Job skills involve an entire range of work — teaching skills for many, nursing skills, project management — the list can go on and on. If you work in a cubicle, though, all those skills won’t get used very well unless you master the critical information job skill: your technology tools.
Think about it. If you work in a cubicle, chances are you are inputting, extracting, analyzing, and making pretty (awful PowerPoint) pictures that describe some aspect of your work. Whether it is working with a spreadsheet, reverse engineering your Cobol application because the documentation is all gone (true example!), or looking at the latest build of SAP software, you are interacting with technology. In fact, outside of what is inside that head of yours, how you express your other job skills is through your technology tools.
Not so long ago, I had a manager that asked for the most important job skills a project manager should have. Of course, there was the relationship part, the understanding of the business and how it fit together — all good job skills. I added knowing how to use all the technology skills on your laptop — Microsoft Office, Project, and Web Conferencing. Roundly booed, I was. I still think I was right. Here’s why.
Most of us fail to keep pace with our technology tools and their capabilities. That hurts us. For Project Managers, it was enough to know how to put tasks together in the right order to deliver a goal. Then it was learning how to do that in Excel because it was easier to rearrange stuff to make sense. Then it was learning Microsoft Project — an enhanced Excel spreadsheet, in my opinion. Then you had to learn Project Server so that you could have all of these technology people report their time against the project. Plus get the reporting the way your company demanded.
All those people still back only knowing Excel? They don’t get job interviews any more. Only if you have the latest Microsoft Project experience and know how to work with Project Server. Technology changes and it impacts your job skills.
Watching someone who really knows and understands Excel (go see a financial dude and see what I mean) is a sight to behold. They work with the numbers and formulas effortlessly, often trying multiple scenarios in under a minute. They go so fast that you have a hard time keeping up with the logic of what they are doing much less with how they are doing it.
The same is true in nursing when looking at a computerized chart or a real estate agent working with you searching to buy the right house. Or take any expert a problem in some technology system and watch how they casually work through ten different possible scenarios in under a minute. You’ve seen these people, right? Don’t you think they are better at problem solving with what is in front of them than most other people? That adds to their employment security — they understand their technology tools.
Let’s just pick on PowerPoint or Keynote. Most people — up to the CEO — offer you slides that add up to Death by PowerPoint. The presentation is dull, boring, uninteresting and really worthless to persuade an audience. But someone who understands PowerPoint — and know how people learn from a presentation — have a tremendous persuasive advantage to convince you of their position simply because they use PowerPoint in a way that engages you in the presentation.
Or take Excel or Numbers. Most people can look at a spreadsheet and be underwhelmed. Sure, the numbers are there, but the meaning is lost. But take all those numbers and put them into a chart with impact — or show a series of charts with just the relevant data — and you’ll be wondering why we didn’t carry out the suggestion months ago.
Technology tools are what make you productive, help you communicate your position, and keeps you current in your job skills. Even if the technology doesn’t quite match when interviewing with another company for another position, that you are so advanced in your technology skills means you can learn other technology quickly and with the same depth.
If you find you are having trouble keeping up in your work, don’t get the interview, or get passed over for that promotion, take a look at how you use your technology tools. You might get surprised at how much work you need to do to get your job skills up to speed.