|7 Steps for Staying Relevant in a Tough Market
Nancy Settle-Murphy of Guided Insights
Even some of the smartest, toughest people I know are getting skittish about their employment prospects in the months and years ahead. Whether you’re employed and want to stay that way, or run a business and struggle to keep it afloat, you need to find ways to stay relevant in a fast-changing, unsparing economic environment.
In this edition of Communiqué, I describe a number of ways you can shore up your knowledge, skills and qualities that are likely to help position you favorably among employers, clients and business colleagues, especially important during these increasingly competitive times.
- Become an industry expert. Whether it’s the industry you regularly work in, or one that shows promise for your career prospects, invest time in learning it backwards and forwards. Get your hands on industry periodicals and books, check out related websites, and propel yourself to association meetings. Join industry groups and sign up for volunteer activities if they’re available. Interview people you already know about their industry’s greatest challenges and test market ideas you might have for selling yourself or your firm. Go on site to observe real-life business operations, some of which may require an invitation (such as a call center or manufacturing plant) and some of which are open to the public (e.g., a retail outlet or hospital). Earn the right to be regarded as a knowledgeable industry thought leader by learning all you can.
- Develop cultural literacy. In an increasingly flat world, knowing how to navigate through a singular culture will never again be enough. Whether the people you’ll need to work with are a couple of time zones away or down the hall, you need to learn how other cultures are likely to assess your own culture. And certainly, you must also find out about their cultures, beyond the visible aspects that sit on the tip of the iceberg. See movies and read books, whether fiction or not, that depict the culture of interest. Form a “culture club” by asking colleagues who represent that culture if they’re willing to exchange questions and observations you may have of each other’s culture. Pay attention to interactions in meetings or on calls, whether visually or audibly. When in doubt, assume differences unless similarities are proven.
- Learn a new language. Or at least become conversant in a language other than your own. This can be a language of another country (think Spanish or Mandarin Chinese) or a kind of language that’s foreign to you, but which you may need to seize new opportunities (e.g., mastering Excel spreadsheets if you’re a “Word” person, or learning information technology terms when you have a marketing bent).
- Practice new ways of communicating. Go outside of your comfort zone and learn what different social networking tools, for example, can do for you. Think Twitter or FaceBook are places where people you barely know bore you with the minutiae of their lives? Well, maybe. But social networking applications can be a boon if you want to forge new connections or reconnect with those you’ve lost touch with. Learn how to use online meeting or instant messaging tools to augment everyday communications. Restricting yourself to your old tried-and-true communication methods may leave you behind as your peers and competitors learn how to leverage new ways of sharing.
- Perfect “old” ways of communicating. Given the increasingly virtual world we live in, learning how to organize your thoughts cogently and crisply in writing is no longer an option. Find someone whose writing style you admire and emulate it. Study a book or two on business writing (my colleague Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts has some great ones) and practice, practice, practice. Ask a colleague to offer some constructive feedback on your writing. If you know a communications professional, ask him/her to give you some tips and edit your work, whether for a fee or free. Make sure your words convey your thoughts and feelings with accuracy and brevity, especially if you’re writing to ask for a favor, a sale or a job.
- Flaunt your intellect. Capture some provocative thoughts in writing and contribute to an article, whether online or elsewhere. Start a blog or post to blogs from people you admire. Follow noteworthy people on Twitter and create interesting tweets that will attract your own followers. Thanks to the emergence of social networking applications, it’s easier and cheaper than ever before to get your name out to targeted groups.
- Maintain vigor of mind and body. Without physical and mental stamina, you’ll have a hard time keeping up, even in the best of times. But when opportunities are fewer and the competition is tougher, you need an extra edge. Get enough rest and eat well, which both can be more challenging when you’re frustrated or anxious. Exercise your body at least a few times a week, and energize your mind several times a day by learning new words, doing a puzzle, or reflecting an important observation in writing.
To stay relevant, we need to keep an eye on what’s changing around us. Then we need to decide how fast we want to move to keep up, and in what direction. Realistically, we can’t be adept at many new things at once, but if we choose wisely and stick to a plan, we can make sure that we’re well-positioned to take advantage of all new opportunities.