The Last Half Century · The Work World

Cracking Open New Skills

I have to admit there are skills I have that I never revealed on my resume. It wasn’t that I was hiding them from prospective employers, it’s just that they didn’t seem interested in them. I was reminded of these skills a few weeks ago when I went to bake some banana bread. Without a second thought, with one hand I cracked open an egg and emptied its contents into the mixing bowl. This is a skill I learned while working at a bakery during my college years.

I owe my egg-cracking skills to a patient baker I worked with during my college years. I was initially hired by the on-campus bakery to deliver baked goods to all the dorms on campus, but I also picked up some shifts helping with the daily production. One morning we were making a large quantity of angel food cakes and it was my job to crack hundreds of eggs into a massive mixing bowl. I don’t recall how long it took to crack the amount called for by the recipe, but it seemed to take forever. There I was, cracking one egg with two hands, while the seasoned baker next to me cracked two at a time with an egg in each hand. “How do you do that?” I asked him. After a few tries and some coaching (and scooping egg shells out of the bowl), I mastered the skill. It was perhaps the most exciting thing I learned in college that day.

Unfortunately, no one ever asked about this hidden skill of mine when I interviewed for jobs after graduating from college. I never heard the question, “But can you crack an egg open and empty its contents into a bowl with one hand?” Instead, I faced the classic dilemma of employers who wanted job experience as a writer, but I couldn’t get the job to give me that experience. I held a Journalism degree, but only a limited portfolio of freelance writing samples from various local newspapers. Prospective employers didn’t seem to be interested in egg-cracking and truck driving skills or my extensive experience working on farms in my high school years. But one person showed me that these skills do matter.

With only months left before I graduated from college, I was assigned a new adviser in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Apparently, my adviser in the Journalism Department didn’t know what to do with me and thought maybe the ag school could help. In my first meeting with my advisor, I told him I had little on-the-job writing experience. Then he asked me a question no one else at the college had asked me, “What other experience do you have?” I told him about my bakery job, growing up on a farm and milking cows for my uncle when I was in high school. To my surprise, he told me my farm experience was a marketable skill.

“Companies in agriculture want people with first-hand experience in farming. That’s a skill not every Journalism graduate can claim.” That statement changed my world. My new adviser helped me create a new resume that included my farm experience. I then sent it to a list of companies, ad agencies and publications in the agriculture sector. Eventually this new tactic generated an interview with John Deere and my first job as writer in their Advertising Department. A key reason I was given the job was the sample ad I wrote prior to the interview where I demonstrated my understanding of how their round baler benefitted the farmer.

While no one during the interview with John Deere asked me to crack an egg with one hand, they did ask me about my farm experience. My college advisor taught me a valuable lesson about not underselling yourself and appreciating your entire skill set. Sometimes it’s the things we don’t know about people that prove to be the most valuable.

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