Workplace: ‘Mad skills’ will help an employee stand out from the crowd


A recruiter might particularly value the experience gained by an employee on the year they took off to undertake a permaculture project. Photo:

Standing out from the crowd is a must when applying for a job or getting promoted. Certain unique skills can help you do this. These are what HR personnel and recruiters refer to as “mad skills”.

Such skills have become particularly desirable in a world of work that has been reshaped by the Covid pandemic, where companies are looking to reinvent their organisational approaches.

The expression refers to the “offbeat”, “atypical” skills of an employee or a candidate. The expression slides into a set of terminology recognised today by all people in the work milieu, no matter whether they are just starting their career or count decades of experience.

These days, CVs or resumes are built around two categories of skills, namely “hard skills” and “soft skills”. The first refers to knowledge and expertise that can be measured by diplomas or certification, while the second refers to interpersonal skills that indicate how well an employee will fit into a specific work setting (communication, punctuality, friendliness, etc).

Mad skills are also often related to the personality of the employee, except that they are more original, and rare, than soft skills. For instance, a recruiter might particularly value the experience gained by an employee on the year they took off to undertake a permaculture project or the podcast they launched during the pandemic, or the van they’re equipping to be a home on the road in the hopes of setting out to explore the wilderness.

At first, the skills gained through such experiences may appear to be totally unrelated to the position a candidate is applying for. But in these experiences, the recruiter may see a touch of originality that allows the candidate to bring an offbeat, even disruptive, perspective to issues that arise in a professional context.

For example, the year you spent as an expat on the other side of the world may not have provided you with the “hard skills” necessary for the sales manager position you are applying for, but it shows that you have an adventurous spirit and a certain taste for challenge – especially if you didn’t speak the local language before your departure.

Personality and employability

People with “mad skills” are a genuine asset for managers who want to surround themselves with employees who will come up with creative ideas.

“At a time when difference no longer comes down to products but rather to ideas, decision-makers are looking for unique skill sets, individuals with a strong personality, capable of producing disruptive ideas and establishing a true culture of collective intelligence,” as Sandrine L’Herminier states in her book, Tu seras un manager responsable mon fils (You will be a manager my son – published by editions Yves Michel/Place publique, 2015).

This is why recruitment specialists are increasingly advising candidates to pay particular attention to the “hobbies and travels” section of their resume. It can represent a real gold mine in terms of “mad skills”.

No wonder 75% of hiring managers say they attach importance to large-scale “personal projects” when reading a resume, according to a 2019 survey from Indeed.

But while candidates may have unique skills and experiences, they still have to know how to parlay them into one of their assets.

This new addition to the range of desirable competencies, of qualities long regarded as belonging essentially to the personal sphere, may be a source of anxiety for working people who weren’t able to afford spending a year abroad or who haven’t practised chessboxing, a sport that really combines boxing and chess, since their adolescence. Some individuals try to turn bereavement, illness or professional failure into a life experience that will advance their career.

A French-language Twitter account, Disruptive humans of LinkedIn, has been cataloguing since 2017, some of the more unique attempts by individuals to stand out in the professional sphere. And therein likes a paradox of “mad skills”.

The originality so coveted by business leaders and recruiters is much less out of the ordinary than one might imagine. In many cases, it doesn’t challenge the established order as much as the name might indicate.

The interest shown in “mad skills” is indeed linked to a discourse promoting the virtues of disruption (synonymous with innovation and change) in business. Conventional or not, the emphasis on mad skills reveals the importance on being able to make oneself stand out in order to guarantee one’s attractiveness on the job market. – AFP Relaxnews

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