Most young people who are completing their educational degree today think they will have learned all they need for their career ahead. Unfortunately, based on my own extensive experience in business, I have to tell them in my talks that most of what they know now will be obsolete in a few years.
The most important thing you can learn in college today is how to learn.
The rules of business and technology are changing rapidly, and the pace of change is only accelerating. The facts, as well as what motivates your peers, customers, and business leaders are changing daily.
For example, no one learned a couple of decades ago that the biggest opportunities ahead would include social media, ecommerce, and computers on our wrists.
Only those of us who learn to practice continuous learning will survive and flourish as we move forward into an unknown business world where more and more intelligent machines and software will do most of the work we know in business today.
The question is how we develop our future role and potential, while satisfying all the business and personal demands on our time today.
I saw some good insights on this challenge in a new book, The Expertise Economy, by Kelly Palmer and David Blake. Their focus is on how the smartest companies today already create and use learning to engage, compete, and succeed.
I believe these insights can and must be extended to you and your career, in line with the following guiding principles:
1. Make your interest in learning your competitive advantage.
Keeping your priority on learning is a mindset that we all need to build. It's obvious to peers and employers when you have it, from your questions, proactive actions, and interests in new challenges.
Smart employers look for these as they contemplate your competitiveness for new roles.
2. Define personalized learning goals with a timetable.
For example, an aggressive career-minded professional today likely needs to set a goal of advancing to a new role or new job every two years, rather than traditionally staying in the same role for a lifetime.
You need a plan on how to train yourself, or be mentored, for each step along the way.
3. Proactively prepare for your desired future roles.
None of us can keep up on every new thing in this knowledge abundant world. Don't wait for someone else to send you back to class, or push you to change.
Only you know your strengths and learning preferences, from jobs, conferences, books, websites, and videos. Make the investment.
4. Learn from peer relationships, examples, and feedback.
Most people learn best from other people, yet we don't always focus on how we can learn from our peers and tap into the knowledge and experience of those who have already mastered a skill we need.
The key is active listening to others, asking questions, and acting on constructive feedback.
5. Explore new technologies and innovative new approaches.
Technology is making new things possible in learning and skill building. I understand that change can be difficult, because not everything works, but you never get anywhere unless you take a chance.
Adopt the mindset of your children who have their most fun learning new things.
6. Evaluate your skills regularly and update your inventory.
Keep your skills inventory visible to yourself and everyone around you through modern online profiles, including LinkedIn and Facebook. If you haven't updated your online profiles and resume for a year, you are definitely falling behind your peers and your future career aspirations.
7. Constantly market your skills and expertise to employers.
It's always positive to document your expertise and accomplishments, in the context of needs that you see in your current company and position. Build a relationship with a career advisor or recruiter to check your fit for other alternatives. Don't hide or wait to be found and appreciated.
If you are the employer, you need to realize that there are more tools, content, and technologies today than ever before to help your team members become the experts you need.
You also need to change your company mindset, from always looking outside for change, to developing a culture of learning and career development for current employees. It's a win-win situation for success.