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


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