Certify Your Business Skills
Employers today can receive hundreds of resumes from individuals with certifications galore, simply by advertising a job in technology. The resumes fly by the recruiter’s eye, touting “MCSE, MCSD, A+ and Network+ certified.” While certifications can certainly establish that you know your stuff when it comes to technology, potential employers can be left wondering if you can truly meet their needs when it comes to important skills that are not specifically related to technology. When you create a development plan that will either help you be more effective in your current role or will support advancement opportunities, it is critical to consider avenues to develop your skills in areas besides technology. Employers today are looking for more than IT expertise.
Business Skills Defined
These needed skills are often referred to as soft skills, though a growing number of companies are referring to them as “business skills.” International Data Corp. (IDC) defines business skills as “non-technical skills, including project management, presentation, communications, leadership, management, customer service, sales and professional development.” Currently, IDC projects U.S. corporate spending on business skills training in 2002 will reach $9.67 billion. IDC forecast that in 2006, spending on business skills training will increase to $16.3 billion. These statistics certainly demonstrate businesses’ need to increase the effectiveness of their workers in competencies beyond their areas of expertise. Especially for technical professionals, this need to broaden your horizon and enhance your skills is truer than ever.
The number of business skills courses is abundant. Some companies bundle technical courses with business skills courses so you can couple your technical training with the most relevant soft skills. For example, with a word-processing course, you can take a complementary business writing or proposal writing course. With a PowerPoint class, you are able to improve your presentation skills with an accompanying course.
You also can combine your technical certifications with the appropriate business skills. A career as a programmer is going to require stronger project management skills than ever before, particularly as multiple programmers work together or interaction with an outside vendor is required. People entering the field of networking need to manage their time effectively and must successfully lead a team, and there are courses particular to those two skills, as well.
Critical Competencies for Today’s IT Professional
Technology advances have increased exponentially over the past 20 years. With these advances has come a deep need for specialists in a given technology, such as those who develop Web site infrastructures and those who are database administrators. It is practically impossible to come up with a technology project that does not require interaction with different departments and business units. If you are looking to advance your career, business skills are essential. As a manager today, enhancing your project management skills is especially critical, as most every IT department in the world needs to manage multiple projects and continually reevaluate priorities.
Assessing Your Skills
Before you make an investment in business skills training, it is important to assess what skills are required in your present or ideal job, as well as those areas in which you need the most improvement. Consider using any or all of the following three approaches or adapt them to fit:
- Create a self-assessment: Look at your present job and what is required, or if you are interested in promotion opportunities, look on job sites such as www.monster.com or www.hotjobs.com to see what competencies are important to employers for the jobs that match your career goals. Assess your strengths and weaknesses for each competency and create a development plan.
- Obtain your manager’s feedback: Another effective way to assess your skills is to ask your manager. If you are seeking promotion opportunities within your company, it is appropriate to ask your manager what areas you could improve in that would make you more eligible for promotion. Tell your manager that you are interested in receiving structured feedback more often than during your annual review and that, in particular, you would like to develop those skills that would help you be a more effective manager, or more effective in your current role.
- Conduct a 360-degree assessment: The most thorough approach is to conduct an assessment that gets the feedback from your peers, any direct reports and your manager. You can do this on an informal basis yourself, but the most valid feedback can be derived from a formal and anonymous survey. Companies like Franklin Covey offer 360-degree feedback tools with many of their courses. You can also purchase a 360-degree Web-based assessment and then create a development plan from the feedback.
Acquiring Business Skills
Continuing to grow your business skills should be an ongoing quest. Once you have determined some key areas to improve, there are multiple methods you can use to develop your skills. Use all three of the following approaches to get the fastest and most effective results:
- Take formal training: There is a multitude of companies offering training on business skills. You can take online training or attend a course in the traditional classroom format. See the “Where to Obtain Business Skills” sidebar for specific companies that offer soft-skills training.
- Practice: Training can often be ineffective if the learning is not reinforced back in the workplace. As you look to improve your skills, you will need to be disciplined about practicing in order to retain your new knowledge or skills. If you take a presentation skills workshop, make sure you find ways to present two or three times in the weeks following the class. If you take a project management course, ask your manager if you can be the lead for an upcoming project.
- Find a mentor: It can be very effective to identify someone with the skills you are looking to acquire and ask him to act as your mentor. Set up a regular time to meet with your mentor and ask for feedback on improving your skills. Identify particular situations you are struggling with and have your mentor make suggestions on how to approach the issue.
Bonni Frazee is the vice president of New Horizons University, the corporate university for New Horizons Computer Learning Centers Inc., the world’s largest computer training company. Bonni can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where to Obtain Business Skills
Brainbench is an independent certification authority that offers online assessments for a variety of skills including IT and office skills. Brainbench has developed one of the largest online test libraries in the world, totaling more than 400 tests. Certifications are available in such topics as business writing, editing, office procedures, telephone etiquette, Internet research, business tools, Internet software and operating systems.
Certiport offers a number of certification programs that demonstrate a mastery of applications and broad-based computing skills. Their certifications can be a great place to start if you’re considering any advanced technical certification. Certiport administers the Microsoft Office Specialist program, which demonstrates efficiency in the Microsoft Offic