10 Ways to Get Your Job Skills in Shape

Learn the steps you should take today if you want to be competitive tomorrow

by Kate Ashford
tires and shoe in sand image
Photograph: Geof Kern

A’s: People who are influential in your industry or in a field that interests you. There will also be former colleagues who’ve moved to other companies or whom you left behind when you moved. If you got a pink slip tomorrow, could you see yourself dropping them an e-mail? If so, they belong on this list.

B’s: Coworkers you see regularly and not-so-close friends with whom you stay in touch.

C’s: “People you meet and they want to link to you, and you don’t want to be rude, so you say yes, but you wouldn’t lose sleep if you never saw them again,” Cafasso says. Keep in mind: You don’t have to develop lifelong friendships. Research has shown that weak ties can be richer sources of job help than close friends.

“When we went through the recession, female leaders retained their jobs when their male counterparts didn’t. We wanted to know why,” says Sharon Hulce, president and CEO of the Employment Resource Group in Appleton, Wisconsin. “It was often because the women were amazing mentors. They were looked at as that person who could give phenomenal advice.” Mentoring pays off. Not everyone comes to the role naturally, but there will always be opportunities to help people with their problems. And those relationships can influence your own marketability. “Someone will either get promoted or be pulled to a new organization,” Hulce says. “The relationships you have will play a critical role in your success throughout your career.” Plus, in 10 years, people who are young now will be hiring managers. “Leadership teams are skewing younger,” says Ptacin. “The senior person in your division may be 28.” Get comfortable working with and for young people now.

People used to resist moving sideways within an organization because they wanted the seniority that came with staying put. But seniority no longer guarantees that you won’t be laid off. In some cases, it may be better to forfeit your tenure and make a lateral move that gives you experience in new areas. “By changing jobs, you’ll expand your knowledge, close skill gaps, widen your network and gain experience in high-demand areas,” Wilen-Daugenti says. “That could lead to future job opportunities inside and outside your organization.”

There are a number of ways to make a lateral move. It may mean leaving your company. It may also mean volunteering for an opportunity within your firm to move to another division for a few years. You may be able to set it up as a department loan, in which you work for another group for six months to develop skills and experience, or even a person-to-person exchange, in which two employees exchange positions.

Next: Ready or Not, Your Job Is Changing

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First published in the February 2013 issue

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