Wednesday, December 5, 2012

7 ways to become better at any profession

REACHING THE TOP: Lifelong learning is crucial
to professional success
When you take on a new job or assignment, 60 percent of it should be what you know and 40 percent should be what you learn. That's one of the most valuable lessons I learned during my career at IBM before joining Post University.

I had many assignments throughout my long tenure, at one point leading a team of 300 professionals across 170 countries. Through it all, I recognized the need to constantly learn, or else become stale and irrelevant in my job.

But the need to continually learn also extends far beyond the position you have now. Chances are, you will have many jobs throughout your lifetime, all of which will require varying knowledge, skills, and experiences. In fact, the Journal of Career Planning & Employment reports that a student leaving college today can expect to have three to five careers and 10 to 12 jobs during a work life that will last 40 to 50 years.

As a result, what you know now might not be what you need to know in future careers and jobs. That's why it's crucial to make learning an ongoing part of your life and career pursuits -- no matter what profession you choose. The world of work continues to change, and we all must embrace that change or be left behind.

With this in mind, I wanted to share some actionable advice on how to become a lifelong learner. Here are seven methods which you should weigh to determine what fits your professional needs and life goals the best.

1. College degrees and certificates for gaining an in-depth, well-rounded education. This is one of the most common ways to continue your educational endeavors, and for good reason -- earning a college degree can provide some of the greatest benefits to your career. One primary benefit is that college graduates are less likely to be unemployed. The overall unemployment rate for four-year college graduates is 4.5 percent, compared to 24 percent for those who hold only a high school diploma, according to a recent Georgetown University study. What's more, the U.S. Census Bureau finds that those with a bachelor's degree earn $1 million more over their lifetime than their high school graduate counterparts.

2. Certifications for developing your area of specialization. Many employers across industries require employees to be certified in various specialties. Some of the more common certifications include Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Project Management Professional (PMP), Six Sigma, Series 6, and Series 7, just to name a few. There are also numerous IT certifications that can help IT professionals hone their skills and increase their pay.

3. Single courses for building new skills. Single courses are ideal when you're assigned a new project and want to build your skill set to better handle it. Single courses can get you up to speed on any areas you might be weak in, and help you build your experience to add to your repertoire and resume.

4. Informal self-directed learning for exploring new interests. This approach helps you expand your interests from a professional or personal perspective. Common self-directed learning approaches include reading business and motivational books, participating in community and church groups, joining local meet-ups, and joining a friend or neighbor in a new educational endeavor.

5. Personal development training, workshops, seminars, and conferences for enhancing your work quality. These approaches are ideal for helping you build your knowledge and skills to do your current job better, and become better qualified to advance your job function. Conferences in particular are also valuable networking opportunities where you can learn from your peers and meet potential new job contacts.

6. Industry associations and memberships for networking and building thought leadership. Nearly every field has industry associations where you can regularly meet with your peers outside your company and stay up-to-date on the trends and issues in your field. These associations are also a good source of leadership opportunities where you can build your name and thought leadership in your industry, such as by organizing an association event or speaking at an association conference.

7. Experiential learning for honing soft skills. Experiential learning is an opportunity to develop and practice skills such as leadership, teamwork, creativity -- soft skills that employers are increasing demanding. Many avenues provide experiential learning opportunities, such as participating in internships and externships, volunteering in your community, and leading a fundraising project.

As you accomplish each lifelong learning endeavor, add it to your resume. This will help you ensure you don't forget any valuable experiences or accomplishments when it comes time to apply for a new job.

In this knowledge economy, learning no longer ends once you graduate high school or even college. Graduating is not the finish line, and schooling is not just a means to a career. Instead, learning is the difference between staying current in your field, vaulting ahead of the curve, or becoming stale and unproductive.

So keep diligent to the technical, social, political, and global changes continually impacting your field. Embrace lifelong learning. Good luck! Feel free to let us know if you have any questions in the comments.