Things seem like they are going well. Until... your company gets bought out, you and your coworkers are let go and you are now looking for work. Although you have done well and been praised for the work you have done over the years, you are finding that new employers are looking for skills beyond those that you have. The industry shifted and moved. You did not.
It can become easy and comfortable to get so caught up in the day-to-day activities of work that we fail to notice the gentle and slow erosion of our skills until, suddenly, we find we are woefully out-of-date and sadly viewed as lacking. Remaining current and competitive takes work and focus, requiring us to ensure that we remain consciously competent in what we are doing, not operating at the unconscious or habitual level.
When we operate through habit we do what we have always done. We rely upon the skills we have. They got us to where we are and may be more than enough to meet the day-to-day needs of the role we have, but they are not going to be sufficient to meet the demands of the future - or of a future employer.
Sometimes working for one employer can be deceptive. If they, as an organization, are not committed to development, we may find ourselves feeling like we are growing, because our title advances, without ever recognising that our skills are not keeping pace. Their policy to hire from within, their comfort with the known, their reliance on the tried and true may mislead you into believing that it's enough, until one day when it isn't.
You owe it to yourself (and perhaps to your mortgage) to ensure that you remain competitive, that your skills will allow you to compete in the job marketplace should you unexpectedly find yourself there. Regardless of whether your current employer requires your skills to be updated, you do and should. The following are some of my top suggestions to help you sand off some of the rust that may be developing on your existing skills and to maybe add in a couple of bright shiny new ones.
- Start by taking a skills inventory. Yes you can begin by listing all of the skills you have, but I urge you to spend some time reviewing the online Job Boards, reading the search requirements for those in your current role. If you found yourself looking for work today, what skills are they are asking for that you have? Which ones are you missing? These are the gaps you should actively work on filling now. They are skills that will not only help you be competitive in a search, should you find yourself needing to be, but they will enhance the work you are currently engaged in, adding more value to the work you do.
- Network with an eye to gaining insights into how others are approaching challenges within their organizations. What are they doing, how are they doing it, what skills are required to do that? Learn from the approaches of others, about best practices, about skills they are using that you could hone up on, about new systems, ideas, and processes.
- Consider a reverse mentoring opportunity. We often look to mentor young people entering our organization, helping them to learn from our experiences. Consider instead what you can learn from them. Their approaches are often vastly different but may be more indicative of the 'new' ways work will get done. Use them to help you get and stay current. What do you need to know about new technology, social media, online networking and chatting? They have a wealth of information that you need - consider your mentoring a two-way exchange.
- Google search the top challenges you face. Look for the 'newest' ways other companies are now dealing with those challenges. Keep abreast of the newest research and developments in your field. You may not ever want to implement the ideas but you should always know about them. It should always be a conscious choice not an unconscious one due to a lack of knowledge.
There is no down-side to making the polishing and refinement of your skills an ongoing habit. It serves to make you more valuable today and more competitive tomorrow. As for anything the best time to prepare is before you need it. Get started now bumping out the dings, sanding off the rust and maybe even slapping on a few new coats of paint. It's a strategic positioning that may not just serve you well in the long term, but may have a positive impact in your short term as well.