Five Critical Skills That Will Keep You Employed

Liz Ryan, Forbes
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If you have been working for 10 or 15 years you have already lived through enormous changes in the working world. We are in a period of tumultuous transition not only in the way business is conducted but in the nature of work itself.

Work was a fixed thing for decades. It was very stable. We all knew how we were expected to navigate the working world once we became adults. You got a job, did your work, tried to keep some equilibrium between your job and the rest of your life, and got paid. You paid your bills and maybe built up a little cushion too.

You kept your job for five or seven or 14 years and had a reasonable opportunity and cash flow to take a vacation every year. If you were lucky you also had the chance to create a nest egg. Back then jobs were more stable. A change in jobs was a big deal.

Now it’s radically different. It’s hard to come across a working person who hasn’t been laid off at least once. Our jobs are not secure anymore and we have to acknowledge that fact. We have to prepare to change jobs and to find work when necessary.

A whole new area of subject-matter expertise has relatively suddenly become mandatory instruction for every working person. We simply cannot survive, much less thrive in the new-millennium talent marketplace without understanding a lot of things that most job-seekers have never known and seldom thought about.

I’m referring to the set of skills you need to get a job when you need one — a completely different set of skills from your functional and technical training.

You used to be able to get a job based on your background and your education. Now those elements are essential to your brand and marketability of course, but they are almost useless without strong career management skills to power them.

Your functional and technical skills will get dusty on the shelf if subject-matter expertise is the only kind of expertise you’ve got.

Your brilliance at your work will not help you monetize your gifts unless you also know how to set your career direction, brand yourself for the jobs you want, research employers, network, spot Business Pain in your environment, establish and negotiate for your market value and reach out to decision-makers.

If you want to be be in top shape as you navigate in the new terrain our 21st-century marketplace offers, you can also get a consulting business card and begin thinking of yourself as a consultant (because you are one).

The new skill set we are all working to acquire is as important to our professional development as the workshops, publications, continuing education and conferences we attend to boost our functional expertise and knowledge base. We are all stepping into new territory together, little by little.

We are learning to drive our own careers instead of drifting through our careers like a kid on a raft in a lazy river.

You are much more likely to get your next job or professional engagement because of your Driving Your Career skills than because of your technical or functional skills, no matter how dazzling your functional or technical skills are.

We cannot think of ourselves as competent and self-aware professionals if all of our expertise resides in the area of business, finance, marketing, graphic design, database development or any other functional or professional silo.

We have to know a little about a lot of things now. We have to know about a range of industries and how they work together. We have to know something about geography and world affairs. we have to get our heads off our desks and out of the sand and see ourselves as independent economic units, because that’s what we are.

Corporations and institutions will require our services at various times and we’ll provide them happily, but those corporations and institutions have no more control or ownership over our careers than they do over our physical fitness or our taste in music.

Our careers are personal to us.

Career decisions can be intensely personal decisions. They touch on much more than “Which company will electronically sign my paycheck?”

They can intersect with our family lives, our health, our relationships with our friends, our self-image, our sleep schedule and much more. Our careers are fundamental to our well-being and even to our survival. We have to drive the bus! No employer can see further or more clearly into our futures than we can.

In the old days, we were happy to entrust our careers to our employers. Now we entrust anything – our professional advancement, reputation, earning power, time and energy — to an employer only with the utmost caution and forethought.

It’s not that working people don’t trust their employers, who may be very nice people. It’s just that we have woken up from the dream state that allowed employees to believe that working hard at their job every day and being reliable was enough to ensure a stable career.

It’s not. No amount of hard work at any particular job can change that. We are all resting on lily pads. We have to run our careers the way entrepreneurs run their businesses. We have to think like business owners.

We will change jobs when it’s appropriate, not only when we get laid off. We will jump on a highway called Acme Explosives or Angry Chocolates or some other employer’s name and we will cruise along for a few miles. At the appropriate time we’ll veer off onto an exit and we’ll leave that stretch of highway for a new one that takes in a new direction.

Our employers aren’t going to manage our careers for us. We have to do it ourselves!

Here are the five critical career skills everybody needs now. Few of us worry “How will I perform my next job?” but almost everybody has worried (or is wondering right now) “If I lose this job, God forbid, how will I get a new one?”

Five Critical Skills That Will Keep You Employed

1. Getting altitude

2. Framing

3. Pain-spotting

4. Probing

5. Storytelling

Getting altitude is the first step you’ll take. To get altitude, you must step out of your busy to-do-list-addled brain and get perspective. Get a journal and a nice pen. Give yourself some unscheduled time and a pleasant place to sit. Treat yourself to a glass of wine or cup of tea and start to write.

Get distance from your go-go-brain on your bike, at a retreat or in your own way. Get out of your second-to-second existence and give yourself time to think about your life and career. Where have you come from? Think and write about your path. Don’t judge your past self. Everything you did and didn’t do brought you to this post, the perfect place for you to be now.

Where do you want to go from here? That question deserves thought, not for twenty minutes but over weeks and months. What do you want to accomplish in your career, and why?

You will not succeed in the rough-and-tumble new-millennium workplace until you realize that no one has your understanding of your gifts and your purpose, and no one ever will. A lot of people will tell you what kind of jobs to take or what you’re good at.

Listen to them if you trust them. Take in every  signal you can. Listen to your trusty gut, which evolved over millennia to guide you the right way. The career path you choose is always going to be more successful than one someone else forces on you. Falling into a career by accident and loving it counts as a choice!

You have to know how to frame your background. Many people think that framing is a process of describing something in words, but you have to see the frame before you can write about it. Framing is reorganizing your mind around a new model — in this case a model for yourself.

A frame is a mental model. How do you see yourself as a professional? You may be leaving one professional identity and stepping into a new one. It’s an awkward feeling and it can be scary, but all the power resides in your willingness to take the step anyway.

You are leaving behind one professional chapter and stepping into a new one. Now you have to ask yourself a critical question.

What kind of Business Pain do you solve? If your idea of yourself as a working person has been “I do some Accounting, I’ve done Inventory Control and I like organizing things” we will be delighted to meet you, but no one will see you as a person who has taken charge of his or her destiny or career path.

With this wan description you present yourself as a leaf waiting to be blown about by the wind. That’s okay, but will the wind take you to your vision for yourself? Can you work with the wind to make sure you’re headed in the direction you choose?

The Accounting and Inventory Control things you’ve done so far sound wonderful — but what do you want to do with those experiences?

When you decide what you want to do, you’ll write about it, and every word will be powered by your clarity. Your branding, like your career direction, is your choice. You get to build a new frame for yourself and step into it, any time you want to.

Pain-Spotting is a filter you will develop that lets you see the world around you through the lens of pain and pain relief. It is not cynical to look around you and see Business Pain and personal pain everywhere, as long as your intention is to help people rather than to profit from their distress.

When you figure out what kind of Business Pain you solve, you’ll be excited to see Business Pain around you in the ecosystem. You’ll remember that you provide a worthy service to people in pain who resonate at your frequency.

You’ll gain power in the employment equation when you know a lot about the Business Pain you solve. Learning about Business will help you grow the antennae you need to stay employed from one gig to the next.

Probing is the process of pulling out more information about a hiring manager’s or client’s Business Pain by asking questions of the client or hiring manager at an interview, or on the phone. Good salespeople and consultants have asked pain-type questions of their prospects for decades.

Now job-seekers and consultants — and every job-seeker is a consultant — are learning to probe for Business Pain, too. They don’t sit in the chair like a good little sheepie and bleat about their qualifications.

Your ability to solve an employer’s or client’s pain is the principal reason they will hire you.

Storytelling is the fifth of our essential new-millennium career skills. You have a great story, whether you have ever stopped to reflect on it or not. If you haven’t told your life and career story to anyone lately, do it!

Write about it in your journal. Get your story out, because it is powerful. The more time you spend thinking over your path so far, the more mini-stories will pop  out of your memory. Your stories are important for many reasons.

Your quick Dragon-Slaying Stories – stories about times you came, saw and conquered at work or somewhere else –will power your LinkedIn profile, your Human-Voiced Resume and your Pain Letters. You will tell quick Dragon-Slaying Stories on job interviews.

Your resonant stories are more closely associated with you in an interviewer’s mind than your credentials are. They are more vibrant than data points. They will stick in your interviewer’s memory.

Your stories are more compelling than your list of certifications. Your stories spring from a deeper part of you, because you were there as the events in the story unfolded. The story is part of who you are.

Learn to tell stories, and not just to showcase your quick thinking and good instincts. Re-telling your stories is a vital reinforcement of your power, from the inside out. You lived those stories and you will inspire people every time you tell them. You will grow flames everywhere you go!

 

This article was written by Liz Ryan from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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