The future of work is here. And as Jack Kelly highlights in this sobering Forbes.com article, life is not going to be as comfortable as we remember it pre-pandemic and we must become self-reliant and entrepreneurial when it comes to our careers.
This may feel exciting for some and downright terrifying for others. What used to be a choice, is now becoming a guarantee: We will all need to reinvent ourselves multiple times throughout our careers to remain employable.
Those who resist may find themselves in an uncomfortable reality in the not-so-distant future. But even those who are ready to embrace the situation may not know where to begin.
Here’s how to remain employable in a volatile and ever-advancing market:
1) Reinvent expertise. This is traditionally how most professionals think about career reinvention. Building new skills through formal education, online courses, applied experience and self-created projects is a great habit and something all professionals should pursue. Although some companies are leading efforts to upskill or reskill their workforces, this is still an emerging concept and most of those roles tend to be in technology fields where there’s a talent shortage. Since many organizations are not offering these programs or sadly, not proactively encouraging their employees to reskill, the onus is on the individual to drive this process. Here’s how:
- Regularly take inventory. In today’s labor market, it doesn’t take long for skills to go stale, especially when it comes to technology solutions. While many employees go through some type of annual performance review, these are often rushed, unstructured and focused on the company’s performance metrics (vs. broader market skills). It will benefit you to review your accomplishments annually, update your resume and LinkedIn with new abilities, and identify any skills gaps that may exist. Specifically, take note if you realize that you’ve gained few new marketable skills in the last year. At the pace we’re moving, even one year with limited growth can set you behind.
- Follow the market. Many employees focus on how to be successful internally at their organizations, which makes sense because this is likely what they’re measured on and where they earn a paycheck. However, make time to look externally as well. It’s easy to become myopic and the reality is what your company is focusing on may not be what the broader industry is doing. If your company is remaining stagnant when your competitors are moving forward, it may be time to take it upon yourself to upskill.
- Make a plan. Once you’ve done your market and self assessments, take action. There are so many resources available today to increase your skills and knowledge, many low cost or no cost. Plan to take two LinkedIn Learning courses monthly, raise your hand to be on the board of an industry association, volunteer to lead the new retention task force your company is instituting, enroll in a business course at a local community college, select a new technology App or system to master. My favorite strategy is putting yourself into rooms where you’re the least qualified, which forces you to improve your skills while being surrounded by others who can help advise you. The list of possibilities is endless, but you need to schedule it and follow through. Most professionals have a lot of things competing for their time, so if it’s not a priority, it won’t happen.
2) Reinvent brand. Whether or not you’re consciously building a brand, others observe what you do and develop their own conclusions. While you can’t necessarily control what others think, you can engage in behaviors that portray the brand you aspire to, and ensure the great work you accomplish is visible. While you may balk at the necessity of this, you may change your mind when you realize the people around you who are landing stellar opportunities aren’t more talented or experienced, they just do a better job of broadcasting their skills and achievements. As Carla Harris points out in her book “Strategize to Win,” many decisions about your career are made when you’re not in the room, so if key decision-makers aren’t aware of your expertise, you will get overlooked, fair or not. Here’s how to create a visible brand:
- Do great work. Whether in the boardroom or mailroom, building a trusted brand starts with being known as the person who gets the job done while being a role model to others in terms of work ethic, attitude and reliability. Create a strategy to measure your progress, even if it’s not a built-in aspect of your job (e.g., Sales, billable hours), and strive to improve your performance through building efficiencies, reducing costs or engaging creativity. What employers value more than anything today are employees who are agile, resourceful, and continuously learning. Regardless of your title, be that person and you’ll always land on your feet.
- Create a visibility strategy. Doing great work is a must, but others need to know about it. If your organization is highly siloed, your manager tends to overlook recognition or your role doesn’t have a formalized measurement that ends up on a distributed report, it’s likely others aren’t fully aware of your contributions. Create a dashboard or scorecard for yourself and share it with your boss and team. Make it a habit to celebrate team accomplishments in staff meetings, including your role in the project. Volunteer for committees or projects that expose you to new colleagues and leaders so others become aware of your capabilities. Worst case, these steps may save you if your manager unexpectedly leaves or your company experiences a RIF, and best case, you may be hand-selected for a juicy new role. For more tips, click here.
- Define your brand. Most don’t reflect on the question, “What do I want to be known for?” However, the answer to this is what defines the behavior guidelines for your professional brand. No, you can’t control what others’ think of you, but you can control your actions, which give others the criteria for making a judgment. If you want to get a promotion, show up to meetings on-time, prepared to contribute and ready to display leadership qualities like recognizing contributions and offering ideas. Knowing your goals and what attributes define someone who is successful attaining those goals will inform your actions, which others will notice. Take time to define your brand when you’re starting a new role, project or team. Then, determine the behaviors that make someone effective and exhibit them. Follow through on your social media and how you introduce yourself.
3) Reinvent connections. Your network is likely constantly evolving through work, community and social connections, even if you’re not putting too much effort into it. Imagine what could happen if you invested just a bit more? More than anything, your network is the lifeline to career opportunities. Up to 70% of jobs are never posted, which means the only way to learn about them is through a connection, and 98% of Fortune 500 companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) according to Jobscan, which often weed out 75% of applications before they reach the recruiter. Unfair? Yes. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted what we already knew: job security is a myth and even stellar performers are susceptible to a deflated economy. So, while reinventing your skills is a fantastic start, great performance can get you only so far. The rest is about who knows what you know. Here’s how to reinvent your network:
- Take stock, then take a step further. You already have a great network, but you may not have thought about it. Go through your email, texts, Venmo, social media and other contact lists to learn more about the network you already have. Are you connected online? Have they changed jobs? Do they know your target? What could be learned from a 15-minute phone call? The people in your network are constantly evolving, so don’t underestimate their value in your reinvention. Reach out, share your current career goals, and be curious about theirs. You may just find that you can mutually benefit one another’s careers in a way you hadn’t imagined. See here.
- Branch out. If you’ve been growing your network organically, it may be time to get more strategic. In this article, Herminia Ibarra describes a method for auditing your connections and ensuring you’re being thorough in your outreach. For example, are you networking in diverse groups outside of your normal circles? Have you considered who you’d like to meet to get to the next level of your career and started to follow their work? Much of what makes networking successful in the moment is planning ahead and giving yourself a lengthy runway to develop the relationship, so start before you need it.
- Make it a habit. Like exercise and healthy eating, networking and building connections needs to become a way of life to be most effective. In the same way cramming in a few Peloton sessions won’t help your cholesterol numbers one week prior to your health checkup, reaching out to new contacts when you’ve just lost your job won’t quickly solve your employment woes. Your best bet is to first consider most people you meet a valuable part of your network. Connect with new colleagues on LinkedIn. After attending a webinar, reach out to thank the panelists and organizers. On you next Zoom event, jot down a few people you’d like to get to know better and follow up. Next, implement Ibarra’s strategy of proactively diversifying your network with industry thought leaders, diverse cultures, geographies, ethnic and age groups, and some super connectors. Once you start building outreach into your routine, it’ll feel like you’ve forgotten something if you don’t engage.
While two-thirds of Americans believe technology will eventually take over about 50% of current roles, over 80% of those same people believe their roles won’t be impacted. We need to face reality. Our careers will morph and change with innovation, which is moving at an accelerated pace, and no one is going to manage your career as well as you.