (more than you’ll ever know), but that’s no excuse. Things will get back up to speed, I promise.

In the meantime, enjoy this: