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10 Overrated Job Qualifications You Don’t Really Need



It’s a common device in books and articles today for the writer to tell you everything you know about ‘blank’ is wrong (or simply, everything you know is wrong, period). To some extent these are just handy devices, but mainly these writings are impactful because they’re true. There is no shortage of disinformation out there, but what’s harder to overcome are years of believing something false to be true. We humans are creatures of habit, and change can be threatening. Nevertheless, we think it’s time employers and employees stopped placing so much emphasis on these 10 job qualifications that you either need much less of or can do without altogether.

  1. Teamwork:

    Talk about a sacred cow of business beliefs; you can’t throw a rock in a B-school without hitting a group. So does teamworking merit all the praise it gets as a skill? That would be a resounding no. Studies have shown that groups contribute little, if anything, to productivity, and often perform significantly worse than individuals. That’s the scientific data, but what about anecdotal evidence? Just take a look around your own office. Is there anyone who is a total jerk to work with? Can you think of any reason they’re still working there other than the fact that they bring in a lot of business? There is all the proof you need that being a team player is overrated.

  2. Talent:

    It’s not really a secret that talent is overrated; heck, Geoff Colvin even wrote a book with the very title. But across industries, from sports to sales to marketing, most of us continue to prioritize raw talent over determination and dedication, or what Colvin calls “deliberate practice.” He points out that business titans from Jack Welch to Steven Ballmer displayed no extraordinary levels of talent whatsoever. For phenoms like Tiger Woods, he argues, the talent was irrelevant; the practice was what made the difference. This has led to a belief that 10,000 hours of practice can make anyone — regardless of talent — a pro at anything. We’re not ready to go that far yet, but we think it’s safe to say when it comes to talent, don’t believe the hype.

  3. Networking:

    Like many of the points on this list, networking is far from useless and can be a way to land a job you otherwise would have had no chance even interviewing for. It’s just that it is so hyped all over the place it almost can’t help being overrated. A survey from just a year ago found online social networking was accounting for 16% (up from 11!) of newly secured jobs. What accounted for almost double that figure? Newspapers. That’s right, hard copies of news from the previous day were still way better than networking in the job search, and regular old referrals from professional contacts were tops at 36%. So let’s all just keep things in perspective.

  4. Specialization:

    As the job market becomes more and more overcrowded, specialization has become the career strategy du jour for many. The reasoning goes that hyper-focusing on one area of expertise will allow you to become an authority in that one area. Of course, as the Careerist blog recently pointed out, doing so ignores the benefit of being “kinda good” in a wide range of business topics. We agree; unless you can achieve a status as one of the best in your specialized field (and be able to back it up), possessing a wide knowledge base makes you potentially more valuable to an employer and almost certainly gives you a better chance of making it as a small business owner, which may require you to don all sorts of different hats.

  5. Experience:

    Much like talent, the wonders of experience have been woefully oversold. Only in a static marketplace would more years on a job always be a perfect indicator of job performance. Of course we know the marketplace is anything but static, it’s changing almost daily. So why aren’t adaptability or flexibility more commonly sought after in employees? Employers have taken the whole experience trip so far that we’re now at the point where the slightest hint of a lack of experience from, say, being unemployed is grounds for being passed over for a job.

  6. Education:

    Have we shocked you yet? Depending on the field, college degrees are still valuable, even with falling wages. But as the Google search phrase “Is college worth it?” turns up 524 million hits, we’re clearly not the only ones asking if the value of higher ed isn’t a touch inflated, what with the soaring costs and all. Examples are plentiful that competence and academic achievement don’t always go hand in hand. Michael Dell, Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg all built successful companies from the ground up, and every single one of them was a college dropout.

  7. Intelligence:

    Ever wonder why we don’t just have a giant national IQ test and whoever scores the highest gets to be president? It’s the same explanation for how you can be smarter than your boss: brains don’t make the world go round. According to the Carnegie Institute of Technology, 85% of your career success depends on your leadership, communication, and negotiation skills, what it calls collectively “human engineering.” That leaves intelligence to count for at most 15%, but we know even that figure is too high once you factor in aspects like physical appearance. The moral of the story is, if you ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed, become a people person.

  8. Multi-tasking:

    Oh, multi-tasking. You were synonymous with progress. When we imagined the future, we pictured ourselves doing four jobs at once thanks to our amazing technology. Now we know trying to do multiple tasks at once is not only bad for productivity, it may be bad for our brains. Nevertheless, employees who talk to one client on the phone while emailing another client are still regarded as hard-working go-getters, examples to the rest of us of how much more we could be getting done. It’s just another deep-seated fallacy we have yet to shake.

  9. Focus:

    Certainly the ability to concentrate at work is very, very important. But in highlighting focus so much, we’ve devalued daydreaming, which, it turns out, can actually improve job performance and problem-solving by as much as 40%. Not only that, but studies have shown letting the mind wander is crucial to well-being. Companies could be shooting themselves in the foot by being too heavy-handed against employees resting their eyes and putting their heads down at their desk. The uptick of meditation rooms in workplaces shows employers are starting to realize anyone who makes 100% concentration a priority every single day will burn out and incapable of contributing anything.

  10. Hard work:

    The phrase “Work smarter, not harder” is cliche, but it reveals a profound difference between an overrated way of getting things done and an underrated one. As Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake told Fast Company, she once thought the 14-18 hour days she and Chris Dixon were putting in at first were working hard, but she now knows they were merely “freaking out.” This included “panicking, working on things just to be working on something, not knowing what we were doing, — being at the office since just being there seemed productive even if it wasn’t.” If any of that sounds familiar, you’ve fallen into the trap of thinking motion equals progress. And a very crowded trap it is, too.

December 13th, 2012 written by Staff Writers

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