How to Future Proof Your Career with the Skills That Matter

Herbert Lui, Lifehacker
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The job market can be scary, but with skills that stand the test of time, you can increase your odds of staying employed. Here’s how to find and develop future-proofed skills so you can keep that steady paycheck, no matter what happens.

Focus on Market-Driven Skills

How to Future Proof Your Career with the Skills That Matter

The market determines which skills will be valuable now and in the future. For example, right now there’s great demand for software developers, but a limited supply. As a result, entrepreneurs started schools like General Assembly, Dev Bootcamp, and Bitmaker Labs to teach people how to code and connect them for job opportunities with technology companies. This clearly isn’t a fad — employers will demand this skill for years (and possibly decades) to come.

Future-proofed skills can either be essentials (e.g., health, security, utilities, etc.) or play an important part in facilitating a drastic change in the economy, like technology (e.g., software development, wearable technology, etc.).

Even though developing schools (such as the aforementioned) and additions to school curriculum can be a good indication that these skills are of value and here to stay for the future, you don’t necessarily need to enroll in a school to learn these skills. There are Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and many informational sites (like Lifehacker U) that can provide you with information.

One last caveat before moving on: Naturally, you have to be suited for that skillset. Ideally, you’d like it. At worst, you should be better than average within a year of learning.

Remember, change is the only constant. Pay attention to the trajectory of your industry and stay on the forefront by learning new applicable technologies and skills. No industry is stagnant, so the key to being future-proofed is to make sure you’re always up-to-date or ideally, a little ahead of the curve — just enough to know what’s coming.

Dive Into the Minds of the Employers

How to Future Proof Your Career with the Skills That Matter

Once you’ve identified a skillset worthy of picking up, understand what the biggest companies in your field are looking for and the skills they demand from their employees. Make sure your skillset lines up with what they want. If the big players want them, everyone else will too. As annoying as it is, to promote yourself well, you need to keep a finger on the pulse of “buzzwords” related to your skillset.

For example, if you’re looking for a steady corporate job and brand yourself as a writer right now, then you’re in for a really long journey (believe me). However, you might find networking easier if you call yourself a “communications associate” or a “content marketer”. Although both jobs require a lot of writing, the simple change in diction makes a world of difference. Essentially: Find a job title that includes your skillset rather than just promoting your skillset.

Don’t tell employers that you are a generalist. Instead, tweak whatever you call your skillset according to what the job posting demands (or what you think it demands). Don’t assume that your general skillset will make you more flexible and thus more employable — chances are, it won’t.

Learn Skills That Can Boost Profits or Reduce Costs

How to Future Proof Your Career with the Skills That Matter

Any skill that increases company profits or reduces costs will always be in demand. Every business needs profit to survive. In order to become more valuable for the future, apply your skills to either helping the company generate profit or reduce costs. Software developer Patrick McKenzie writes on his blog Kalzumeus:

Instead, describe yourself by what you have accomplished for [previous] employers vis-a-vis increasing revenues or reducing costs. If you have not had the opportunity to do this yet, describe things which suggest you have the ability to increase revenue or reduce costs, or ideas to do so.

Management guru Peter Drucker identifies two parts of organizations that most roles fit into: profit centers and cost centers. You’re either helping the company increase its profits, or you are an expense. Advertiser Claude Hopkins writes about this in layman’s terms in his memoir, My Life in Advertising:

A bookkeeper is an expense. In every business expenses are kept down. I could never be worth more than any other man who could do the work I did. The big salaries were paid to salesmen, to the men who brought in orders, or to the men in the factory who reduced the costs. They showed profits, and they could command a reasonable share of those profits.

Even if your occupation is an “expense” or a “cost center”, you can be valuable by helping reduce costs. Whatever your skillset is, make sure that you frame it in a way that helps companies generate profits or in terms of efficiencies and cost savings.

Make the Most of Technology While Embracing Your Human Strengths

How to Future Proof Your Career with the Skills That Matter

Even as the job market gets more competitive, you can stay ahead of the pack by learning how to use technology effectively. Learn when and how to use a tool, and when to apply creative problem solving skills that only a human can have.

While other peers or colleagues manually input information, you can use algorithms and automate tasks whenever possible. Your discernment will enable you to dedicate more time and energy to coming up with good ideas (which are also scarce), and perform creative tasks and separate yourself from the competition.

Although computers give us a run for our money when it comes to chess, the best combinations are human-computer chess player teams called centaurs. The processing power of the computer compliments the intuition and creativity of the human mind. In the job market, these human-computer combinations are equally valuable as they are in chess.

We’ve always used tools to enhance our powers of cognition. The future will demand the same ability, but to a greater extent as technology enables us to do things our brains can’t. Where printed books, telephones, and faxes were our “extended mind’ tools of the past, computers and mobile devices, and specialized software on both, are the tools of the future. In order to make sure you’re always employed, you’ll need to master them.

You Will Be Ready for the Future

Identifying future-proofed skills have a lot to do with understanding market forces, determining employer concerns, helping your company generate more profits or incur fewer costs, and enhancing your mind with technology. You can also futureproof your job with a career insurance policy and building a strong network.

Photos by Vincent Diamante, COD Newsroom, Pascal, and Leo Hidalgo.

 

This article was written by Herbert Lui from Lifehacker and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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