How to Think About Your Career Holistically

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By Dave Denaro
April 06, 2021
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If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that companies must rapidly respond to ever evolving economic, social and competitive conditions, as well as shareholder demands for greater profitability.

Once executives decide it is more profitable to automate, outsource, or merge a function, a company can make it happen much more quickly than employees can retrain for a different role. It’s not a matter of ability or motivation; it’s a matter of time.

A layoff can go from decision to execution in a few months. Mergers can go from discussion to deal in under a year. After a company decides it no longer needs old skills and positions, employees cannot upskill fast enough to be good at a new job without a significant break in employment.

Author Anders Ericsson explained in his book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, that it takes thousands of hours of deliberate practice to master something complex. Deliberate practice, the kind necessary to improve, is not just a matter of performing easy tasks over and over, but rather, it is a particular method of intensely practicing something in order to get measurably better.

Consider this: there are 2,080 hours in a typical work year, and some, if not most, of that time is probably performing routine work as opposed to practicing the things you want to improve. Clearly, it would take years to get good at a new job that is fairly complex and requires problem solving. Learning agility, problem solving and communication skills are the foundation of the emergent knowledge economy. The more complex the work, the more time it takes to improve.

Add to the equation the fact that most companies don’t want to spend money on training, they would rather buy the experience from the marketplace. They complain that the lack of skilled workers are holding back their expansion but they won’t train to fill the gap. Consequently, companies are asking for significant experience at every level: just above entry level positions sometimes require 2 years’ experience according to the job descriptions, intermediate level positions require 5 years, and senior roles require 10 years or more.

This is why companies recruit new employees through one door while exiting employees out another. There is no time to upskill the displaced employees, as companies move through change faster than employees can adapt.

There is a solution to this problem: employees must stop reacting and start projecting. Yes, I said employees must bring the solution.

Companies control their corporate vision and strategy; therefore, they control the buy-side of employment for their firm. However, what is totally in the employee’s control is employability: the sell-side, it is in the employee’s best interest to always be learning skills that will be needed and wanted in the marketplace of the future.

To protect your career in the current marketplace – and importantly, to stay employable – think of your career holistically:

1. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness starts with the mindset that you are human and therefore you are a continual learner. Keep in mind that you will always be learning at work. This is the very first “skill” you have to learn to stay employable. If you think you are as smart and skilled as you will ever need to be, you will be proven wrong; probably at the most inopportune time possible – when you want a new job.

Regardless of your IQ, how much schooling or experience you already have, you will always have to give examples in an interview that you can adapt and learn new things.

2. Manage Performance and Skill Development

Be clear about your strengths and their increasing or decreasing value to your company, as well as in the marketplace. Then, gather information to make an educated guess as to what the future employment marketplace will want. In other words, make an “As Is and Will Be” chart outlining skills you have that will be in demand vs skills you need to acquire for the future.

To inventory your strengths, look at themes in past performance reviews; ask past and current managers and colleagues; recall what skills are consistently being complimented or rewarded.

The number of job postings for different jobs can give you a rough idea about what jobs are in demand. Review posted job descriptions for a sense of the skills that are repeatedly and increasingly requested. Online job boards offer lots of tools to help with this; as can a Bureau of Labor website called O*NET.

LinkedIn is a treasure trove of this kind of information. Millions of people have their backgrounds online, making it easy for anyone to search skills used in various jobs. Anyone can see and perhaps imitate the path different people took to get their jobs.

After determining what skills are fading and which are on the rise in the market, compare that list with your current strengths and identify what skills need to be acquired.

Next, identify what parts of your job or field are becoming less valuable to your own employer because of impending automation, consolidation, outsourcing, regulation or other governmental action. If you read about competitors merging, outsourcing or automating functions, you have to ask how long it will take before it happens at your workplace.

Sometimes those valuable skills can be used in your current company, and sometimes not. Regardless, developing new and increasingly in demand skills goes a long way toward ensuring displaced employees get re-employed quickly because they are employable.

3. Prepare a Plan and Work It

Create a plan that anticipates the future and take action to stay employable. Since it takes months or years to master the skills necessary to get hired in a job different from the one that was lost, employees must constantly identify and improve skills in demand. That way that employee will always be relevant.

By following the process outlined above, you have should have an idea of what new skills to develop and seek in order to always be wanted in the job market.

Set goals to start learning something new about tasks or skills every 30 days. Consider this as an investment in your career – it is like taking a course towards the PhD of life. First get knowledge about the skill. Find someone who does the skill well, and ask them how they do it. Read a book. Take a course online or at a community college. Online learning platforms including LinkedIn, General Assembly, Coursera, and edX offer a range of no and low cost programs – all the way through advanced learning – that can help you learn the latest skills to enhance your opportunities.

Practice that skill. Volunteer to be on a related project at work. Shift jobs at work. Volunteer in organizations inside the company or in your community. Experience is experience; it doesn’t matter where you get it. If you can use it as an example in an interview it will demonstrate the skill, it will demonstrate you are self -motivated, and it will demonstrate you are a learner.

By following this process, you will always have the skills necessary to be hired for emerging in-demand jobs. You can gain control over your career by striving to be employable. Your current manager may even help get you get the training and practice, if you share your performance, skill development, and holistic career plan even if the company is not totally supportive. After all, it will probably benefit both of you. You becoming more valuable to the company might actually rub off on your manager if they become known as a developer of talent.

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