Which IT Skills Will Improve Your Job Application?

Professional-level job adverts used to state that candidates were required to be ‘computer literate’. As I remember, people used to interpret this nebulous phrase to mean anything from ‘can type’ to ‘knows how to program’ – and, of course, everything in between.

By the end of the 1990s the interpretation had standardised on ‘proficient in MS Word and Outlook’ or, if your skills were rather more enhanced, ‘can use the whole MS Office suite’. This remains the bread and butter of anyone’s computer skills, and having MS Office on your CV is more of a comfort factor for the reader these days.

Some might argue that when applying for a specialist law role, mentioning the Microsoft Office suite won’t give you an edge. Most hiring managers assume applicants already know the basics, and you might be advised to use precious application or CV space elaborating on a distinctive legal skill or a career accomplishment.

If the job spec in question does ask for your computer skills, you’re likely to be expected to use programs like Word, Outlook and Excel, and you may as well say you can. It might help to know PowerPoint and OneNote, but it would be worth finding out the latest software required in your field, building knowledge of that and mentioning it on your CV. For example, is there a particular time-and-billing software application you have used?

As we have become more reliant on our computers, so the requirements of employers have become more complex. Of those platforms which are more widespread, SharePoint is practically essential if you are to join an information-led organisation. Many legal practices will be using bespoke platforms for legal practice management, case management and accounts systems.

The truth is, every trade has its tools, and the tools of any office-based trade today will include a range of computer skills which are specific to it. If you find that to get the job you want, the ability to use particular programs is a must, make sure that you have that ability. If you don’t, acquire it. There is rarely a way around this, especially in a competitive market when such matters of fact can be used as a pass/fail decision when choosing candidates to interview.

Social media skills needed

What is probably more interesting at the moment is the rise of social media and its manipulation for business purposes. In their recent study, The Economics of the Socially Engaged Enterprise, the PulsePoint Group and the Economist found that more than 80% of executives said they believed that social engagement had increased their sales and market share. As a result, expect to have to use social media skills – and I don’t mean larking around on Facebook when you’re bored.

With the key narrative of marketing strategies currently being ‘content’, the ability of people in all parts of a business to make the most of appropriate social media channels is becoming paramount. It is no longer enough to leave this to someone else.

Content may include blogs, tweets, videos, presentations and the like. The trick is to make them attractive and engaging and also appropriate. Such is the thirst for this material that you cannot expect your marketing communications department (presuming you have one) to create it all.

A blog may be created by a practice leader. A range of people may be handed the reins of the corporate Twitter account. Where once video was highly polished and professionally produced, there is an increasing amount which is “of the moment” – self shot and maybe even self-edited. A sales presentation may go straight from the team meeting to the company SlideShare account.

Some of this content may be rougher around the edges than the carefully produced content we’ve been used to, but according to a recent white paper from McKinsey (‘Six social-media skills every leader needs’ by Roland Deiser and Sylvain Newton, McKinsey Quarterly, February 2013), “Too much perfection is actually a barrier to collaboration and co-creation, as it disinvites participation.”

As a result, I predict that it won’t be long before confidence using a variety of social media is prevalent among the skills required for many jobs. You will need to show you understand the channels which are right for your business and that you are confident using them. 

You also will need to demonstrate that you understand what is appropriate, not only what to post, but also in terms of how and when to reply. Remember that a false move can undo a hard-won reputation and, as we have recently seen, may even lead to legal action being taken. Being familiar with social media management systems (SMMSs) such as HootSuite, Conversocial and Adobe Social might be useful so that you can set up and use social media ‘dashboards’. 

Of course, recruiters and hiring managers will not only be judging your aptitude from your CV, but also by looking online. Increasingly, they are using LinkedIn as a channel to source new candidates, while others seek to attract candidates through their Facebook pages. And even if they do not find you through this route, you can bet that they will turn to your social media as part of the assessment process. Either way, recruiters and hiring managers are plugged in to your social media presence from the word go, and how your profiles look and what you post will be among the things they judge. 

We may joke about how the downfall of someone’s career aspirations was the compromising photographs of that person after a big night on the town. As the ability to make the most of social media becomes important for employers, however, having smart accounts which are regularly updated with thoughtful and professionally relevant material may be just as important for a job candidate’s prospects of moving up the ladder.

Heidi Nicholson

Partner at career specialists Richmond Solutions

This article has been provided by leading legal jobs board www.simplylawjobs.com.