Professional Skills

So the big question is this: how do technical professionals like us protect our future career and build our professional practice?

You spend your early years being told it’s important to get a good education. As an aspiring professional, you study hard and get a qualification. You do well at college or university, which leads you to find a decent job. You feel you are living the good life, and now you can relax, and you’re ready to progress your career.

However, the employment situation is different now. Using the above formula is likely to lead people astray.

The Problem

Tertiary qualified professionals are no longer assured of getting a decent, secure job — the job market is very competitive. Employers are now eager to lay off people when times get tough and are moving to increase use of contingent or contract workers. If you stick with the traditional approach, you run the risk of becoming obsolete. 

The Solution

You must keep up with the key skill sets to protect your future.

For the longest time, we have been conditioned to believe that we don’t need to learn after graduating. That is a huge mistake, and you need to refocus your mindset on a model of lifelong learning.

Another problem is being away from learning for too long. If you commit to learning, this won’t happen. If you haven’t been keeping up with your learning efforts, know that it doesn’t take too long to get back into the swing of things once you get started. You may even find it’s fun.

You could go back to school and study for a graduate qualification such as an MBA, but that costs a lot of money and requires you to invest a lot of your precious time. Many of the traditional graduate programs are not practical, real-world ready, and many compulsory courses are not relevant to your career interests.

Learn the key skills you need to protect your future career

There are three basic skill sets for technical professionals to secure their future: technical, business, and professional skills.

Technical skills provide the depth of expertise in your field. These require ongoing learning, particularly as the half-life of knowledge is as little as five years today (that is, as much as half of your technical knowledge will become obsolete in the next five years). Attend seminars or workshops and engage in specific courses related to your expertise.

Business skills cover topics such as management, economics, finance, marketing, and project management. This doesn’t mean you should do an MBA – there are plenty of good alternatives available – Seth Godin’s altMBA is one example.

Professional skills include time management, critical thinking, focus, decision making, problem solving, creativity, setting goals, communication, persuasion, and networking.

The internet has leveled the playing field for professional development training. You do not need to commit to undertaking a formal degree; you can still learn via online resources—just focus on the key skills and knowledge you need. Many books and audiobooks are available, and plenty of good, practical online training courses are outside traditional university programs.

So, to be a successful technical professional, commit to lifelong learning, think about the skill sets you need to develop to protect your future and choose the best way to develop those skills.

Plan Your Professional Development

The first step you should take is writing out a professional development plan. Start with considering where you would like to be in, say, five years’ time. Then identify the key skills and knowledge that will help you get there. Start with building and strengthening your professional skill set as a foundation for your successful future.

The basic key skills you want to master should include:

Decision Making: How to make choices? What is decision fatigue? This will help you decide which action to focus on and what to leave for another day. Being able to make better decisions in your work will lead to. Read more ... 

Goal Setting: What is your why or purpose? What does success mean? What do you want to accomplish? Without goals, you won’t know where you are heading and what you need to do to get there. Setting goals for your work projects is also an important key skill.

Manage Time: How can you get more done in less time? What is important but not urgent? Which is really about prioritising what you should be working on right now.

Effective Communication: What message do you want to convey? Is it being received? Being able to share information clearly and professionally is a very important skill.

Networking: Do you understand what is important and what ideas to exchange? Being able to network well helps you get in touch with the right people quickly. 

Focus: How can you not be so distracted all the time? And not multitask? The ability to concentrate on one task at a time, cutting out all distractions and allowing you to see it through to its completion and to make some real progress. Read more ...

Problem Solving: What is the problem, the cause, and effect? How can you develop options and solutions? Understand what the problem is and then identify potential solutions.

Creativity: How can you develop new ideas? What does it mean to innovate? A skill you certainly can develop, and is really an addition to thinking skills and enables you to be able to readily develop innovative ideas and solutions.

Critical Thinking: How can you think more clearly? Analyse and solve problems? Be able to think clearly to solve a problem, analyse arguments and clarify confusing situations.

Persuasion: Do you know what others need? How can you listen better? Being able to convince someone to agree to your recommendation is critical to your success as a technical professional.

If your head is spinning about where to start, the answer is simple, focus on one skill at a time and by making progress before moving on to the next. Each skill complements and works with each other, so no matter where you choose to start, you will make progress.

My best advice is to pick on a new skill, work on it, and make it a new and productive habit that becomes part of who you are, how you work and live your life. Then pick another one and work on it until you’ve made it through each skill on the list. Each skill complements and works with each other, so you will make progress no matter where you choose to start.

So, to be a successful technical professional, you should commit to lifelong learning, consider the skill sets you need to develop to protect your future and find the best way to develop those skills.