What Can You Do With What You Know?

Day two of SHRHM 14 started with internationally renowned author, reporter, and columnist Thomas Friedman. Friedman’s presentation focused on the future of business, and more specifically on the changes brought about by the digital explosion and increased connectivity.

One of the best statements made by him came when he was discussing the changing expectations of employers regarding their workforce:

“Know one cares what you know or where you went to school. They care about what you can do with what you know.”

Many writers and bloggers in the HR-based social media space have been advocating that approach for years. I have been hearing pleas for people to change their resumes for at least five years, asking people to quit writing cliched, buzzword laden description of what their job was, and to instead focus on listing specific accomplishments. Tell people what you did – or can do – instead of what your job description said you were supposed to do.

Friedman cited Google as an example of a company that cares what you do with your knowledge, not the source of your knowledge, claiming that 14% of its employees don’t have college degrees. That isn’t actually true, but its close enough to make the point that employers should start looking past paper credentials – if they haven’t already – to create real problem-solving capabilities in their job descriptions. I’ve written about over-blown job descriptions twice before (here and here), imploring HR to consider more specific, actual needs and less boilerplate language.

Tom Friedman may think that employers don’t care about college, but for the most part that day isn’t here yet, even though it needs to be. I hope the HR pros in the audience got that point and quit asking about where your applicants went to school, and start caring about what they can do.