Asha Aravindakshan is the best-selling author of Skills: The Common Denominator. We had a 16-minute conversation about her research that focused on how people have successfully used their skills and experience to land the job they truly want to be doing.
During our conversation, we spoke about whether people should apply for a job they’re interested in even if they don’t have all the skills that are required in the job description, how to brand oneself to be best positioned to land their dream job and how to transition from someone’s current role to a role in learning and development.
We also talked from a hiring manager’s perspective and where hiring managers should be looking for higher quality talent.
Introducing Asha Aravindaskshan
Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a weekly podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, I’m your host. I’m also the Co-founder and CEO of Endurance Learning. And today we are talking about using your strengths to get the job you want. And so in just a minute I’ll introduce our guest.
But before I do that, I always have to mention that we are sponsored by Soapbox, the world’s first and only software that helps you put together presentations fast for instructor-led training. So whether that’s in-person or virtual, it is award-winning software that you go to, you put in a few pieces of information about your presentation: how long is it going to be? How many people will attend? Is it going to be in-person or virtual? What are your learning objectives? And out pops a lesson plan. If you want more information about that, go to www.soapboxify.com.
Asha Aravindaskshan: Great, Brian. Thanks for having me on your show.
Brian Washburn: Well, I am really excited to have this conversation for a number of reasons, not the least of which, we are fellow GW Colonial Alums. So I’m excited to talk with somebody else who went through the Washington D.C. George Washington University experience.
But what we’re really here to talk about is using your strengths to get the job you want. Now you’ve written a book called Skills: The Common Denominator. And what we like to do is we like to have our guests introduce themselves using exactly six words, kind of along the lines of the theme of today’s podcast. So for me, for example, when I think of using my strengths to get the job I want, I would introduce myself by saying, “I can’t capture everything on LinkedIn.” How would you introduce yourself using exactly six words, Asha?
Asha Aravindaskshan: “I’ll find a way or make one.”
Brian Washburn: All right–
Asha Aravindaskshan: And that is seven, but let me have it.
Brian Washburn: (CHUCKLES) Well, we’ll let you go by with it with a little bit of a grace period, plus or minus one or two. Now I was recently having a conversation with somebody who connected with me on LinkedIn and this person has never been in the world of training. They would love to get a job in the world of training. And so I thought this was a really interesting and timely conversation that you and I are having. Because she ended up getting her degree in Human Resources Management, and has been working in the world of human resources for a while. And then was like, “Well– but I don’t necessarily have specific instructional design skills. I’m not an instructional designer. And so how do I break into this world of learning and development?”
And so obviously no candidate will have every single preferred qualification in a job description, but I’m kind of curious from where you sit, where you’ve done your research, you know, where is the line between applying for a job you don’t feel you’re quite qualified for and deciding, “Nope, I’m just not qualified enough. And I shouldn’t apply.”
How To Decide if You Are Qualified to Apply for a Job
Asha Aravindaskshan: Brian, that is such a great scenario. And first kudos to you for taking a conversation off of LinkedIn request like that. We encourage, you know, even the students at George Washington and other places to reach out to executives like us on LinkedIn for those informational conversations. And I love that you’re modeling that by taking this woman’s phone call. That’s amazing.
Brian Washburn: Yep.
Asha Aravindaskshan: Go ahead.
Brian Washburn: I think that virtual coffee is something– ever since COVID, right? I used to love to get out and– you know, I work from my home office – and go grab coffee with somebody. It gave me that opportunity to connect. And we don’t do that a lot anymore but it’s also opened up an opportunity for virtual coffee with anybody, no matter where they are. They don’t have to be in Seattle. So I love those opportunities.
Asha Aravindaskshan: That’s great. And this story has so many components that I’d love to tackle. So first is, I’m going to tell you about a statistic that I learned maybe five or six years ago. It came from the book Lean In. If a man sees a job description and he doesn’t meet all of the bullets, he will still apply for the job. A woman will say, “I don’t meet all the bullets. Maybe I meet 60% of the bullets.” She still won’t apply. And I think that says a lot right there.
And so what I would say is– and I’ve been in this person’s position having worked in HR Operations for two years, and managing global benefits in that role. That role is 100% employee training. You have to learn a menu of 10 different benefits programs. You have to be able to summon that knowledge at a moment’s notice when an employee walks into your office or sends you a Slack message. And you have to be able to create collateral that’s enticing and engaging for the employees to make them want to sign up for a program. So the woman is a trainer.
Brian Washburn: Yeah.
Asha Aravindaskshan: She’s a natural trainer. And so I think this is such a natural move to make for her and her career. She just needs to understand that the job description she’s reading is a wishlist from that hiring manager. No one, no one on the planet actually is going to meet all the requirements laid out in the job description because it’s a wishlist. And so my recommendation on– this is what I do myself is – apply if the role interests you but know that if it’s in an adjacent industry or different industry or different role, you have to adjust the language in your resume, highlighting your transferable skills, and how you will meet the requirements that they’ve put out. And maybe you take the extra step of putting a cover letter together to explain why you’re making the pivot.
And I’m going to throw a little plug here for the book – this is exactly what I talk about in chapter 16. You want to be able to get past the ATS and get that interview because once you get that face-to-face conversation with the recruiter or the hiring manager, you’ll be able to show them you have the moxie and the gusto and the hustle to do the work that’s being asked to be done.
Brian Washburn: And I think there’s a lot that goes into just the world of applying for a job. It is a pain– like, job searching and maybe moving houses are two of the worst experiences I can imagine, right? Although job searching, there’s the exciting part where if you get an interview, it’s an opportunity to really show what you have and to show why you’re the right person for that as opposed to you know, thousands of other people that may have also applied for that job.
Now that’s a person who’s looking to make a little bit of a pivot here, but I talk with a lot of people who are also making, like, mid-career pivots. Maybe they’ve been teachers or maybe they’ve done something else completely not related to education, and they wanted to get into the world of learning and development. You know, people who’ve been doing things for 5, for 10– maybe more than that. What have you found that leads to a successful career pivot?
What Leads to a Successful Career Pivot?
Asha Aravindaskshan: I love that question because you and I are both mid-career pivoters. We know that, you know, it takes that hustle and you can make it happen. And so what I have found is if you set an intention, “I want to make the pivot,” you can make it happen. You may need to be patient and wait for the stars to align, but it will happen. But you have to put the intention out there and you have to be vulnerable and share that with other people.
Brian Washburn: The other question that comes up a lot of times when people want to make a pivot and they’re like, “Ah, it’s a lot of work and I don’t want to start over. I don’t want to start at the bottom again.” Do you have any thoughts, especially for people mid-career that have paid their dues, they’ve gotten to where they are. Now they want to go into a different industry but they don’t want to do an entry-level position again.
How Can You Make a Career Change and Not Have to Start At the Bottom Again?
Asha Aravindaskshan: Absolutely. And I think this is where the combination of transferable skills and referrals are super important. And we call that combination together “skills-based networking.”
And what I try to outline is: if you’re looking to go into an adjacent industry or increase your responsibility, that’s an intermediate change, as far as the difficulty that’s involved. You may need to tap into secondary networks outside of your first degree to help you find that role and put you in at the right level. When you’re trying to do a complete switch of industry, a complete switch in roles, then you need to build a whole new network. And you have to put yourself out there with networking and finding the people and convincing them that you have the skills that it takes. But again, through referrals, you can build a whole new network. Through podcasts– like listening to yours – you can build a whole new network. So I give those examples in the book. And I think no matter what, people should never discount the subject matter expertise that they bring to an organization. And I’ll give an example: if you’re a sales person, you would be such an asset to a sales enablement team. Because that sales person will bring that point of view of this is how the field will react to the materials. This is the type of content they will consume and won’t consume. And let me present it because it’ll feel more authentic and the sales person hearing from me, the person who’s been in their shoes. And so I think you can find that example in so many different industries and functional roles. And people need to realize they can do it because they are the expert.
Brian Washburn: And I love that you’re talking about a network, right? So it’s not just skills, right? It’s not always what you know, or what you can do, but a lot of times it’s who you know, as well.
Asha Aravindaskshan: Yes.
Brian Washburn: And sometimes that’s where the effort needs to come in, right? Going beyond your first three connections to people that you know and finding people that maybe the people that you know, know to help you get into that role.
So certainly it’s what can you do? What do you know? Who do you know? Now I also want to talk about this idea of branding. Because in this day and age, it’s not just a resume that usually gets you what you want. And there’s lots of ways to establish your personal brand these days. You know, you have your LinkedIn page. You know, you can write a blog. Maybe having an online portfolio. I know that a lot of times the candidates that stand out for me are people that say, “Hey, this is my personal webpage. This is where you can find my portfolio of work samples.” What can just having a resume get you these days? And what should people be thinking about when it comes to branding themselves?
What Should People Think About When it Comes to Branding Themselves?
Asha Aravindaskshan: You’re so right. The game has completely changed. And I learned that back in 2013 when I was doing a job search. I was like, “The resume is not going to be enough. My connections are not going to be enough for the changes I was trying to make in my career at that point.” And I learned how important it was to have a digital presence.
You talked about the website – the personal website being that digital portfolio. I think LinkedIn is sufficient to be that digital portfolio. The fact that you can add rich media like video, podcast recordings, articles, blog posts you’ve written. You can do that all in one place and just give people your customized URL so they can understand who you are. And that will help you get in the door, it’ll help you establish your credibility, and also demonstrate a holistic you. Because you can have information about your professional experience, your volunteer experiences, and anything else you’re working on, on that page.
And, you know, even when you’re having these conversations with folks that you’re reaching out to through LinkedIn and other social channels to get to know them, your brand becomes who you are, what you want to do. And you want to proactively answer the question, “How can I help you?” Because Brian, you’re a busy CEO taking these coffee chats. You want to be able to understand what is this person seeking? Hopefully they’re not asking point blank for a job, but they’re building a relationship and you’re able to ascertain in the first few minutes, “Okay. I know the direction this conversation is going to go.”
Brian Washburn: And so speaking of that, I want to kind of flip from the individuals who are looking for jobs to those who might be looking to hire. And I find myself in this position. I know that a number of people who are listening also find themselves in that position. So some people that are listening and who are hiring managers looking to fill a spot on their team, beyond waiting for resumes to come in through their HR systems, what are some other places that hiring managers and recruiters should be exploring to find that talent?
Where Should Hiring Managers and Recruiters Be Exploring to Find Talent?
Asha Aravindaskshan: Brian, you must be almost finished with your copy of Skills because I dedicated a whole chapter towards the end of the book called “Advice for Employers”. And this is based on experiences that you and I have had as being that hiring manager in multiple organizations.
And what I wanted to do was promote the option to work with the universities that you went to or in your local area. Work with the career centers because it’s their responsibility to help you to find qualified talent. And so they have liaisons that work in their office that get to know the students, get to know the employers, and they could pass on that you have an opening, like a warm referral to the students.
They also have portals that they use for jobs that are targeting the students. When an employer places a job in there, the student is taught, “That’s a warm referral. This company wants to hire a student like you.” So I think that is so important. And then when you’re thinking about, “Why would I go to the university? You know, I’m so far removed from that experience.” You still share the commonality of going to the university with a student. And when you meet them you’re likely to see that they have very similar values to you and perhaps a similar work ethic because they studied at that university, and you know how difficult it can be.
Brian Washburn: So at the end of the day, what would be the most simple advice that you have for somebody who is like, “You know what? I’m ready to take on that learning and development role even though learning and development isn’t where most of my career has been?”
Simple Advice for Someone Looking to Work in the Field of Learning & Development
Asha Aravindaskshan: Absolutely. I think the first thing that they need to do is put it out there, that vulnerability I talked about. You know, if you’re afraid to post it on LinkedIn because maybe your current employer will see that, put it on Facebook where it’s just your family and friends. And say, “I’m looking for a role in learning and development.” My recommendation is: be specific. Put in what particular industry you want to be in, whether it’s education, healthcare, technology, and that specificity is what’s going to help the people in your network help you find the connections who will open the door to that next role.
Get to Know Asha Aravindaskshan
Brian Washburn: This has been such a fascinating conversation. And for those who are interested in learning more about this, Asha, you have a book called Skills: The Common Denominator, which is out there. Before we leave, I would love to ask a few speed round questions of you so our audience gets to know you just a little bit more. Are you ready for the speed round?
Asha Aravindaskshan: Let’s do it.
Brian Washburn: All right. So I know that you’ve lived in a few different places – so Washington D.C. Or New York City?
Asha Aravindaskshan: Washington D.C..
Brian Washburn: How about reading a book or writing a book?
Asha Aravindaskshan: Listening to a book.
Brian Washburn: (LAUGHS) Isn’t writing a book— it’s a beast.
Asha Aravindaskshan: It’s a beast. You know, it was a difficult experience, but I’m so happy with the reward.
Asha Aravindaskshan: Twitter.
Brian Washburn: What’s a piece of training or presentation tech you cannot live without?
Asha Aravindaskshan: I have to have two screens when I’m presenting.
Brian Washburn: I agree. That is such an important thing. And I even– when I’m like traveling, in a hotel, or something, I have like a little portable thing that actually gives me three screens. It slips right over my monitor which is awesome. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Asha Aravindaskshan: Step into your bigness.
Brian Washburn: How about a book people should be reading?
Asha Aravindaskshan: Can I shamelessly plug Skills?
Brian Washburn: Of course.
Asha Aravindaskshan: So I would say pick up Skills: The Common Denominator, especially if you’re looking to pivot at any point in your career. The book has very powerful examples of other people who have made pivots. And you can learn from their transferable skills, which ones you have based on the examples given. And you can keep track of them as you read the book.
And thank you everyone else for joining and listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen which can be found on Spotify, Apple, iHeartRadio, wherever you get your podcasts. And if you find that you need some help putting together training programs in general, or if you just want to have virtual coffee, please do reach out to me. I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, happy training everyone.
If you’re making a career pivot and L&D is your target, the L&D Pro Academy has a Fundamentals of L&D course that is designed to help you build the skills you need to be successful and feel confident in your new role.