The world of work is changing fast, leaving a wake of frightening uncertainty that's especially daunting for those of you early in your careers. We're facing an unemployment rate of more than 7%, an online landscape that turns simple daily actions into permanent reputations, and a world so fast-paced that the next in-demand skill may not even exist yet. How can you help yourself stand out?
That question is the topic of a book released yesterday, Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success, written by Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding. The book outlines a "process for building a successful career in an age of ever-changing technologies and economic uncertainty."
In the future, how can you best position yourself for success? Schawbel's book is filled with guidance, but I'd like to highlight one particular area: skills development. Here are 5 steps to developing useful, marketable skills:
1. Identify what skills would bring you an advantage.
This refers not just to hard skills (technical skills), but also to soft skills (such as communication and time management). It helps to do your homework about what skills are valued in your desired field, both today and in the future. Online research can go a long way in determining what's hot today, but to get a sense of where your field is headed, talk to someone actually working in it (ideally manager-level or above).
2. Do an honest self-assessment of your current skills.
No one benefits from exaggeration or self-deception here. Looking critically at your strengths and weaknesses cuts out a lot of wasted time in your pursuit of skills development. Promote Yourself has a handy guide to self-assessing both hard and soft skills (check out chapters 2 and 3).
3. Decide whether to focus on solidifying your strengths or improving your weaknesses.
Both are valid options, Schawbel writes, though he notes that developing your strengths means "you'll see results sooner than if you had spent the same amount of time on your weaknesses." I tend to agree that focusing on your strengths is the better path. You will be successful faster and have a lot more fun along the way. People who enjoy their work are going to be happier in life. That said, Schawbel points out an important caveat: "If you're know you've got a weakness that could potentially hurt or limit your career," he writes, "your first priority should be to resolve that weakness."
4. Put in the hours to develop your skills.
5. Make sure to showcase your newly-developed skill set.
You know the old adage: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" The same goes for skills: if you have them, show them off. This applies to both pursuing new opportunities as well as building your personal brand. Promote Yourself has a guide to the major social media channels that you should use. And, as I mentioned in the point above, don't overlook freelancing, including sourcing projects in online workplaces where any projects you complete build your track record. For those early in their careers, this helps to solidify your professional online presence with a work portfolio and reviews from real clients. Why tell people you know HTML if you can show them a site you developed?
As Schawbel acknowledges, the changing world of work can be anxiety-provoking, but it is actually an opportunity for professionals to set themselves apart. Consider the following statistic: The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) estimates that by 2015, 60% of new jobs will require skills that only 20% of the population currently has.
You have the potential to take advantage of this gap, but at the end of the day you alone are responsible for your skills development. Where will your ambitions take you?