Once again, we are celebrating Father’s Day in the United States. It seemed like a good time to revisit a post I wrote in April 2020 from another perspective to get inspiration for our own post-pandemic careers. Although my Dad’s career differed from common careers today—he worked largely for one company—he still had to acquire the right combination of technical skills and the right attitude—soft skills—for success.
My three new observations from examining Dad’s career include:
- Hobbies may advance your career,
- Your degree matters, and
- Attitude makes a difference.
My father entered the workforce as a radiotelegraph operator aboard ocean-going ships before World War II and retired as a telecommunications expert at the dawn of the World Wide Web era.
Dad started his career shortly before the Second World War as a radio operator aboard coastal tankers. Oil tanker shipments drove our economy then, so the work was essential. It was dangerous, even before U-boats started torpedoing the tankers when war broke out. The radio room, Dad told me, was the highest point on the ship—a requirement stemming from the Titanic disaster–accessible via a narrow catwalk crewmembers could be washed off of in a storm.
Dad did not learn his trade at a technical school or employment program although trade schools and job programs existed in the 1930s. Instead, he learned radiotelegraphy through his hobby—Amateur Radio.
Although my Dad learned his technical skills as a hobby, I doubt he listed his ham radio license on a job application. The job required a separate commercial radiotelegraph license. But Dad told me he passed the test for his commercial license because he used Morse code as a “ham,” and had lots of practice sending and receiving on the air. And those that lacked “ham tickets” did not have “real world” experience on the radio.
Although the hobby did not directly qualify my father for his first job, the training and practice he got through ham radio certainly helped.
My Dad’s hobby also prepared him for his technical roles in World War II. First, he became a radio repair technician, and then a radar technician.
Again, my Dad’s hobby did not directly qualify him for his Army technician roles, but it did provide essential skills. As a ham radio operator, he built his own radios from scratch, so he knew how to repair radios. Radio hams also learn to construct their own antennas. Antennas are a crucial part of every radar installation, so his hobby prepared him for this pivotal job, too.
Radiotelegraphy is still a great hobby, although it is no longer a marketable job skill. Other competencies learned by radio hobbyists, such as antenna design and construction, are still valuable transferrable skills for work on wireless communications systems.
Your Degree Matters.
A recruiter told me recently that he usually searches for candidates with college degrees but not for people with specific college majors. Many people, he says, are working in fields that have little to do with their major field of study in school.
My Dad did not work in the field he studied at college. Dad returned to the civilian workforce as a marine radio operator after the War. He worked at WNY, a ship-to-shore radio station in Manhattan, started a family with my Mom, and, somehow, attended City College of New York full-time for his Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry.
My father remained in telecommunications despite training as a chemist in college. Although he did not directly utilize his chemistry degree, he applied the methodical approach he learned in the lab to problem solving at his jobs and at home.
In addition to providing transferrable skills, the degree qualified my father for supervisory training at his company—and for training in an emerging technology—computers. As a result, Dad spent the remainder of his career at the intersection of telecommunications and computing.
Attitude Makes the Difference.
An airline commercial once proclaimed that “attitude is as important as altitude.” That’s another way of saying that soft skills, such as customer service, are as important as technical skills.
One of the things that impressed me when I was growing up was my father’s focus on the customer. The communications customers in those days were large multinational companies, including Japanese firms that did much of their messaging during their business day. That is during the night in the United States. As a result, Dad addressed customer concerns at any hour of the day or night. If the operator on duty could not immediately fix the problem, Dad took the train or drove to the computer room to make sure strategic customers got their mission-critical message traffic.
It did not matter who the operators on the work shift were. My father treated everyone equally, whether the operator was my oldest brother, or the Company’s first African-American computer operator and supervisor.
Employers today search LinkedIn as well as their ATS resume databases for people with the unique, and sometimes esoteric, technical skills needed for their business. But they also need job candidates that have demonstrated their customer service skills and talent for working within a diverse workforce.
Concluding Comments. Whether you are observing Father’s Day, Juneteenth, or both holidays this weekend, take the opportunity to reflect on the careers your family members have had. Ask questions if you can. The lessons you learn may be as valuable as those you’ll get from career coaches and senior leaders.