You gotta have skills

It was a strange moment when I realized that every single skill I possessed that companies now hire me for are things I taught myself.  That’s right — my college degree has not directly contributed to my career success (by the way, my definition of the word “success” is very liberal in this context).  So which of my skills have really helped me?

Video editing

I got into video editing when I was in high school for kind of a goofy reason: our pep rallies sucked, and I thought they could be spruced up with funny videos.  My friend agreed, and we ran together for senior class president solely so we could create pep rally videos.  We won, I made the videos, learned to edit them on the fly, and realized I not only loved editing, but had a knack for telling a visual story.  Editing video quickly became one of my favorite hobbies; it was the reason I’d hop out of bed early on a Saturday morning.  I even ran a nice little side-business doing it for banquets, anniversaries, weddings, etc. for a few years in college.

Now, I’m helping companies and popular bloggers by finding ways for them to incorporate video into their sites.

Website design

I still don’t know HTML, but I quickly learned how to design simple, intuitive sites (example here).  I acquired this skill by going in on my days off while I was interning at an ad agency.  For eight hours at a time, my friend in the creative department would graciously let me watch him design corporate websites using Photoshop and Flash.  Luckily, he and I got along really well.  I don’t know if I could handle a kid staring over my shoulder and hitting me with a constant stream of questions for that long.

After a few months of studying web design, I now help companies optimize the layout of their sites to increase sales, click-throughs, etc.

Online marketing

When I declared my major in 2004, I quickly realized how severely my school lacked in online marketing (which I thought was the most interesting field BY FAR).  They weren’t teaching it at all; the rules for e-marketing were still being written.  Once again, I decided to teach myself.  I read books and scoured through countless blogs.  That’s how I came across Seth’s stuff, did the internship, yada yada yada.

This has been the most valuable thing I’ve learned.  Most companies have no idea how to market online.  It’s a different ballgame, and they need someone to guide them through it.

——

All these different skills have, luckily, merged with each other.  I’m now in a unique position where I’ve learned online marketing strategy from the guru, and I know enough of the tactical side to execute a company’s vision.  This has made me a lot more employable than the average person who walks out of college with a degree and a boring resume.

And just to be clear: I did NOT have the foresight to think that learning these things would someday help me become a happy consultant/freelancer after college.  I learned all of those things because I had a genuine thirst to know more than I was being taught.

What’s the point?

You have to be willing to go through a little pain to acquire new skills.  None of the things I listed are all that difficult to learn.  You can become reasonably proficient at any of them in less than a week if you work hard and learn from the right source.  But not many people take the time to learn anything new, and that’s the point.  You can separate yourself very easily by learning something that companies value.  And what do companies value?

Just look on Craigslist.  Click on the industry you want to go into, then look at the interesting jobs that are available.  If you don’t have some of the skills they’re looking for, why the hell should they hire you?  And more importantly, are the skills you currently possess outsourcable?  If they are, you are in some serious trouble, especially in this economy.

A degree is not enough.  A resume is not enough.  You need to let employees know what your thought process is by starting a blog, you need to be able to prove that you can get things done, and you gotta have skills.

Comments

  1. Jeff Widman says

    Only partially true in my case. Main thing I learned in college that I use everyday is Theory of Constraints. And business vocab.

    But best thing I learned was how to meet/build relationships with all types of people.

  2. Matt says

    Nice list. Where’s the PHP/SQL?

    I’m no prophet, but I bet that online advertising knowledge around an analytics program like Omniture will be incredibly valuable. I was chatting with an Omniture consultant recently–he claimed that the industry pays $100K++ for anyone with a decent understanding of online data.

  3. alex says

    i just read this and i couldnt agree more with what your saying. Now i going to read all your posts and subscribe, nice stuff man

  4. David Lano says

    Charlie,

    I couldn’t agree more. I started self education only about 5 years ago, but it’s totally changed how I look at things, work, etc. If I don’t know how to do something, I learn how. In today’s day and age virtually nobody has the excuse of not knowing how to do something – not with the help of the internet. I could rant and rave for a while…but I’m preaching to the choir on this one. Great post and good thoughts. I’ve been a long time reader, just not commenter. Sorry for being shy. :/

  5. Ben says

    What do you say to those who don’t have a degree? I took a different route out of high school. I don’t really regret it but I’m 21 and it will hurt going back three years late. How necessary is it, and can you recommend some alternatives to gain credibility?

  6. charhoehn@gmail.com says

    The degree is mostly unnecessary. The way to gain credibility is by getting a lot of incredible experiences under your belt and working with great people. You also need to be able to prove that you can get things done and are exceptionally skilled in the field you want to work in. It really is that simple.

  7. Rajat says

    Until our educators are able to find a way to connect the dots (science, Math, language, social sciences, etc.), we have to depend on self learning. Understanding is the purpose of learning and it comes from blending the essence of multiple areas. In absence of that subjects are lonely limbs.

Tell me what you think...