Strategy #3 to Survive a Down Economy: Improve Your Repertoire of Skills Constantly

By Kevin M

In 10 Ways To Survive a Down Economy (published on Christianpf.com June 1) we listed ten strategies to help you deal with the bad economy. Our topic for today, Strategy #3:

“Improve your repertoire of skills constantly. The better you are at what you do the more valuable you will be to your employer. The improvement can also be in preparation for future endeavors. It’s never a bad idea to have a skill or skill set which is totally unrelated to your primary employment. Hint: if it’s something you like to do, it may not even feel like work.”

The Importance of Skills

The job market today is largely skills driven. You may not get a job that you apply for if you lack a specific skill the employer is looking for, even if you have the education and experience for the position. In today’s job market there’s no shortage of credentialed candidates in most fields, so the advantage will often go to the person with the widest set of desirable skills.

Number of years experience may not be much of a factor either, if most of that time has been spent with a single employer. Often, the longer we’re on a job the greater the potential is to get, well…stale!

When we’re on one job for many years, we’re often not getting better at what we do so much as we’re becoming more comfortable at doing the job we have. But that comfort can be a negative when the time comes that we’re looking for a promotion or a new position entirely. Also, since multi-tasking becomes the order of the day following layoffs, the survivors may very well include those with the widest set of skills, not necessary the ones with greatest tenure.

But even if you aren’t learning new skills on your current job, you aren’t powerless to make changes.

Skills Worth Learning in Nearly Any Career

Here are some suggested skills which can either improve your abilities on your present job, prepare you for a new job, or perhaps even for a new career. There is also the very real possibility that a new skill could open the door to self-employment, especially in combination with other skills you already have. The key is to either go deeper in your ability with the skills you have, or to learn entirely new ones that will make you a suddenly more desirable prospect.

Computer software systems. Most every industry today uses some form of computer software that is unique to that industry, in addition to more general packages that are common across different industries, such as Microsoft Office. Move from being a general user of the software to an expert user.

Take a course on the software system used in your business, find out all that it can do, and become The Expert in your company, the person others come to when they want to know “how do you…?” Find ways to improve system usage, or to incorporate new uses into your company’s workflow, and you may become a key player in your company in short order. Learn other systems in use in your industry and you may expand your employment possibilities beyond your current job.

This can often be accomplished by taking a course at a local college, or with an online training program or a tutorial package you can purchase.

ANY type of repair skill. If you can fix just about anything, you’ve ensured yourself a place in the workforce. We’re not just talking about office work here! If you work in the trades, or in any capacity close to them, learning a parallel skill can enhance your career, or open up new paths. In Can You Fix Things? Try Elevator Repair, Larry McMahon told of how an auto repair course taken in high school helped prepare him for a career in elevator repair, a field that often pays in excess of $100,000.

Pubic speaking. A lot of people have a mortal fear of speaking in front of groups, and that’s precisely why the people who can are usually the ones running the company! Take a course in public speaking to learn the mechanics, but more than anything, this is a skill that improves with practice. The more you do it, the more comfortable you become with it, and that’s the major hurdle that needs to be crossed. There are many jobs and careers that could be better performed if you had the ability to speak before groups, and a confident speaking manor will come across as a major plus in job interviews.

A foreign language. Bi-lingual—we’re hearing that word more all the time, and with good reason! Interaction with foreign entities is becoming more common in an increasing number of industries. One of the best ways to make that trend your friend is to learn a major foreign language. Almost any career you have can rise to almost exotic status by adding a bi-lingual dimension to your quiver of skills. Start by taking a course at local college, or one of the many online programs available. Connect with native speakers of the language so that you can sharpen conversation skills. This may be a long term process, but the more fluid you are at speaking any language, the more doors you’ll be opening for your future.

Web design. It’s not necessary to learn how to design a website from the ground up, but the more you learn about this increasingly valuable skill, the greater your value to a current or future employer. Most businesses have websites today—they’ve become an important part of marketing. If you can write web code and make site modifications, the business can improve it’s site and increase sales without having to pay for outside services. Again, local college courses are a good way to start.

Writing skills. How many times do you hear about communication skills? This of course includes speaking ability and phone skills, but is increasingly centered on writing. Email is driving this. Writing courses can help in this area, but should be focused on writing short, cohesive letters typical to emails and business letters. The abbreviated prose that’s common in text messages won’t cut it.

Sales skills. Like public speaking, many people have a phobia about sales. The “I’m not a sales person” defense flies in the face of the fact that businesses of all stripes need to generate sales, and at a minimum, developing some sales skills can improve your work performance and your value to your employer especially if you have regular customer contact. Sales departments always need support and troubleshooters, and you’ll be better able to do this if you have some basic understanding of what sales involves, and can do your part to in the process. Get some good books on sales, and try to work with established sales people to see what it is they do that works. The closer you get to it the less intimidating it is.

These skills can be acquired on a part time basis; in some cases your employer may pay part or all of the cost of a course if the new skill is relevant to your job. It isn’t always necessary to become an expert in a skill; sometimes all that’s needed is familiarity. This is especially true if you’re applying for a new job; the fact that you have at least some understanding of a certain skill may put you ahead of other candidates who have more experience or educational credentials. It’s well worth giving up some evening or weekend TV time for!

3 Responses to Strategy #3 to Survive a Down Economy: Improve Your Repertoire of Skills Constantly

  1. This was a useful article!

    When I read the title, I thought you were just going to talk about brushing up on your particular work skills, but you took it much wider than that, which was good.

    I liked your suggestions, especially sales, writing and public speaking courses, which as you say are really useful skills to have in almost any job!

    Great post!

    comment by Kaizan
    Thursday, August 20, 2009 @ 2:06:54 AM
    http://www.kaizan.co.uk/blog

  2. Kaizan–Thanks for reading, and I’m glad you picked up on that. What I was going for was partially to make yourself more valuable on your current job, but at the same time to work on skills of a more strategic nature that might set you up for a new job, career or business venture.

    In most occuptions these days, the future can’t be taken for granted, so preparing for a sudden “what if” situation should be ongoing. The more skills you have, the more you can do, the more employable you are.
    comment by Kevin (admin)
    Thursday, August 20, 2009 @ 5:04:58 AM

  3. Just a note from something I saw on TV (Boston Redsox vs. Chicago White Sox), where a Nick Green ended up pitching 2 shutout innings of baseball. Nick has never pitched in MLB, but he has worked to improve his arm to the point that he was able to pitch a 93 mph fastball.

    I work in the IT industry and I have found that you can really help yourself by focusing on the future, and what skills you will need to benefit your future. Like Nick Green, finding the right moment to show your skills could open the door to who knows what.

    Everyone can make this step. Try to read up on what new things are happening with your industy and you are headed down the right road. In the long run, you will increase your marketability and increace your value to your management team.
    comment by Tyson Woods
    Thursday, August 27, 2009 @ 7:10:29 PM

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