In How to Manage Your Career to Make Millions More I listed seven steps to making the most of your career. Today we will be going into details of step #5: continue learning and developing skills.
If you missed the other posts in this series, they are:
- 7 Steps to Millions More: Over-Perform
- 7 Steps to Millions More: Be Likeable
- 7 Steps to Millions More: Network
- 7 Steps to Millions More: Be Attractive
This tip could also be called “keep growing” because that’s what it’s all about.
If you want your career to grow and advance, you need to grow and advance. You need to acquire new knowledge and learn new skills — both of which can be used to help you deliver more results — which in turn allows you to earn more.
Here’s what I said about learning and developing skills in my original post:
If you want to continue showing value in your field, you need to keep learning and increasing your skills. Pursue certifications, degrees (especially those the company pays for), seminars, classes, training, and other opportunities that increase your expertise and ability to do a better job. Take time to learn through reading and listening to podcasts. Look (volunteer) for projects that help develop additional skills (leadership skills are especially valuable). Employers value these extras and you’ll eventually be able to cash in your hard work in one way or another.
So what exactly can you do to learn/grow? Here’s a list to get you started:
- Read — Read/listen to books, audio books, magazines, podcasts, blogs. Sites like LinkedIn and even Facebook have some decent business articles as well. Read both inside and outside your field of expertise. It will help you grow in new ways as well as make life a bit more interesting. And you won’t believe how often an idea from a non-related subject would actually apply to my work/career — it was a regular occurrence. I take notes in books I read, writing them on the inside front cover so they always remain with the book. Audiobooks and podcasts are great because they can take otherwise non-productive time — in the car, while cutting the grass, on the treadmill, etc. — and turn them into learning times. Whatever is your preferred method of consuming new information, do it.
- Take a class — This could be educational (like new accounting methods) or skill based (like how to speak in public). Many companies will pay for these classes because they make you a better employee. Take advantage of it. Not only will they make you better in your current job but you’ll also have that knowledge the rest of your career and it will benefit you even if you go to another company.
- Teach — One of the best ways to learn something at a deeper level is to teach it. So whether it’s one-on-one coaching, a lunch-and-learn you host at your company, or a night/weekend class at a local college, consider teaching on a topic that you have good knowledge of, but would like to learn more about.
- Watch TV — I know, you never thought you’d see this on a list of how to grow in knowledge, right? But there are TV shows that will teach you something, especially if you are in business. Most Americans have heard of Shark Tank and it’s one of my favorites. But I probably like The Profit even better because he actually runs the business after he buys it (and you get to see how he handles the various situations he encounters — it’s quite educational.)
- Volunteer — There is so much to be gained from volunteering that I’ll probably write an entire post on it sometime. For now, let’s focus on the skill-building benefits of volunteering. Here’s why it’s so great: non-profit organizations will often give you a chance to learn skills your company may not. Someone at your company may think you’re “not ready” for this or that. My experience is that as long as you’re in the ballpark of being able to do something, most non-profits (especially smaller ones) will give you a shot at it. This could be your chance to learn how to lead a team, develop and execute a plan of some sort, or use your creative skills in an ad campaign. In addition, volunteering has the added benefit of helping you develop a broader network as you’ll likely meet some new people, many of whom are influential. I’ve gotten a new job, developed business relationships, and met some life-long friends all through volunteering.
- Get a mentor — You know that I prefer the school of real-life over the school of theory. A mentor can teach you from the former. If you need some guidance, here’s a piece on how to find a mentor and one on how not to find a mentor. Then once you grow in knowledge and skill, seek to become a mentor yourself. You’ll probably learn as much as the person you teach.
- Get a degree — There are two caveats to this: get a degree if 1) it adds value and 2) especially if your company pays for it. Getting any degree and then expecting it to be a windfall for you is a recipe for spending a lot of time and money on nothing. But if there’s a clear “if I do this then that will happen” and it’s worth the effort, consider it. And if your company pays for the degree it lessens the risk for you significantly as the only thing you lose if it goes nowhere is the time you put in.
- Attend conferences and industry events — This is a standard part of many jobs but most employees avoid these like the plague. Don’t do it. Be selective, for sure. Pick out the best conferences and events that will help you learn and grow and attend them.
- Certifications — There are many valuable certifications that will help you grow your career: Six Sigma, Project Management certification, advanced teaching certifications, management certifications for non-managers, and so forth. Again, be selective and consider which ones might help you advance your career.
- Ask for stretching projects — Volunteer to complete a project, lead a team, or simply be on a team where the goal is to accomplish something a bit out of your skill set. This has the double advantage of helping you grow as well as contributing to the company (thus making you more valuable). Though my expertise was in marketing, I volunteered to take on a finance-related project about 15 years into my career. It was a new area I knew nothing about, but I suggested the idea to the president of the company, got it approved, and made it happen. In the end I delivered a result that helped us make our bonuses in a fiscal year so everyone was quite pleased with my effort.
- Know how to communicate — This is one skill in particular that I wanted to call out because it’s so vital to success in almost any field. First, learn how to communicate your thoughts through both words and text. Second, add to that the ability to persuade and sell your ideas. If you can become a great communicator and convincer (and your ideas are good), there’s no doubt that your career will advance. I was just talking to my wife the other day about how all those plays, speech competitions, and debate tournaments I participated in when I was younger helped me be a good communicator through my career and how they paid off monetarily. You may be past those opportunities in life, but you can certainly join Toastmasters, start a blog, or take a class on how to present an idea and grow in this area.
So that’s my list. I’ve probably missed a few keys here and there, but I know ESI Money readers will chime in where I fell short.
Please let me know what you’d add to this list in the comments below.