Friday, February 20, 2009

Life is like basketball... sorta.

Ever applied for a Federal job? If you do, you will run into the mystical world of KSA's. For the uninitiated, that would be Skills, Knowledge, and Abilities. The Feds break down every position into a collection of KSA's. I see that yawn creeping across your face, so let me quickly add, this post is not about Federal jobs... but I will be happy to do that later if there are a few requests. No, this post is about how thinking about your own KSA's can help you figure out where to begin to look for a career path and how to talk about yourself with a prospective employer.

Understanding KSA's is where basketball comes in to the picture. Anybody can grab a basketball and throw it at the hoop, but to have reasonable chance in the NBA, you will have to have some basic ability. You will need to be able to run, jump, throw, and strangely enough, be tall. Yes, in this example, being tall is an ability. While tall is relative, I would be willing to bet that if an 4' 9" player were to tryout for the Lakers, the scouts would say, "Lacks basic ability." On a more personal level, I have dysgraphia which interferes with my brain and makes my handwriting really funky (bad funky, not hip funky) and I can't draw or easily organize stuff visually. I doodle all the time, but I do not have the ability to be a graphic artist.

Kobe Bryant is tall and athletic, so he will be good baller, right? No. Not unless he develops the skill set that goes along with basketball... dribbling, shooting, rebounding, blocking, and hanging with your posse. (Posse-hanging is a relatively new skill requirement for the NBA, but it seems necessary to include it.) Abilities, for the most part, are endowments which are with you from birth and skills are attributes you acquire through constant practice and repetition. Think about it this way. Most employers would kill for a candidate with "exceptional written communication skills." Over four years of college, most students are constantly writing. It is not unusual for an undergrad to write two or three papers a week. I can't tell you the number of times that I have looked at undergrad's resume only to see no mention at all of their "written communication skills." (More on this in my next post).

So, Kobe is a great NBA player because he tall and athletic and highly skilled. Wrong. What separates Kobe from my friend Marc, who is 6'7" with sweet jump shot, is knowledge of the game. When Marc dribbles down the court, he has to stop several times to figure out where everybody is and who is open. Kobe understands the game of basketball well enough that he does not stop pushing the ball and he knows not only who is open right now, but who will be able to slip a pick and get open three seconds from now.

Spend a little time thinking about yourself from these perspectives. What natural abilities do you have and how might those suit you for a particular career path? How have your work and volunteer experiences, class projects, or hobbies given you skills that make you better at communicating, organizing, problem-solving, or relationship building. What knowledge have you gained from your formal and informal education that can be valuable to an employer as expertise. Make a list. Better yet, keep a running list as your KSA's occur to you.

That's it. All the stuff you should know about KSA's


  1. Hi Reb! I love your blog. I'm interviewing and hiring for 2 therapists positions here in TN and I am shocked at the HORRIBLE resumes I get. I am getting 4-5 page resumes! Keep KSA's brief and concise. :-) BTW, I would have never thought to include written communication skills on my own resume, duh.

  2. This
    "Anybody can grab a basketball and throw it at the hoop, but to have reasonable chance in the NBA, you will have to have some basic ability."

  3. I like this.The game of life is like basketball, it can't be played alone.
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