Think about the workplace 14 years ago: The first iPhone wouldn’t be released until July 2007. There probably wasn’t “an app for that.” Open floor plans hadn’t yet become a privacy-busting phenomenon. And people weren’t obsessed with “the cloud.”
Certainly, smart devices, cloud-based platforms, and the way we work have been transformed over the past decade. We’re changing jobs more often—now, more often because we want to. And the breakneck speed of technology is once again transforming the way we will work.
But it’s hard to know exactly what the workplace will look like in 10 years, says Barbara Mistick, president of Wilson College and coauthor of Stretch: How to Future-Proof Yourself for Tomorrow’s Workplace. So keeping yourself marketable and relevant for a long career is a constant process of evaluation, education, and adaptation, she says. Here’s what you need to do to keep yourself prepared for—and even ahead of—what comes next.
Pay attention to what's going on in (and outside of) your industry
The first thing you need to do is evaluate the best sources of information about your industry or career path, Mistick says. What conferences, organizations, websites, publications, or other resources have the best and most insightful information and resources? Connect with those resources so that you’re staying apprised of the information they have to offer.
Beyond that, you should also be watching innovation in other industries, says strategist and adviser Elizabeth Crook, author of the new book Live Large: The Achiever’s Guide to What’s Next. Technology and process innovation aren’t typically limited to one sector. For example, if you’re in marketing, keep an eye on what’s happening in finance. Could the machine learning and automated approaches to checking out customers’ financial health give you clues about better targeting your market?
When you explore different areas, you never know what you’ll find that’s relevant, she says. Crook says she recently read a book about quantum physics that reminded her there’s more than one way to do things. That seems like a basic concept, she says, but it helped her not get mired in stale thinking.
Schedule checkups twice a year
You probably go for a medical checkup every year or two. You get your car serviced regularly. But are you scheduling time to ensure that your own skills and education are up to date? If not, that’s a mistake, Mistick says. Her strategic plans for customers are typically focused on two to three years because 10 years is too far out to accurately predict. Similarly, professionals need to “reevaluate every couple of years to make sure that whatever skills you’re working on, they’re still the skills you think you should be working on,” she says.
Find ways to stretch your skills
Once you get to a certain point in your career, it’s easy to get complacent or think you know it all. That’s deadly. In order to stay relevant and marketable, you need to keep finding ways to stretch your skills, Mistick says. “Your company or organization is not going to provide the level of professional assistance or development that you need in order to keep your career relevant. I’d say the No. 1 thing you have to do is realize that the responsibility for your professional development is on you,” she says.
So seek out projects where you’ll need to learn new skills or tools. For example, if you’re trying to develop more managerial and leadership skills, seek out opportunities to work on your company’s strategic planning projects. Share your goals with your supervisor and mentor to help you find opportunities, she says.
Document your development
Keep a professional development log to track the classes, continuing education, and other development opportunities in which you’ve participated, advises Mark Anthony Dyson, creator of The Voice of Job Seekers blog and podcast. He recommends blogging or podcasting to develop an online presence and brand yourself as a leader and lifelong learner. However, if you’re not comfortable with such a highly visible format, building an online presence by publishing occasional content about your sector, viewpoints, and achievements can be a good way to build your visibility. Your interviewers are going to be looking for that, he says.
“You’re giving yourself a chance to be different than everyone else,” he says.
Step out of your comfort zone
Don’t adopt storylines that will hold you back, such as “I’m not a tech person, or “I could never learn to code.” You’re probably going to have to get increasingly comfortable with technology as it becomes a bigger part of every job, Mistick says. Work on skills that are obviously more in demand, such as the ability to collaborate virtually and manage change. Staying ready for the future will likely mean doing things you really don’t want to do or feel prepared to do. But the minute you let that fear or hesitation stop you from learning what you need to navigate the future of your work, you’re beginning to let your skills expire.
“You can’t be focused on trying to keep everything in a neat little box. You have to step outside that,” she says.