Competence and Confidence Count

by Hank Lindborg

A core career value is a combination of competence and confidence: realistic and objective confidence you have the skills to achieve in the world of work and believing those skills are a positive contribution.

As job churning, downsizing, outsourcing and global competition in professional fields in which the United States enjoyed preeminence affect and perhaps afflict us, it’s an important value to keep in focus.

For realistic perspectives on jobs in quality and the skills required for them, I conducted interviews with people who have a broad view of the profession, including search firm personnel.

My findings? Quality has changed, but it’s not dead. For better or worse, we’re global. More will be expected of us, and objective criteria of competence will be applied more rigorously in hiring and evaluation.

Quality in the global supply chain is crucial and offers significant career opportunities. Impending baby boomer retirements may open new paths for younger professionals who prepare themselves over the next few years.

Demand for Certification

Paul Malek, ASQ’s market manager for manufacturing, notes as quality has become part of everyone’s job, some traditional job titles have disappeared. On the other hand, there is greater demand for specific competencies as defined by certification.

Companies committed to improvement, Malek says, are now explicit in requiring ASQ certification as a manager of quality and organizational effectiveness or a Six Sigma Black Belt. Vague statements about being committed to quality no longer get you in the door.

Malek recommends quality practitioners at every level be prepared to understand the dynamics of a global economy. “You may not have to travel,” he says. “But you’ll have to understand other cultures and work across time zones.”

Because educational systems and performance standards differ around the world, Malek points out many organizations are now using certifications (certified quality engineer, for example) to ensure levels of competence as well as provide access to a common body of knowledge for communication across a supply chain.

Half Specify Six Sigma

Rich Miller, managing directorof the search firm Brooke Chase Associates Inc. (www.brookechase.com), finds most of his manufacturing clients look for experience in quality systems, with more than half specifying Six Sigma.

Miller, too, points out the global base of suppliers often works to standards below those of U.S. firms. “Companies are looking for those who can support greater responsibility and ownership of quality among suppliers.”

Keith T. Gsell, who is president of the Heritage Group Inc. (www.theheritage-group.com), also highlights skills related to supplier quality. There are, he says, excellent opportunities for those with experience in logistics, scheduling, planning and inspection.

Miller’s clients at “benchmark companies” look for a background in areas such as ISO 9000 or 14000, statistical process control and lean Six Sigma, and they demand demonstrated practical understanding. Competence counts, especially in the global arena. “You have to know the nuts and bolts of quality in the global supply chain. You can’t take anything for granted.”

Know Yourself

Both Miller and Gsell are retained by firms to conduct searches on their behalf. To work with either of them, you have to know your own competencies and communicate them in a résumé and in interviews.

Miller maintains a database of candidates based on documents submitted to him. He doesn’t look for glossy paper or devices to attract attention. Materials are submitted electronically and should highlight experience, including supervisory and management responsibilities, as well as different positions you may have held within the same organization.

“Review of résumés and interviews are based on competency,” Miller says. “We’re looking for a good fit with employers. Be fact based, and don’t ever misrepresent your background.”

Gsell urges candidates to be “clear, crisp and complete” in how they present themselves.

“Be specific about the difference you’ve made in any position. We want more than a title. Did you reduce cycle time? Enhance the bottom line? Provide measures. Our clients are results oriented.”

Both are optimistic about the future for those who prepare themselves well in quality disciplines. They point out both education and experience still count. Undergraduate and graduate degrees from respected colleges and universities in appropriate areas of specialization are valued, as are certifications.

Gsell highlights a silver lining in outsourcing: a more rewarding career ladder for those in supplier quality.

Miller’s practice has put him in touch with the demographic shift about to take place with baby boomer retirements. He confirms the message found in The 2010 Meltdown: Solving the Impending Jobs Crisis: The need for workers rather than outsourcing will soon again drive career directions.1

But this new world of work will be more focused than ever on competence.


  1. Edward E. Gordon, The 2010 Meltdown: Solving the Impending Jobs Crisis, Greenwood Publishing, 2005.

HENRY J. LINDBORG is executive director and CEO of the National Institute for Quality Improvement, which provides consulting in strategic planning, organizational development and assessment. He holds a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and teaches in a leadership and quality graduate program. Lindborg is past chair of ASQ’s Education Division and currently serves on the Education and Training Board.

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