The Single Most Important Thing For Your Career

 

Here’s a fun activity for tonight at the dinner table: Ask your parents if they had ever heard of a Social Media Manager when they were in high school. They will probably give you a blank stare because that position likely didn’t exist back then.  

And you can bet that 10 years from now, there will be mainstream, high-paying jobs that you won’t know of now either. 

So what is good career advice for the savvy student when the future of work is so unpredictable? Perhaps the number one thing you need to do is intentionally develop skills—both essential soft skills and specific technical skills—that will serve you in the future. And seek out ways to continually build skills throughout your career. Skill stagnation will be the enemy.  

In some ways, essential “soft” skills (sometimes called “professional” skills) are the most durable and least likely to change in the near future. According to a 2018 survey, the three qualities of college graduates considered most important by employers were:

  1. written communication
  2. problem-solving
  3. the ability to work in a team.

The savvy student might ask themself: How am I building these skills in my classes or at my workplace? Are there other avenues to build these skills even more deeply? How do I get feedback on my soft skills do I can improve them?

That same student would be wise to intentionally build technical skills. Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork, recently commented that “The future of work won’t be about degrees. More and more, it’ll be about skills. And no one school, whether it be Harvard, General Assembly or Udacity, can ever insulate us from the unpredictability of technological progression and disruption.”

The good news is that there are numerous ways to intentionally build your technical skills.  Universities are offering more online courses, including Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs); private companies like LinkedIn Learning teach skills through videos; and you can learn to code through various coding boot camps, or even through Kahn Academy.  Even YouTube videos can be helpful.

Whether your path involves a four-year degree or an apprenticeship (or both!), the days of coasting through your career on the skills (or degrees) you earned early in life are over. The future of work belongs to those who keep their skills sharp continually seek out ways to keep learning. The job you have in 10 years may not even exist today, but being a lifelong learner who engages the world professionally will serve you forever.