The world of work is changing fast. Not only is technology reinventing what we do and how we do it, but the recent downturn has also fundamentally altered the way many organisations think and work. In an effort to save costs and become more responsive to their market places, companies have little choice but to restructure and adopt new practices.
Not surprisingly that’s had an impact on the career development of those they employ, with the legs of many career ladders having been chopped away. Suddenly, well established, traditional routes to the top have disappeared as contract staff have replaced full-time employees, departments have been downsized or eliminated altogether, in-house work has been outsourced and junior (cheaper) staff have leap-frogged their seniors into positions that would once have been held by more experienced employees.
That’s left many with leadership and management ambitions out on a limb, unsure how to reboot their professional progress, and having to accept, as growing numbers of us already have, that the only way to take control of our career is to take total responsibility for it.
That means making and taking time to invest in yourself, ensuring you remain knowledgeable, skilled, adaptable – and relevant to potential employers. While most of your knowledge isn’t going to decay at the rate of 30 percent a year that tech information decays at, according to The Economics of Skills Obsolescence (Research in Labor Economics), you do have to keep up to date, not just within your own sector, but more widely too. What does this require?
First of all, if you are receiving training from your current employer, don’t presume that it’s always equipping you with the skills you really need. Many managers have discovered after leaving one company for another that what they have learned in-house is far from relevant elsewhere. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take advantage of internal courses and training programmes – just remember they are teaching you to serve your existing employer’s needs, not to enhance your personal education. Narrow skills learning may suit them, but not you.
You should look to develop not just the hard technical skills at the core of your professional discipline, whether that’s marketing, law, finance or programming, but also your ‘soft skills’, as it’s these that will set you apart and help define your USP.
Leadership skills in particular are pretty much impossible to outsource. What’s more, as companies become increasingly specialised, there will be growing competition for those able to manage, motivate and inspire others. Knowing how to make people feel good about themselves and cooperate with others is crucial in an ever more collaborative world.
Start to apply what you learn in your daily work life, in small ways to begin with. The more you use your newly acquired skills in a real world context, the sooner they will become second nature, and develop from an academic exercise into being of benefit to you.
You also need to develop your distinctive personal brand, which is more than just a collection of skills and experience. In today’s ultra competitive jobs environment, if you don’t ‘package’ and present yourself in the right way, you’re not going to stand out to hiring managers who make decisions about who they want (and those they don’t), in just a matter of seconds.
You can find out more about how to create your personal brand here.
Equally important, get help! Trying to do everything on your own can seem a sign of strength and self-reliance, when in reality working with someone who can offer an informed third party perspective on things is often a more sensible approach. Not only will they help you identify any real or potential skill gaps, they can also provide the specialist, up to date techniques and expertise to move you and your career on in a way that works for you and your unique set of skills and qualities.
Don’t get trapped in the now. Think strategically and into the future about what is happening, not just within your sector, but in other industries too, learn about new technologies, their impact on jobs and the way we communicate and transact, and research the skills and jobs that will be in increasing demand, with communication technology, robotics and big data management among the more obvious growth areas.
It could mean that at some stage you may have to consider switching careers entirely to one directly or indirectly connected to the new growth industries, or to one that better suits your interests and beliefs, something more and more people are doing, choosing a career because it is personally satisfying rather than simply to make money.
How equipped are you to design and take charge of a new future for yourself?