Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Following Directions is a Key Resume Skill?

I am starting to wonder if the skill "can read, listen, and follow directions" might actually be a significant skill on a resume. Sure, there are traditional communication, organization, computer and area specific skills that people have to put forth, but I am finding more and more that people are missing the basic skills of reading, listening, and following directions.

For those who don't know, I have a brother-in-law that we are putting through college, so we often send him money through Moneygram. As I was sending money the other day, I noticed a woman, probably in her 50s, who couldn't seem to figure out the Moneygram form. Now, some might say, "forms can be pretty complex," yet I have to wonder considering every single line has a direction for its use. Complicated directions like "First Name" and "Address" in her own language clearly could be confusing. Or maybe not. She was nice enough but by the time one is in their 50s, shouldn't someone have filled out enough forms for everything from applications, to medical forms, to voter registration forms, and so on?

Yet, the situation isn't isolated. At more than a couple jobs in my life, a few people are thought to be technically smarter than others who work on machines and computers because they are able to get things to work without problems compared to the majority of the people. Why? Because they follow the directions, often in the very programs that they are claiming problems to stem from. Simple directions such as "load feeder" and "enter the last four digits on last document" are not followed and create frustration and problems for workers. They simply failed to read directions before acting.

Contrary to popular myth, inability to follow directions isn't isolated to men, as women often find themselves in these situations as much as men where they get lost by not following simple directions. It may explain why so many women defer to men on technical or building issues that aren't heavy lifting or requiring high tech specialized knowledge: To avoid the embarrassment. After all, it probably should be an Olympic event for women to make fun of men in these very areas.

The point isn't to pick on women, or to call people "stupid" because I don't believe that either is true. I don't think the people are stupid, and I don't think that women are incapable of doing these things. However, I think people get so focused in one area or another that they run into these areas and simply don't focus on them. If someone is focused on printing out key information to meet a deadline, they may have trouble shifting their focus on how to load a printer, as an illustration.

However, that doesn't necessarily explain the guy driving in the lane next to me today. We had two lanes turning left. He was in the left lane, I was in the right. The gentleman was nice enough to turn his van from the inside left turn lane into the right lane cutting me off. The turn has a dotted line to follow, so it isn't like it was a secret for him. It was a pretty simply set of directions considering the sign posted in front of him indicating two lanes turned left.

It seems that the problem may be that people simple don't care enough to pay attention to the world around them. That may explain why people don't think the government does anything, even though they get their trash picked up weekly; even though their sewers keep their homes from flooding; even though clean water flows to homes for drinking and cleaning; even though roads give them paths to and from work, school, shopping, etc., for both owners and consumers; and far more.

Some might say the bad economy has made people too poor to pay attention, but we have truly become a distracted society. It is why there are cellphone bans while driving, and why employers are limiting web access for employees, and why directions are becoming almost insultingly simple. With all the noise around us, it is easy to understand why people might want to tune out things, but some things are important enough to pay attention too. Other things are so basic that it simply shouldn't be hard to fill them out. T

he problem in both cases is a lack of effort. And people wonder why we can't get anything done in America if we can't even make the effort to fill out a simple form or make the effort to pay attention when we drive.

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