Tuesday, April 19, 2011

YPW: Make Yourself Marketable

There is an uncomfortable truth that young professionals--and even the not-so-young--have to come to grips with. The days of remaining loyal to one company for 30-something years and retiring in comfort off of your pension plan are long gone. These days, one must often move out to move up, and simply being "good enough" is not enough to get you where you want to be. You have to make yourself marketable, make hiring managers want you on their team because they see you as an asset. The most effective way to do this is through education and training.

You may be thinking, "No no no, I'm not going back to school! I've got all the degrees I need/want for this job." Understandable! I am right there with you (at least, for the time being). Although having x number of degrees is pretty impressive, that's not the only type of education out there for you. Don't think that you can only gain knowledge by sitting in a professor's classroom for a couple semesters. There are other avenues through which you can learn and make yourself more valuable to your current company, future companies who may be looking to hire you, and yourself should you decide to branch out on your own.

Of course, one of the biggest, easiest ways is by looking for information online. If you're like me, you've got access to (and take advantage of) the Internet 24/7. Why not take a break from Twitter to check out an article written by some of the leaders in your industry. Not sure who that might be? Google is your friend! Search for "trends in [industry name]" or "[your industry] industry leaders." The names that come up first and most often are usually the ones you want to go with. However, you must exercise some caution and common sense; there are scams almost everywhere. Beware of links that try to sell you something or that go to shady looking sites. There is also a wealth of information to be found in publications that relate to the type of business you do, such as industry journals and business books. Sure it may seem archaic, but crack open a book sometime to learn more about your business. You'd be amazed at the "a-ha" moments you have once you understand the ins and outs of what you do.

Reading and doing your research is excellent, but that's not the only type of education you need. If you are fortunate enough to work at a company that provides or pays for training, attend as often as possible. This is especially important when the training involves people from other agencies or companies, because they offer benefits beyond the obvious. For example, I am taking part in an Administrative Support Certification Program (ASCP). Of course I don't plan on working in an administrative assistant position for the rest of my career, so why am I taking it? Well, the obvious reason is because it will allow me to learn skills to enhance my current job and make me eligible for a little raise. However, the big bonus here is networking. Some of the instructors work or have worked in fields that interest me: grant writing & management, publishing, consulting, music! And some of the other participants are working in agencies that I would like to work for. I've even connected with other real estate agents and gotten leads from them. Networking with others gives you a chance to pick their brains for ideas that you may be able to implement, leads for job opportunities, and new lunch spots to try.

I would also advise not limiting yourself to the training your job provides. After all, what if your company can't/doesn't provide any at all? You have to take the initiative and find the training that will be beneficial to you. And think outside of the box! Are you in a position or one day hope to be in a position that requires making presentations? Become a part of your local Toastmasters Club. While it's not a traditional "training" you get the experience of making presentations, and mistakes, without having it affect your career. Find conferences and other training opportunities that interest you, then find a way to incorporate them into your work. If you're passionate about it, it will show!

Finally, find professional organizations related to what you do. Some of them may be free, or you can get your employer to offset the cost for you. If you are in the industry that you want to work in long term (or at least one you can see yourself in for a couple years) it would most likely be worth the annual fee. The benefits of being a part of a professional organization are basically the same as the other benefits we've discussed: networking (on a large scale this time) and more training opportunities. Even if you cannot find a professional org that specifically relates to your field, you should try a generic professional group, such as NBMBAA or Young Professional Alliance if there is one in your area.

To the young professionals reading this post, what have you done to make yourself marketable?

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