I’m from a different era. A time where telephones were connected to a plug in the wall, and call waiting was the latest feature. A time where a computer was too expensive to be found anywhere except at school or at the local library. A time where using your imagination was your only hope of avoiding boredom while your parents watched one of 5 TV channels. Maybe it’s being forced to depend on my imagination that brought me where I am today, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let me back up a bit and give you an idea about who I am before I tell you where I am.
Born in 1978 in Morrison, Illinois, and transplanted to Southeast Georgia in 1984, I consider myself a Southerner. I graduated with honors, ranked 8th of 221 students, with a 3.562 GPA. Most research papers were written in longhand and depended on my understanding of the Dewey Decimal System to locate resources in the school library. I did participate in band, art and drama. I wasn’t popular, occasionally bullied, and had a very small group of friends, nerds if you will. I had every intention of going to college and becoming a lawyer or a zoologist; however, life seemed to steer me in another direction. One that would take me almost 20 years off track. College was a whole other world that offered excitement and fun that I was more interested in then books and education. Long story, short? I flunked out my second semester.
Fast forward about 5 years. I became a mother, a waitress, and still didn’t have a college degree. Although I made really good money as a waitress and learned skills that a classroom won’t teach, I wanted more. I worked odd jobs here and there – housekeeper, a karaoke DJ, a call center representative, drove a truck to deliver seafood, fast food – all of which, again, taught me skills that at that time, I didn’t even recognize as important.
April 2012, I finally earned my Associate’s Degree in Information Technology with an emphasis in Website Design. New paths were opening up for me. I even landed a website design gig with a lady I used to clean for. This was truly the beginning of realizing my dreams.
In May of 2012, I took a huge leap of faith, and moved myself and my three girls to the Atlanta, Ga area. With promises of decent paying jobs, good schools, and affordable housing, this country girl was going big city! I aced the interview at my first “official” tech job doing a contract for software and hardware support for the Intercontinental Hotel Group. I learned a lot about servers, workstations, printers and propriety software, but it was my desire to succeed and determination to provide the best customer experience that afforded my promotion to Team Lead. A year and a half later, I was ready for my next adventure.
Vonage Business, at the time known as Vocalocity, took a chance on me and hired me as a Customer Care representative. It was another call center position, not too technical, but it paid a bit more and the people were fantastic. I was 4 months into my position there, when an opening came up for a Product Support Specialist position with TMP. I had zero experience with job postings or the Human Resources world, but my tenacity, my growing experience with technology, and my outstanding customer service skills, landed me the job!
Another year later, and I was recruited to work at CareerBuilder as a Technical Support Advisor. I had most of the experience they were looking for, customer service, call center, a general understanding of job postings, etc, but lacked experience with an ATS (Applicant Tracking System, used to hold candidate information and applications). During my year and a half employment, I earned a company award, several accolades, and was consistently the top performer for several company metrics. At this point, I knew just about all there is to know regarding ATS’s and job posting boards. I was still hungry.
Laying in bed one evening, I decided to check out the LinkedIn Jobs app. It was pretty easy to apply to most positions with one click to send my resume. I believe I applied to a few different positions, most of them a perfect match for my “soft-skills”, but not completely matched for my “knowledge”. There was one posting in particular that caught my attention. It was for a small company looking for a client facing, yet technology savvy, team member. Of course, like many other job postings I had applied to, there was a list of desired skills and a list of mandatory skills. One of those required skills was a high proficiency with Apple Mac. I could rip apart a PC and rebuild it from scratch. I own an iPhone and an iPad, but I couldn’t remember the last time I touched a Mac. To be honest, I almost didn’t apply. Not because I lacked confidence that I could learn it, but because this was a requirement and not just a “would be nice to have” skill. Something told me to try anyway. The worst I would hear is what I’ve heard before; “Ms. Starr, you have a very impressive skill set; however, we’re looking for someone that already has this ‘insert some kind of teachable skill’ knowledge.”
To my surprise, I received a reply email from Eric Fulmer, the VP of Operations for Capture Integration, requesting a day and time for a call. On that first call, my desire to become a part of the team was overwhelming. It could have been Eric’s outgoing personality, or it could been the attraction of helping shape the future of this magnificent software. What I know now, is that it was a combination of Eric’s willingness to give me a chance, even though I lacked that key requirement, and his ability to see skills in me that you can’t “learn” or that can’t be “taught” quickly.
What is my point? Too many companies, too many hiring managers, overlook perfect candidates because they don’t currently possess some “hard” skills; however, these candidates may possess drive, ambition, honesty, empathy, etc… – “soft” skills you can’t really teach. You can always teach someone how to use a Mac or how to set up a network, but you can’t teach that person how to be a good person. Those people are the ones that will give your company longevity, innovation, growth, and commitment.
If you’re someone looking for that dream job, don’t skip applying for jobs that YOU know you’d be perfect for if you just learned that one hard skill. You might be surprised, as I was, that there actually are companies looking for good people and not just another body that “checks off all the hard requirements.” And don’t underestimate the skills you acquire working some of those “low paying, disposable” jobs. You’ll look back and appreciate that you had those experiences, because they shaped who you’ve become.
In the course of my lifetime, I’ve heard more “no’s” then I have “yes’s”, but I’ve never given up. You have to believe in yourself, believe in your ability, and eventually, when the right opportunity comes, someone at your dream organization may see all of those outstanding qualities that mean more than checking a box next to some specific experience.