If You Want To Stay Employed
To stay marketable in today’s workforce, and to be considered for continued promotions, you HAVE to keep up. Maybe back in the day that wasn’t as necessary–maybe you got to be an expert within your specialty and that was good enough. No more. People who make decisions about whether to hire, promote, or fire people take into consideration the prospect’s current-ness, attitude toward change and learning, and awareness of things outside his specific job. The only way to come out in good stead in this evaluation is to keep up. You have to keep up with technology, your company’s market, your company’s industry, trends, and language. I know, I know–how can you do more than you’re doing? You’re keeping up as much as you need to. That may be true. Or you may need to do more. Let’s explore this a little.
There are several kinds of technology that you need to keep current with–how current depends on what your job is, where you are in your career, what market you work in and what your goals are. There is BIG technology–what are the global trends in technology associated with technology companies and services. Unless you work in the technology industry, just being generally aware of these is enough. There is also what I call SMALL technology (others may call it something else). This is the systems and tools that you use in your job and that others (competitors, especially) use to do similar jobs. Things like Salesforce.com or Oracle or Access or Visio or Telepresence or GoToWebinar. You should take the opportunity to learn to use absolutely every tool that you can. If you are lucky enough to work in an organization that uses a lot of technical tools—software, systems or hardware–you should take advantage of all the opportunities to at least become familiar with them. If you can, you should become proficient at all the tools that others use to do the job that you do. If you find yourself bounced out of your job, you want to be able to put as many of these on your resume that you can. Learn them while you can. Then there is what I call PERSONAL technology. These are all the technical tools and toys that can make your life more productive and fun. You should also keep up with these, so that you can keep your mind growing and so that you can be relevant in conversations you have with other people. Yes, I said relevant.
If you find yourself disagreeing with me, think about why that is. Is it that you think the technology is irrelevant? If you think it is irrelevant, I would challenge you to research or discuss this view with others. If you find that you’re right after you do that, I’ll get off your back. Do you disagree because you don’t really like the discomfort of learning these new things? If you plan to stay in the workforce more than five more years, you’re going to have to learn and keep learning new technology. It is better for you to jump in and do it willingly—it makes it look like you’re a positive early adapter—and therefore much valued by organizations.
It is important that you understand the market you work in, no matter what your job. If you don’t, it is like walking through a thick forest that borders a high cliff in the dark. You need to know (or at least have opinions about) what is coming. You want to know that you are working in a buggy whip factory sometime before the auto industry perfects the assembly line. If you keep your head down and do your job in your company without checking out your market on a regular basis, you’re likely to get caught without a seat when the music stops.
Set up Google alerts on key components of your market, your competitors and your company. How does your company stand against the rest of the companies in the market? How do their products compare? Their revenue? Are other companies breaking out of the market? Why? How? Is the market growing? Shrinking? What cataclysmic events can you imagine that would affect the market negatively? What events could cause it to take off? Is your company doing anything to prevent/accelerate either of these?
What is happening with the industry? Think of the extraordinary changes that have happened in the music or the publishing or the telecom industries in the last 10 years. Who would have imagined the confluence of these three, the new products, and even the amount of money that could be made? What is happening in your industry? What extraordinary change might be on the horizon? Good or bad? Is there another industry that might be coming your way like an unexpected tsunami? Does your company’s strategy foresee anything like this? Should it? Again, if you haven’t thought about it, you are not likely to be positioned to take advantage of it when it happens.
The trends you should pay attention to lie someplace between twitter trends and global shifts. What is going on? What does it matter to you (personally) or your company? You should regularly read important blogs (again, which ones depends on your interests, job, company, industry, age, and goals), news (papers, online, whatever works for you), books (you can listen if you prefer). You should know what is happening in the important aspects of your life. You should be well read and know what the major new ideas are in the fields of business, science, health, technology and anything else that is important to you. How deeply you understand these ideas depends on why you need to understand them—to be well read is one level, to be a thought leader is another.
Ironically, to be well respected, you have to speak the current language of your audience. That means that in most organizations you need to know and speak the acronyms of the organization. To speak to young(er) or old(er) people, you need to use their phrases that convey the message you want to get across. You need to know the technical terms, the terms of art, the phrases. You can be extremely well educated and speak the language of your specialty, but if you’re not using your audiences’ language, they usually don’t give you the credit you deserve. Learn the acronyms. Learn the current expressions. Learn the cultural terms.
Who Has The Time?!?
You do. You have to. This is the difference between what is important and what is urgent. For your continued marketability, you have to put the time and effort into keeping up. Learning how to use Access when you’re out of a job and the job descriptions all require it is much harder than if you’re sitting in an organization that will support your learning it by providing you the software AND the training. Take advantage. For you and your organization it is a win/win. And maybe you’ll never have to learn it when you’re out of a job—because you’re never out of a job.