Monthly Archives: August 2015

Freelancers fill gaps where employees lack

“In Germany, there is shortage of skilled workers”. This phrase is repeated so often and constantly as if someone would permanently scratch a record at the same groove. Yet, freelancers are a good way to replace those skilled.

By the way: No one complains as loudly about the lack of skilled workers as the SME who blame it on the demographic change: Here the mechanical engineer goes to retire, there lacks the technical know-how for a different specific knowledge niche. And the universities hardly keep pace with the training of new professionals. The large companies seem to be better off: They offer career opportunities–and in their different departments they even have jobs for the most highly specialized workers. Thus it’s the SME businesses that need the expertise of externals. But it looks like they simply don’t care.

A survey of the HR company Hays and the market analyst PAC brought it to light. According to the study, only about ten percent of small and medium-sized German companies have engaged external professionals. 16 percent said that freelancers could help them but they do not order any. Every fifth external professional works for companies with less than 500 employees while more than half of all freelancers are engaged by large companies with over 5,000 employees. It seems as if freelancer is a foreign word for the German SME sector.

The big firms call for freelancers because they are overburdened with getting the orders done. This problem of lacking specialists, however, should be much more relevant to small businesses. What large and small companies both have in common is the need for specialists due to the digitization and the increasing pressure to adapt in the demands of the high-tech age. Many a niche knowledge item of today is outdated tomorrow, be it the Google criteria for website ranking, the demands on mobile networks or the ever-changing media and user performances. Who knows today whether he still needs a Facebook marketing or responsive web design specialist in two years? A freelancer he can be involved immediately and sent home without notice period after the project has ended.

Looking at the typical application areas of freelancers, it seems all the more strange how little many companies have been using the “free” potential yet that the personnel market offers them. Freelancers are usually employed in areas which are not part of the companies’ product and core business. Where they work at is e. g. the company’s internet presence, the IT, the advertising campaigns or graphic design tasks. Another typical freelancer’s workplace is the legal department. Last but not least, externals also accompany or even lead operations such as software upgrades or one-time investments.

Those who do work with freelancers often engage them in apparently very internal areas such as training and education. Why? Because freelancers bring in the expertise from outside the company which employees in their daily business can hardly acquire.

Where it comes to confidences, freelancers barely find open doors. This particularly applies to areas such as finance or development. But there are too many other professional areas remaining where the much-vaunted skills shortage seems to be nothing but a pure question of feeling uneasy with the “free”.

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Why not say “I can’t” sometimes

Most people conceal what they can’t do in their CVs as well as in their professional lives. However, this is a plea for a more open approach to the so-called weaknesses.

Today I received a call by one of those people who have tens of thousands of Xing and business club contacts and who want to sell you something. Or better yet: You shall sell something for them. Well, it wasn’t a bad medium for which he told me I should write copies. He introduced me to his news and public relations platform on the Internet. But once again it turned out that he had no aims to commission me to write for him and his clients. He wanted me to sell his platform to customers by acquiring and winning them with my “genius Writing”.

No, folks, I am a writer but definitely not a seller. It is my passion to describe things in written words. But when it comes to talking and to woo someone, I do not only lose ambition. No, I know exactly: Others can do that better than me. I confess this weakness and rather lose a potential employer or client than to pretend I could do selling s good as writing.

According to my experience, openly dealing with “cant do’s” makes you win more than dissimulating them. To give you an example: There were 13 out of 15 requirements in a certain job offer which I could absolutely fulfill. Only for the last two ones I had nothing to offer, neither knowledge nor references. Previously I would had read everything about these requirements to make the employer in the interview think I knew everything. But now as I sat there I frankly said: for point 14 and 15, other candidates are better. And that’s that.

Maybe it was good that I do not necessarily need this job, although the company would have been a great name in my portfolio (which it actually became!). But I wanted to remain a freelancer. Why then did I go to the interview? A friend of mine had just forwarded my CV to the company without asking me. Then they just invited me and I simply saw the chance to test my market value. I didn’t care about rejection. I was cool. And won.

What I won? The job? In a way, yes, even though I rejected the employment right after the date. But I won a customer who knew exactly what he’d get and what he wouldn’t. Once again I learned that employees have one thing in common with brands: Everyone who focuses on his strengths communicates credibly. After all, Jack of all trades is master of none.

Experimentally, an American mailed ten applications with unusual biographies. Besides his skills, experience, references and awards, he also listed the ‘non-skills’. He wrote that he did not like too much patience, any obedience, getting up early and veggie food at all. He also described which people can’t stand him and why. To his university degree he referred to as “some bachelor from an institute you probably never heard of.” The result: Eight out of ten recipients invited him!

Maybe his application was so successful because it was unusual. But it’s probably not too useful to just imitate him. Too big is the danger to disqualify yourself or to be seen as someone who just begs for attention. But in my opinion it’s not bad to make clear what can be expected from you and what not. Surely it’s helpful to make a list of your own strengths and weaknesses. In order to differentiate among the weaknesses, distinguish between those that are easily reparable, those that can be compensated by colleagues and those that always proved to be insurmountable sources of error in your work. The last one’s tasks should simply be avoided.

Distinguish, but don’t only extinguish: Trying to make “improvements” to an insurmountable weaknesses means to waste a lot of energy that you need to promote your strengths. During high school, it was different: There I invested a lot more hours in my poor subjects to meet the audit requirements than in my good subjects for the final grade. In the course of working life, the picture changes. Not the generalist is needed, on the contrary. Positioning yourself means defining differences to others in every aspect.

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Strengths but weaknesses

“We are looking for a motivated, dedicated and creative employee …”. Most letters of applicants are as replaceable as most job profiles. They are bursting of buzzword killers that may actually reverse the supposed strengths in weaknesses in the eyes of the readers. Much more promising are applications that boost empty words with emotional stories rather than to simply mention them. Here is an example.

Nadine only had a French-sounding name that was just popular in Germany. No reason to select her among all the applicants for the apprenticeship in the French Tourism marketing in Cologne. Also, Nadine wasn’t number one among all the applicants concerning school French grades. Her levels were very good but some other one’s were even better.

Yet, a small sentence in the school graduate’s application made the recruiters pay attention. Nadine wrote that she would always translate the letters between the choir of her parents and her French partner community in both languages. None of her parents or their friends and French partners had ever bothered to learn the other one’s language.

Would yo be so naive to put a sentence like this into your application? Not? Well … naivety is often better than threshing semiskilled phrases. Nadine’s employers read several distinct abilities right between the lines. So they invited her to the interview and asked her more about her involvement in the French-German partnership group. She was very active and had a lot of fun there, she said. For the HR this meant: She is a team player. She has intercultural competence. And despite to the fact that she was only 16, she had proved her reliable skills for organization, travel and dealing with people for a lot of times. Last but not least the girl offered a basic understanding of service mentality and customer satisfaction.

Teamwork skills, intercultural competence, customer orientation, organizational skills: These are the individual skills of Nadine … but have you ever read any application without these tags? Certainly not. Mostly, however, these words remain fully neglected like naked, saying nothing at all. And they are so widespread because in our education and career, we learn to proceed according to the book. That’s the standard. And only that counts.

Fortunately, LinekdIn recently created and published an analysis of the most frequent hackneyed words. They were gathered from 300 million online profiles of German applicants. In tenth place was Experience Abroad, number nine was Specialized. Number eight was Analytically. The next higher places were from bottom to top: Ambitious, Responsible, Strategically, Passion, Expertise, Creative and––as the absolute leader––Motivated.

Are you motivated, creative and ambitious? Of course you are, because if not you would not apply at all, right? For HR managers, however, the motivation level often drops dramatically when they read these tags in a listing.

How could a vivid application start? Let’s take the “top three killer buzzwords” and start with Expertise or expert knowledge. Simply replace this phrase with an explanation of what you could always adopt most effortlessly and playfully in very short times. Phrase number two, Creative, is not so difficult, too. In which fields did you always have the most spontaneous ideas and solutions? Where do colleagues ask you for advice? Tell it. And instead of the number one tag, Motivated, just write in which activities of the company you always feel the greatest satisfaction.

Do you connect these terms mainly with recreational activities? Or are you student and can not look back upon references? Even that is no reason for a bloodless application! Have you been brilliant as a group organizer, class representative or a perfect hobby craftsmen? Did you commit yourself to e.g. your local sports club, the Volunteer Fire Department or the Red Cross? Then you have continually proved motivation, passion, social skills and much more. You would certainly not work in your profession if no accordance existed between your interests and your job.

Now only one thing is essential: A clear explanation of why you want the job and why you are the right person for it. And all this, of course, “wrapped” in an individually created letter for the one and only company. No verbal sweeping attack!

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Jack of all trades

You know this American proverb: Jack of all trades and master of none. Though no one wants to be seen like Jack, many do exactly act like that. However, for an entrepreneur a clear positioning is one of the most important success criteria. And that means to focus and restrict on your strengths.

You probably know people like the web designer who has been renowned for the best ideas and techniques for designing beautiful internet sites. When a customer asked him if he could also program the online store he said, I’ll try it––and after trying for a long long time he actually succeeded. For another customer, he developed a marketing strategy. Finally, a good headline idea made him even become a advertising copywriter. In the end, he introduced his business not only as a creative design provider anymore but as a full-service agency. With a new appearance. With huge effort. With staff. With Fortune?

No. He hardly won any new customers. His reputation has always been the one of a very good web designer. Large agency orders get placed elsewhere. Similar experiences than his were made by the painter who also made Electrician tasks and the IT specialist who thought he could be a professional controller, too, after once having carried out such a job.

Honestly, we love the challenge when someone comes up with new requirements. Moreover, we can not say no when our customers ask us. But what’s the result? Laboriously and under giant time, we try to make it into new activities that never become our core business. We struggle for satisfying a customer who can never really pay our working hours adequately because that task is no routine for us at all. We rely on a supposed second pillar and can never capitalize it because we hardly win a second or third order for it. And if we position ourselves completely new and with a wide range of services we lose our existing unique selling point.

Especially if yours is a small enterprise: Position yourself as master of your core business. Leave the other tasks to the masters of their trade. The customer finally receives the better service––the real professional’s service––on your good advice!

If you ever come to travel through the southwest of Germany: In every little town on the countryside you drive through miles and miles of by industrial parks full of healthy SME plants which have one thing in common. They are all the unchallenged world market leader in their segment’s little segment. Or at least, they hardly have any core competitors. As small entrepreneur you do not have the resources to position yourself as a full service company. But your chance is to highlight your unique individual skills over the competition.

By the way, clear and distinguished positioning may be easier than you think. Just write down all contract work which you have previously done for clients. Then create a list of your customers and rate them by revenue, profits or expectations. As next step, arrange clients and offers, make a chart and you see where your biggest business potential lies and where do you waste your time and money.

Do not forget: Your work is all the more credible and attractive to your customers the more you can define yourself as “the expert”––or, speaking of the example above––, as “the” artist of the most beautiful web layouts. The programmer for the most complex web shop behind it should be the partner that you recommend.

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