Want to take the next step in your career? While going back to school is one of the first things that comes to mind for most, don’t fill out that registration form just yet. Further education is a good starting point, but many business skills come from outside the classroom.
Technical skills are the most helpful in the early part of your career, when employers are looking for “doers” and hiring is based on your ability to fix a concrete problem. But as you move through your career, the problems that need fixing are less concrete and more complicated.
The skills you need to acquire are sometimes referred to as “soft skills” or “people skills.” These have to do with the ability to influence people through leadership and good management. You stop solving problems with hardware equipment and start moving into systems and human interactions. An ability to motivate people, to set a clear direction and keep them working toward a common goal is essential.
A critical skill for the ambitious professional is managing or leading oneself. How well are you aware of your own emotions and reactions, and do you have effective strategies for dealing with them in a productive way? Are you learning to work with others, and not just to maintain a cordial relationship, but to bring out the best in them?
These sorts of soft skills are critical to furthering your career, but they’re not easily learned in a classroom setting. They require a combination of self-awareness and intentional investment in your own growth as an individual and practical application as you become more aware of others and what they need.
But it doesn’t end there. You’ll need the ability to adapt to quickly changing situations to find the best path forward. The business world is rapidly changing in virtually every sector right now, and that change is unlikely to slow. Your education and experience are continually on the verge of becoming out of date; your projects and products could be obsolete tomorrow, and your clients are on the lookout for the next great thing. To take the next step in your career, you need to be comfortable with navigating change.
That is illustrated by the lives of many of the most successful business and world leaders. Rarely is there a direct, linear trajectory from education to the peak of their respective careers. More often, they move from a learning experience or success in one area of business or leadership to a quite different one.
One well-known example of this is Steve Jobs. While his career stayed predominantly in a single sector (technology), as we’re all aware, that sector changed dramatically over the course of his career. In fact, he is credited for not only adapting to the extensive changes in the sector, but also actually driving many of the most successful developments. Today’s recreational home computing market, tablet computing, portable digital music players, and smartphones, among many other software and hardware products can be credited to his ability to not only adapt to change, but to anticipate and direct it.
Najib Mikati is another example of a successful career with marked change throughout its many stages. In his case, business skills gained in the marketplace fuelled a move to the political arena. As a co-founder of the M1 Group, he got his start in the construction industry, before moving to telecommunications. His political career has included a stint as the Prime Minister of Lebanon, and he’s involved with global think tanks and philanthropic organizations.
Sheryl Sandberg is known as one of the most powerful businesswomen in the world. Her early career included work as a research assistant in international aid, as a management consultant, and in sales. She’s better known for her leadership at Facebook and her contribution to its success.
The most valuable business skills are transferrable. It’s important to start off your career with solid expertise in your sector, but to grow beyond your initial role into new opportunities; you need more than just the ability to get a specific job done. You need vision, determination, the ability to work with others and bring out their best, and the ability to adapt to change as (and preferably, before) it happens. The business skills that can help you further your career are a combination of studied expertise, learned practical understanding, and intentional investment. Wherever you’re from, whoever you are, and however you got to your current position, you can take your career to the next level with the right set of skills.