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?
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.
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.
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.