2-minute read and an article
When you set a new career goal for yourself, consciously or unconscionably, you’re declaring an intention to do something new and aspirational. It’s the voice of “Fred” –your ambition from the January blog that you’re hearing. To get to that next level often, if not always, you’ll need to learn new things or at least strengthen some weak areas.
Many times we don’t want to acknowledge that we need to build new skills. It can be hard, time consuming and humbling. But ambition alone won’t get you to your goals.
To move ahead, get promoted, and continue to evolve professionally, you’ll have to prove to decision makers that you’re ready to move on or up. And that means proactively identifying and strengthening weak skills and learning new skills.
Last month we talked about coming up with your personal definition of success. Part of the planning process involved identifying gaps in skillsets. If you did an honest self-assessment you’ll know the skill gaps to be narrowed. This month we’ll talk about the three most common areas where gaps exist and offer easy-to-implement suggestions for filling in the gaps.
Top Areas Where Skills Gaps Exist
- Technical Skills
- Management Skills
- Communication Skills
Simple Ways to Fill Skills Gaps
- Find a mentor who is proficient with the skill
- Take a class or Certification Course
- Ask your employer for access to Professional Development
More on How to Build Skills in Specific Areas
These skills relate to specific functions. Engineers, software developers, IT professionals, data analytics, and anyone in a technical field will have a roster of skills to master in order to move ahead. In these fields the road to success is often clear. A class or certification course will offer credentials employers want. Ask your supervisor or HR if you can access a Professional Development budget for training. If this conversation represents the first time you’ve expressed your ambitions to move to a next level, prepare for questions about your aspirations and where you want to go next. There is more about communication skills below.
For those in non-technical jobs, there are often technical skills to be learned. Identify the skills by asking those in the position to which you aspire what skills they use most frequently in their work. If that doesn’t feel comfortable, look at job descriptions for the jobs you want. Most employers are specific about the “ideal” skills they require. You’ll then have a guide and can put together a skills building plan.
There are as many ways to manage people, as there are personality types, so building management skills isn’t as cut and dried as building technical skills. If you want to learn or improve these skills, start by thinking about the characteristics of the manager you want to become.
- Who do I admire and why?
- What makes them effective?
- How did they develop into a successful manager?
- What traits I like about them?
- What traits do I not like?
With this in mind, you can begin to shape the way you behave in your day to day interactions with others.
You can also read extensively on management decision-making and thinking. There are many worthwhile blogs, such as Harvard Business Review, that are easy to read and use case studies and examples to illustrate good management practices.
Continuing education management courses are very popular and taught at the university level. The added benefit of attending a class is that you can quickly form a peer network.
Finally, managers will tell you that most of their time is spent on “people issues”, and that two key traits of a strong manager are active listening and time management skills. These are areas in which you can start improving today.
But there is really no substitute for actually managing another person. Ask your boss if you can manage an intern, a mentee or a trainee. If your company has a mentorship program, join as a mentee with the goal of learning about management.
To move ahead in your professional life, you have to communicate well. You may be required to run meetings, present ideas to clients, or speak in public. At a minimum, you will need to effectively sell yourself and your ambitions to an HR professional or your current manager.
If any of these things cause you to panic, relax. There are steps you can take to become a better public speaker. If professional development is offered, jump at the opportunity. Public speaking training is valuable and builds confidence. If there is no professional development offered, look into workshops like Toastmasters, or hire a coach.
Like any other skill, there are lots of tricks to speaking in public or communicating across a desk or on the phone that are learnable-and work!
But training only takes you so far. Skills evaporate if they are not used. Ask for opportunities to use what you’ve learned- even if it feels hard and make you nervous. The more you practice this skill, the better you will get and the more confident you will be. Decision makers will notice, and opportunities to advance will come your way.
The bottom line is that technology, the gig economy, and the connectivity of a global workforce is dramatically changing the way we work. Continue to learn and grow. The more skills you have, the fewer obstacles you’ll encounter. You will be a stronger candidate, have control over your career path, and be able to create more options for advancement.
As a bonus, you can take all of these skills you’ve been building and pay it forward by mentoring others. Not only does that make you feel good about your work; it also provides a sense of purpose. Working with purpose is what we’ll talk about next month.