How Marketable Are You?
At every stage of your career, enhancing your marketability should be a top priority. The technology job market changes constantly, and so do the skills in demand in a given field or industry. If you are aware of these trends, you can take steps to build strengths in hot areas of IT specialization. In the process, you’ll enhance your career potential. Here are some ways to get started.
In career planning, marketability means essentially what it does in business: the likelihood that potential buyers will purchase the product you’re selling rather than other, similar items available.
The “product” in this case is you—your unique mix of technical skills, certifications, experience and talent. As you know from your job searches, you’re not the only one with something to offer, particularly in the current market.
It can help to think of marketability in terms of the assets that make you a strong candidate for a particular job. Of course, your marketability is also affected by your liabilities, or those weaknesses that could diminish your chances of being hired.
Conduct a Professional Assessment
To create a plan for becoming more marketable, you must first know where you stand. This is the time to assess your career in relation to prevailing job-market conditions.
Consider the following questions: Do you need additional certifications or an advanced degree to progress in your career? Have you maintained a wide network of professional contacts? How active are you in industry associations and user groups?
Other questions to ponder: Do you have a track record of increased responsibility and visibility at your current job? Have you taken on any leadership roles at your firm? Are you adept at managing your time and resources? How well do you communicate with co-workers and managers?
Now take a quick look at the market. Have you kept up with advances and technological innovations in your field? Can you identify specific hiring trends that might affect your prospects? Which skill sets are in demand? Is the market saturated with candidates who have job experience comparable to yours? Are you a generalist in a market that seeks specialists (or vice versa)? How might you set yourself apart from the competition?
Once you answer all of these questions, you should have a reasonably accurate sense of your current marketability. You can then begin building on your strengths and eliminating your liabilities.
Hone Skills, Increase Assets
Skills are the cornerstone of your marketability. It goes without saying that you need to develop the technical competence that enables you to meet the performance requirements of your specific position. In addition, today’s employers also expect you to possess “soft skills.” These include communicating effectively, using logic and creativity to solve problems, demonstrating resourcefulness and accountability in leadership roles, pursuing steady growth in knowledge and skills development and showing flexibility and open-mindedness. These traits often help employers choose between two prospects who are otherwise comparable in terms of work-related abilities and level of experience.
Bridging the Gap
For those areas that may need enhancing, you can refine your skills in a number of ways. You’ll gain leadership experience by seeking roles that require you to manage personnel or resources for the duration of a given project, for instance. Continuing education classes and online training are useful for updating technological abilities or acquiring advanced certification. You can enroll in a local program offered at night or on weekends by a university, community college or technical school, and focus on a “hot” area of specialization. Not only will you become more marketable, you’ll also find a new avenue for networking opportunities.
Alternatively, you can teach yourself. If you’d like to learn how to program in a new language, for instance, purchase or download a developer’s kit or borrow a book from the library. Once you’ve mastered a new skill, consider volunteering to update a nonprofit’s Web site, for example, to refine your new abilities.
Another way to develop professionally is to find a mentor. This individual can serve as an advisor and share his or her experience of climbing the corporate ladder and gaining wisdom along the way. If you’re trying to enhance your supervisory skills, for instance, describe to your mentor how you handled various situations with your employees and solicit constructive feedback.
Keep in mind that it’s a relatively simple task to refine existing skills or acquire new ones, if you are committed to doing so. The challenge, however, is to weed out those traits that could be holding you back. It’s important to analyze past mistakes or difficult interactions and think how you could handle things more productively in the future.
Remember that enhancing your marketability is not a short-term, one-time exercise; it’s something you’ll do throughout your career. While you can’t control what’s going on in the economy, in the job market or even within your company, you can observe some general trends and adapt accordingly. The more responsive you are to changes and fluctuations, the easier it will be to position yourself for success.
Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia and offers online job search services at www.roberthalftechnology.com.