5 New Tools for Career Success

In the News, Step Up

When we went out looking for the new skills that can help you succeed in today’s workplace, we figured that technology would play a big role. We didn’t figure it would play the only role.

Sure, one of today’s most-valued hard skills is making a computer do your bidding. But even the “soft” skills are all about adapting to IT’s influence on our lives and our companies. “We’re in a technology tsunami,” says Peggy Klaus, author ofThe Hard Truth About Soft Skills. “Ultimately we have to figure out how to survive it and make it work for us.”

Here are five skills that will help to rocket you ahead:

1) Focus

Your company fired the guy to the left and right of you, so you’re doing the job of three people. You’re inundated with information and distractions coming from multiple screens, not to mention the demands of multiple people—bosses, colleagues, your wife and kids. Increasingly, winning the rat race requires the ability to focus, dammit, on what needs to be done, says executive coach Joshua Ehrlich, author of Mindshifting: Focus for Performance.

Many studies show that multitasking reduces your cognitive ability and hurts productivity. The alternative is “mindfulness,” which Ehrlich describes as being “present, open, and engaged in regards to attention.” Yes, it sounds a little fruity, and yes, meditation can help you build your mindfulness muscle. (Steve Jobs said meditation was key to his success.) But you can also develop focus by purposefully slowing down throughout the day, Ehrlich says: When you’re eating, stop and enjoy the food; when the phone rings, take a deep breath. Also, schedule time in your workday to focus on work tasks, turning off distractions like email or the phone.

2) Adapt

Or die. Here’s the deal: Technological change is shaking up just about any industry you can think of. Business is globalizing, which means competition from more companies in more countries. To survive these changes, business must be nimble. And to survive in business, you have to be nimble, too, says Henry Evans, co-author of Step Up: Lead in Six Moments That Matter.

So if on Monday you’re ordered to prepare a presentation for a client in Munich, and then on Wednesday you’re told to redo it for a client in Mumbai, don’t complain: That’s how business works today. If you want to develop your mental and emotional agility, take yourself out of your comfort zone, Evans suggests. Try brushing your teeth or putting your fork in your opposite hand, or immersing yourself in a foreign language. The agility you develop in your spare time will help you in the workplace.

3) Code

Everyone knows that programming is a fast-growing field, and it’s true that becoming a programmer almost guarantees you a well-paying job. (Think that’s an exaggeration? Check out The Iron Yard, which refunds your tuition if you don’t find a job after completing their three-month training course.)

But coding is on our list because it’s increasingly important for almost every job. Does your job involve computers? (Hint: Yes.) What if you could customize your software so that you—and your colleagues—could do your jobs more efficiently? How much would that increase your value to your employer? “Programming is changing the way almost every industry works,” says Zach Sims, co-founder of Codecademy, which has trained millions of coders through its free online courses. And programming doesn’t necessarily require sterling math or science ability, Sims adds. Start with HTML—the foundation of websites—then move on to languages that make apps, crunch data, or manage databases. At Codecademy, you’ll have built your first simple website in about an hour.

4) Crunch

Numbers, that is. It’s no secret that the job market in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is hot, but STEM jobs also tend to be the most desirable. When job-search site CareerCast.com ranked 200 jobs by salary, job-growth outlook, work environment and stress level, 17 of the top 20 jobs were STEM-related.

Want a piece of that action? You can’t acquire advanced math or science skills in a day. But a little bit of knowledge can make a difference. One approach is to seek jobs in the tech sector that don’t require hardcore tech skills, like project managers, technical trainers, or technical writers, suggests career coach Michael Featherson.

5) Call

You know, pick up the phone, or even show up at the doorstep. “People are loathe to pick up the phone these days because people want to communicate on their own time,” says Klaus. “But situations can escalate and escalate badly because people are not communicating face-to-face. Much can get lost in a 140 character text or email.”

When words on a screen have been misinterpreted, it’s time to bring tone of voice and body language back into play. If you get a feeling from an email that someone is upset or frustrated, or the email’s tone is “just not typical of their personality,” then it’s time to call or meet, Klaus says. And never send an email or text that might disturb or offend, if you can avoid it. Instead, deliver the news in person.

By Richard Sine

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