The world we live in today is markedly different than the one in which our parents grew up: communications are near-instantaneous; money is transacted electronically through cards, phones, and even watches; transportation has made the world smaller (more accessible) with cheaper, faster, and safer planes, trains, and automobiles; and at the touch of a button, people can order virtually anything, anywhere. What a time to be alive!
However, for professionals, it can be daunting at times to “keep up” in a world where some jobs vanish and some seemingly come out of nowhere, where in-demand skills seem to change faster than the weather, and where changing technologies determine the pace of progress for individuals, companies, and society. The good news is that technology, one factor in the relevance-at-work issue, can also be one of its solutions.
This article will outline three ways to stay relevant in an evolving, tech-influenced labour market, whether you’re looking to keep the job you have or to get the job you want:
- Develop Skills
- Stay Informed
- Think Beyond
Developing Skills: Keep-The-Job-You-Have Perspective
From the keep-the-job-you-have perspective, skill development is critical. Cultivating hard and soft skills demonstrate to employers and peers a professional interest in your job, a willingness to learn, adapt, and advance and a drive to go above and beyond the basic requirements. To that end, I have found that mastering the tools required in your daily job can not only make your job easier but also create a lasting and positive professional impression on those you work with.
Next time your company offers training, even if it’s one you’ve already taken, sign up. Refreshers never hurt anyone, and there’s always the potential to learn or hear something new that may enlighten you on some previously unthought-of idea, some previously muddled point.
If your role is heavy in Microsoft Excel or some other software, engage with some free online tutorials. There are countless How To’s that can save you in a pinch and can over time transform you into the Excel wizard you’ve (secretly) wanted to be. And developing skills for the job you have now may teach you transferable skills for jobs you have in the future (see Thinking Beyond section below).
If your position comes with a job manual, reference guide, or continuity binder, read it cover to cover. The contents of those materials were prepared for a reason: to pass on and inform you of job duties, tips and tricks, and predecessors’ experiences within the role. These documents should be required reading, but taking this step is often less obvious and requires more effort than we like to admit. Be the person who reads the often glanced over “Terms and Conditions,” so that you fully understand and appreciate your role and its expectations. This simple task also demonstrates a commitment to your position and company, which always rings true with leadership.
Developing Skills: Get-The-Job-You-Want Perspective
From the get-the-job-you-want perspective, skill development is perhaps even more crucial. Investing time and effort in these endeavours can pay dividends in your professional life by increasing your general knowledge and understanding as you practice and adopt new skills, and in time you can become a “go-to” person with a specialized skill-set, establishing yourself as a trusted problem-solver in the workplace. Additionally, filling experience gaps between you as a veteran professional at your current job and you as a prospective candidate at your desired job shows initiative and proactivity, which together will often dispel any question of work ethic when it comes time to interview.
- Does the new job demand a familiarity with Amazon Web Services? Great! It’s time to study for a certification.
- Will you be moving into an analyst role? Time to brush up on your quant skills.
- Will you be giving large group presentations? Consider joining Toastmasters International or grab a friend and practice public speaking.
Adding these new skills to your professional toolbox will ultimately make you a more marketable and versatile candidate. Furthermore, because new tech is always on the horizon (think AI, Blockchain, IoT, and the Cloud, which all have transformative potential for industries), there are always opportunities to dive deep on the cutting edge of skills, to develop expertise that few people have and add decision-swaying value to your professional life on paper and in-person.
There are a ton of skills out there to learn, and no matter how hard we try, we cannot learn them all, so prioritizing is key. Luckily, LinkedIn Learning used their access to exclusive company and individual data to compile lists on current in-demand skills. If one or more of these are already in your wheelhouse, fantastic! See if another piques your interest. If not, becoming more acquainted with one appropriate to you could be a vital next step toward achieving relevance at work.
Staying Informed: Market Research
In addition to filling your professional toolbox with skills, keeping apprised of the latest trends and goings-on in your industry is paramount to staying relevant at work. Like skill development, this requires a certain level of effort beyond regular hours; but also like skill development, it can pay off in the long run.
When I say “staying informed,” I mean reading everything you can get your hands-on with respect to your job, your company, and your industry (or their desired prospective-job counterparts), so that you become cognizant of nuances others might miss, can intelligently engage with your company and others when the occasions arise, and can monitor the pulse of your subject matter (where it’s been, where it is now, where it’s going) to gain a necessary competitive edge.
Chances are that your leadership are already doing this, but I’m sure they would appreciate an extra pair of eyes looking for opportunities, assessing threats (obvious and obscure), and flagging items for the to-do list. Current news and trend information, such as regulatory and compliance updates, changing consumer sentiment, geopolitical movements, etc., can make or break a company. Here are a few examples of excellent methods to tune into your professional arena (especially during non-multitasking downtimes or commutes):
- Reading news in a daily feed,
- Listening to relevant podcasts or audiobooks,
- Subscribing to an industry blog, RSS feed, or distribution list, and
- Examining white papers, thought papers, or related scholarly articles
Staying informed also builds credibility, allowing you to opine on a subject and strengthen your words with evidence from the world around you. People can poke holes in flimsy, undeveloped opinions, but researched and robust ones usually fare better.
Staying Informed: Networking
Networking falls under the “Staying Informed” category as well. By keeping your ears and eyes open for opportunities, instead of getting bogged down in the day-to-day of delivery or slogging through spreadsheets and work-products without ever coming up to breathe, you may be able to build fruitful connections or capitalize on professional windfalls you hadn’t noticed before.
These benefits can be applied to you personally, but sometimes you’ll recognize how they apply to others or groups of others too. Offering this type of information to people will mark you as a team player, reinforce your company commitment, and encourage professional courtesies and reciprocities that are to the advantage of all. A rising tide raises all ships, or so the saying goes.
Moreover, staying informed more easily distinguishes you from the pack, achieving professional relevance not only because you process more information than others, but also because you’ll begin to understand its implications and see its applications for yourself and your company. As your currency and knowledge base increase, you transform from Informed Citizen to Thought Leader, who, according to Forbes, “can leverage your knowledge to turn yourself, and your company, into a resource not just for your customers, but also for your industry as a whole.” As industries abandon old for new, static for dynamic, or the silo for the connected, they are reforming their mould to stay relevant in the world, and we can either evolve with the changes or be left behind by them. Staying informed keeps us in that race.
I’ll end with a more abstract discussion that may provide surprising benefits if honed and practised. While staying informed helps you become an expert in your subject area, it also supports your generalist side, which has many benefits of its own. A specialist goes deep into a few subjects, while a generalist goes wide on many subjects; and this breadth of knowledge allows for one of humanity’s more singular traits: creativity.
The ability to synthesize a new whole from many pieces, giving more value to the sum than its parts, is an amazing attribute of imagination and logical thought. It enables us to “think beyond” our current issues and piece together ways forward from previous experiences, trusted sources, sensory perceptions, and more. For this article, the definition of “thinking beyond” is “using knowledge from dissimilar areas to solve problems in new or creative ways in another area.” This form of cross-disciplinary, critical thinking is incredibly useful; it’s something we humans are naturally good at, and it can deliver unexpected results.
Consider a Harvard Business Review study, which attempted to solve the problem of safety masks that caused discomfort and therefore went unworn. HBR collected proposed solutions from roofers, carpenters, and inline skaters and then analyzed the results for efficacy and ingenuity. The study found that each field of workers offered better ideas for the other industries than their own, and that “the more distant the field, the more novel the ideas.” The reasons were twofold: the further fields were not limited by any set-in-stone thinking or preconceived notions common within industries, and they used vastly different knowledge bases to approach the problems.
We see this all the time in industry: companies bring in consultants for “fresh eyes” to look at issues or acquire other companies that perform different but complementary functions to add value to their business.
It’s certainly the most difficult to achieve, but harnessing the power of “thinking beyond” to innovate or creatively solve problems, using outside-of-work knowledge and experiences, will bolster your ability to stay relevant in your professional life.
Above, I detailed three methods for staying relevant in the workplace—developing skills, staying informed, and thinking beyond—all of which I’ve either seen during my time as a strategy consultant, read about in popular business, psychology, or self-help books, or thought about in my other waking hours. This is not an exhaustive or absolute list, and what works for some may not work for others, but I believe continually investing in your own capital, maintaining your currency with subject-specific news and trends, and learning to “think beyond” can all help you achieve and sustain relevance at your current job and in the rest of your career.
With these skills, some modest effort and time management, and a desire to achieve this goal, you can become indispensable to your current employer and remain as marketable as ever for any professional endeavour down the line. Maintaining relevance is achievable, and remember, wherever your career takes you, Hiperpool is here to help.
Looking to grow professionally? Sign up to Hiperpool today and be the first to hear about exciting new roles and access exclusive resources along the way.