Regularly evolving your skills can lead to a long and successful career.
By Robin Reshwan, Contributor
DURING TIMES OF uncertainly it can seem like career development is off the table – but it shouldn’t be. The key to a long and successful career is closely tied to the rate at which you acquire and evolve your skills and mindset. The correlation is both tangible and subliminal.
On a tangible level, there is a clear connection between improving your technical and industry knowledge, digital competency, cognitive ability, priority management, etc. to being more productive and more effective in your role. The other equally powerful benefit is that in routinely learning new things and disrupting your work habits, you are strengthening your ability to learn, incorporate new information and boost your confidence when faced with uncertainty.
“The illiterate of the 21st century are not those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” This quote by Alvin Toffler, an American writer, futurist and businessman, shows the significance of intellectual nimbleness to modern career success. In short, embracing and championing change will improve your career options. Here are three ways to weave professional development into your every day, especially during times of uncertainty.
Use Technology to Prioritize Work and Increase Productivity
Technology is both the greatest improvement to productivity and the Achilles’ heel of professionals exhausted by the need to keep up with it. Like it or not, being tech savvy has enormous benefits for your career development. With so many tools, the hesitation is often knowing where to start.
Begin by identifying everyday tools that can help you better manage your communication and workflow – calendar apps, digital documents and spreadsheets and online communication tools. For tech novices, some initial goals can be to learn how to create recurring time blocks on your calendar to increase focus. You can also use online tools to prioritize tasks on your to-do list.
For more experienced users, build templates for common email responses, create rules to automate workflow and strengthen your teamwork efficiency by expanding the range of project management and collaboration tools you use. The topics are many, but the goal is to use technology to your advantage and target strategies to reduce redundancy, increase productivity and minimize errors.
One of the perks of targeting tech in your career development plan is that there are multiple free and low-cost ways to access training. Most software manufacturers offer free tutorials and resources because they want you to use their tools more effectively. If you would like deeper or specific knowledge, you can ask questions of community boards often managed or monitored by the software manufacturers.
Additionally, there are many low-cost online training courses available, with several vendors and schools giving free access due to COVID-19 conditions. When you embrace technology that increases your productivity, you gain back valuable time every day that you can use for higher value work or more strategic endeavors.
Continue Learning About Your Industry
“We know a thing or two, because we’ve seen a thing or two.” Farmers Insurance apparently knows about career development, too, with their slogan. Employees who are knowledgeable about their industry and their profession often add more value than those who are novices. The benefits, from an employer’s perspective, are that a knowledgeable employee is more likely to be efficient, engaged and able to avoid common pitfalls because they can anticipate and avoid problems before they occur. Additionally, an employee who actively strengthens their industry knowledge shows both passion and professional commitment. These attributes lead to greater contribution and improved morale.
To strengthen your subject matter knowledge, look for industry webinars, podcasts, virtual panels and classes. You can also follow news and articles focused on the latest trends and innovations in your field. Make your focus on the future, not the past. If you hear yourself referencing “how things used to be done” more often than what your competitors are doing today or where the areas for disruption are for your field, it is time to switch up your game.
Build Your Core Competencies
Investopedia describes a core competency as a “defining characteristic that makes a company or individual stand out from the competition.” A key to career development is continually strengthening the skills you bring to a work environment – i.e., evolving your competencies to make sure they are relevant and competitive. Some examples of competencies in demand for today’s workplace include communication, training and development, managing performance, coaching and mentoring, ensuring quality and excellence, problem solving, priority management, project management, planning and change management.
Options and access to training to strengthen these skills have never been better. A first step is to select one or two competencies that you think are in greatest demand, given your current and future career goals. Look for ways in your current work and volunteer efforts to apply and hone these skills.
Next, look for virtual classes and presentations on these subjects. Many educators and presenters are offering access for free or at a low cost to help people impacted during the current pandemic. Take advantage of this unprecedented availability to build your knowledge and skills.
Uncertainty is stressful, but it presents an opportunity or necessity to change. In committing to a plan for professional development, you take control of the abilities and skills you bring to your work. The pursuit of increased technical productivity, industry and professional expertise and overall competencies will not only improve your career options but also strengthen your ability to thrive during difficult conditions.