Employability. According to some spellcheckers it doesn’t exist. But I would define this non-word, this critical practice, as the single most important thing to aim for as you progress through your career.
You see. I’ve learned from personal experience and the experience of others that it’s important to stay attractive to employers as you go through life. No matter where you live or what you do. Whether you own your own company, have a stable job in an invincible multinational, or you’re taking a necessary timeout.
Maintaining your employability is like maintaining your appearance. Or looking after your health (maybe you value one above the other). But most of us give at least a sideways glance in the mirror before we leave the house. We don’t let ourselves go completely after having children, settling into a happy partnership, or simply because we can. We shouldn’t anyway.
Because unwashed hair and three-day-old sweat pants aren’t attractive to a mate. In the same way that out-of-date knowledge and lack of relevant skills aren’t attractive to an employer. You’ve heard that almost 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Well, unless you’re the exception to the rule, the parting company rate is significantly higher between employee and employer.
Jobs for life, financial stability, retirement fund and nest eggs are sadly all things of the past. Millennials these days are too busy paying the pensions of the generations before them and picking up the slack.
So in this age of uncertainty, the only thing certain is change. Technology evolves, social views shift and stock markets crash overnight. You might suddenly find yourself out on a ledge and looking for something new. So like a good Boy (or Girl) Scout, it pays to be prepared. Here’s how to stay employable throughout your career:
Change Jobs Often
Wait. What? Changing jobs as often as a TEFL teacher used to be something discouraged. But not in today’s job market. We’re not talking every few months here. Unless you work on contract, no employer’s going to be impressed with that.
But whereas universal job-hopping used to be frowned upon (I should know), now it’s actually pretty essential. While employers once criticized would-be candidates with multiple roles on their resumes, nowadays those with just one position find themselves subject to scrutiny. What on earth made you stay in one place so long? What lack of initiative. Next!
Use Your Time Wisely
If you don’t want to lose your attractiveness as you go through your career, then you should be using your time wisely. This goes for you whether you’re currently employed or not, and especially if you’re taking a break.
If you’re on a career sabbatical, electively or otherwise, then you need to make the most of your time off. Travel the world. Volunteer. Think about doing up your house. But make sure you work on doing up your resume as well.
If you’ve always wanted to learn a language, now’s the perfect time. If you want to try your hand at coding, now you can check it out. There are a ton of pages like Udemy and Teachable that can help you use your time off more wisely.
Whatever you do, don’t rest on your laurels or try to wait the time out. Before you know it, like Eastman Kodak stock on the NASDAQ, you’re becoming less attractive. Replaced by newer, shinier models.
Learn New Skills
It doesn’t matter if you’re 21 or 51, you can always learn new skills. Because whatever industry you’re in, even if you crochet quilts or stuff chickens, you’ve been affected by the power of the internet.
We live in a digital age and if you don’t exist online, then you pretty much don’t exist at all. Ouch! OK, so that might be a little harsh. But if you’ve been pushing paper for the last few years or are resistant to social media, then you’ll need to change your mind-set to keep yourself employable.
That doesn’t mean opening up a Facebook or Instagram account and posting intimate details of your life involuntarily. But it does mean that if you have a degree in business, then you need to know how to send a tweet (or at the very least, what a tweet is).
If you majored in marketing, you need to know what SERP is and if English Lit is your bag, then learn that writing for the web is different from traditional print. Even if your current positon doesn’t require you to know about SEO, programming, WordPress or languages, learn about them anyway.
When you get to your next interview and are asked what you learned in your last job, it will be great to tell them your experiences with the company. But you know what will be even better than that? Telling them what you learned on your own time, on your own initiative. After all, employers are far more likely to invest in someone who’s willing to invest in them self.
Keep Your Options Open
Keeping your options open and diversifying your assets is about thinking of yourself as a commodity. You’re used to hearing about diversifying your stock portfolio, but you need to do it with your intellectual portfolio as well.
Because as invested as you are in the company you work for, or own, remember that the wave you’re riding might not last forever. So you need to keep a constant eye out on possible new opportunities.
I’m not suggesting that you act as a double agent though. Far from it. I’m just advising you to be prepared. Know what else is on offer and what skills are being asked for in positions similar to yours. Find out how much companies are paying (it may be time to ask for a rise) and do some networking.
Always Keep Your Contacts
Keep hold of your contacts and treat them like gold. Whether you’re old school and like to use a business card holder or prefer to back them up on a cloud, saving your contacts is vital.
A lot of people in life get where they are by sheer grit and determination. But an awful lot more make it thanks to a helping hand.
If you were offered an interesting job and declined it for whatever reason, then keep that person’s email. If you meet interesting people who work in fields that excite you, add them to your Facebook, LinkedIn or (sigh) your address book. Don’t disregard them because they’re not useful to you right now. You never know when the wind will change direction.
Refresh Your Resume
It’s not the most exciting of exercises but it’s a very valuable one. I recommend updating your resume at least every six months. Add your new hobbies, latest goals, awards and recognitions.
Think about your mission statement or objective. Has it changed? Where do you see yourself in five years? If that question makes you flinch, just think how much better you’ll be at answering it in an interview if you’ve already practiced at home.
Update Your Online Profiles
These days updating your resume really means updating your LinkedIn profile. With so many possibilities to this platform, now you can tweak your profile, keep your contacts and expand your network at the same time.
If you’re being dragged kicking and screaming into the world of social media (as many of us have been before you) don’t worry. It’s a bit like ripping off a Band-Aid. No one will blame you for flat out refusing to fiddle with Snap Chat or tinker with Pinterest. But do make sure you get on LinkedIn. Any future employer (or even investor or client) will google you before they do business with you. And if they can’t find you then, well, you may as well not exist. And you certainly won’t be invited to an interview with me.