EohippusI have heard it asked in interviews: “If you were an animal. What animal would you be?”

In spite of the dubious nature of this question in a job interview and, at the same time, scanning the personal photos decorating the office of the interviewer searching for evidence of a cat or dog fancier, you still need to provide an answer that doesn’t sound ironic of dismissive. I don’t know what the right answer might be, but in today’s job market, you may feel like you are an Eohippus.

For a brief moment consider the Eohippus. I will be the first to admit that it is an odd choice that you may not be readily familiar and one your interviewer is not prepared: unless he loves horses.

In spite of being ancient (enjoying the plant-rich climate of the Eocene Epoch which takes us back about 50 million years), with no modern relatives surviving in North America, and small enough to look a cocker spaniel in the eye, the Eohippus would still be identified to be a horse by our modern eye. There it stood: possessing the adaptability and keen sense of survival to advance its genes tens of millions of years before the appearance of the first hominid. Yet the Eohippus refused to become one of those strange antediluvian finds: its remains looked like a horse and all paleontological evidence indicated that it acted like a horse.

Go Team Eohippus!

What do you think are the persistent fundamental skills that are still valuable in every work domain?

According to David Autor, an MIT economist who has written on technological change and employment growth, in an interview on FreakonomicsRadio, listed these fundamental skills as the ability to:

  1. Communicate
  2. Tell a story
  3. Analyze
  4. Articulate

Notably, these skills are not necessarily inherent to or taught in any single discipline.

At one point in my career as a medical social worker I know that I expressed a bias that these traits are the bread and butter of every social worker and counselor. I was proud that we medical social workers brought a skill set to the hospital just as important as the surgical skills of a surgeon and the manual therapy healing of the physical therapist. In fact, my graduate thesis that I completed while I was working full-time as a medical social worker, leaned heavily in the direction that the abilities associated with social work makes for the most effective hospital leadership: self-serving, no? I have, thankfully, learned a lot since that time.

Regardless, I like this brief list of skills and think that they are just as relevant now as they were in the analog days.

It is helpful to remember that there are some fundamental skills that are portable to your next job, but these skills identified by David Autor, however, can’t be laid aside and sit idle. They need to be challenged and honed.

How do you do this when you aren’t working in a field of our choosing? Here is my short list of activities. These are certainly not inclusive and I invite you to add others:

  • Volunteer at an organization that shares your values.
  • Write and/or journal not just about your feelings, but about your passions and what gives your life meaning.
  • Meet to talk with trusted friends in your line of work. Don’t make these meetings all about work, make them personal too.
  • Create spreadsheets about your efforts and expenses in your work search. Keep those tools of management sharp and ready for redeployment.
  • Read about changes and trends in not just your field, but in other industries as well. It never ceases to amaze me just how brilliance has so many applications.
  • Attend continuing education classes and/or webinars.
  • This is a good time to work on improving performance in your sport and maybe discover a new activity.

French novelist Gustave Flaubert wrote: The most glorious moments in your life are not the so-called days of success, but rather those days when out of dejection and despair you feel rise in you a challenge to life, and the promise of future accomplishments.

In conclusion: Ride that Eohippus long and hard!