How competitive Scrabble (or other niche skills) can get you a job


Today’s guest post is from Chris Schonberger, editor-in-chief of

What’s the worst thing you can do when you’re looking for a job?

If you said, “Send in a 55-page resume and that includes your Twitter handle as the only contact information,” then well-played. That would be pretty bad.

But in a more general sense, the worst thing you can do when you’re looking for a job is to do nothing else except look for a job.

Let me explain. Before the recession hit, the average job hunt took four months. Now, you might realistically expect it to take up to six months (or longer). When the right opportunity finally comes, you don’t want to walk into the interview with no story to tell.

The interviewer will almost certainly ask you what you’ve been doing since graduation, and unfortunately, “looking for a job” is just not a compelling answer.

So how do you build that story that will help you stand out from the rest of the pack?

One of the best ways is to learn a new skill or develop one that you already have. The potential upside is enormous: you can have fun, leverage another asset to employers, or even make some extra money. And more often than not, you can do all three.

On the practical side of things, there are all sort of skills you can pick up while you’re still looking for a job.

Learn to program, study another language, get certified (e.g., CPA) — the possibilities are endless and there are tons of resources (many of which are free) to help you out.

For example, check out sites like,, and You can also use to find communities that you can teach you a ton about whatever you want to know.

One friend of mine got a tutor to learn programming and is now able to freelance his skills for money while he works on building his own site and becoming an entrepreneur. An aspiring journalist friend was having trouble finding work, but after she took an Arabic class she was able to get an amazing gig as a newspaper correspondent in Dubai. Everywhere you look, there are tons of other stories like these.

In a tight job market like this one, you want to bring as many skills as possible as possible — and hopefully have some bankable ones to fall back on if the job you want doesn’t work out.

In addition to building a skill set for a particular job, you can also work on something that might not make you money or even be immediately useful in the workplace.

At the very least, participating in not-so-obvious extra curricular activities gives you an interesting story to tell in an interview

Compete in a city Scrabble championship.  Study chess and set up a tournament for local schools. I heard about one guy who was running marathons and ended up moving to the US Virgin Islands just so he could be eligible to compete on their Olympic team (it’s separate from the US team).

When I was interning at National Public Radio right after college, I went to the Rock Paper Scissors World Championships in Toronto with my best friend and I borrowed some recording equipment to make a story about it while I was there.

It ended up garnering me a lot of attention in the office, and it became a great story I could tell and share with people as I move on to new opportunities.

At very least, doing something out of the box will give you something interesting to talk about. And if you actually have some success, then your commitment and perseverance will speak to your ability to succeed at anything you set your mind to — whether that’s doing 10 Sudoku puzzles in 10 minutes or researching a new business partnership. is the premier online destination for life after college, featuring in-depth how-to guides on finding a job, getting an apartment, understanding healthcare, and much more. The Guide to Life After College, a humorous manual for navigating the real world, is available for $14.95 on Amazon or as a downloadable e-book at