By Rob Sabo
Having the right skill set can help you land a new or better job, as well as put you in prime position for a promotion. Some may argue that being a well-rounded employee is more important in 2012 than ever before. High national unemployment -- 8.5 percent in December 2011 -- means competition for jobs is fierce and is likely to remain so throughout 2012 and maybe even beyond.
Polishing these crucial skills during the year can help you increase your worth to current and potential employers, as well as help you become a smarter, more complete and hire-able employee.
1. Technical Literacy
It's not enough anymore to be able to read and send emails and write in Microsoft Word, says Uva Coles, Dean of Career Management Services at Peirce College in Philadelphia. Today's employees need more.
"You need the basic computer skills and to show expertise in them, and that can be difficult," she says. "If you just have the basics, try to enhance those skills. Go online and try to see what classes are available."
Coles suggests job seekers and others take computer literacy or proficiency courses online or through a local community college. Additionally, a nearby library or career support service center may offer courses to enhance and sharpen your computer skills -- and perhaps boost your income.
Stephanie Dmytriw, operations director for Geotemps, a staffing agency that places geotechnical professionals at mine sites, works with a large number of extremely talented geotechnical professionals. She believes every industry has technical skills that are important and valuable to advancement within that industry.
"I can't stress how important it is that people learn those technical skills and apply them in their industry," she says.
Getting a job, Coles says, often boils down to likability. When faced with several qualified candidates, hiring managers often choose the person they like best. Having good communication skills is essential to getting yourself through the interview process and on a company's payroll.
"The interviewer needs to feel some connection to you, and you need to be able to communicate well and be positive. That can be difficult, especially if you have been displaced or turned down for jobs several times."
Treat every interview as a new experience, she says, in order to approach your interpersonal communication with interviewers and hiring managers in a positive way. Also, she says, it is much more important now than ever before to effectively communicate in both verbal and written form. Taking business writing classes at a regional or online college can strengthen your ability to communicate professionally.
"How you communicate in email matters," Coles says. "A business-writing course goes a long way; take it as an elective or even as a course that is for non-academic credit."
3. Critical Thinking
Dmytriw has found that one of the most important skills workers can have is the ability to step back and absorb the big picture. Such workers, she says, are solution-oriented -- and very valuable to employers.
"Every manager spends the majority of his or her time managing people. If you want to be valuable, you need to be able to identify problems and figure out how to solve them, as well as figure out how your part in the business affects the entire business," Dmytriw explains.
"Every job you go on, that should be your focus -- what can I do for them, what do I bring to the table and what makes me spectacular," Dmytriw adds.
Clearly, this skill can't be learned in a classroom. However, by careful reflection of your duties and how you can do a job better, you can increase your worth as an employee. Try joining a committee or a community-based organization or board to use your brain in different ways and sharpen your problem-solving skills.
4. Social Media
Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter aren't just for kids; each social media platform in its own way has become a crucial business tool and is a natural part of today's work environment. Job seekers and employees should be familiar with how different social media platforms work.
"More and more companies have to use social media, so you need to understand how to leverage social media in the work that you do and know how it may impact your company," says Coles.
If you are wary about using Facebook and the like, contact your local chamber of commerce to see if they offer courses or partner with individuals who are experts in social media. Also, don't be surprised if potential employers use social media to check you out.
A word with a number of connotations, to be sure, but in this case it means working well with a wide range of people from various backgrounds and demographics. Today's workforce is more varied than ever. For instance, many older workers are delaying retirement, and oftentimes, the job they've done for decades has changed due to improved technology or other factors. Also, many older workers now find themselves being managed by people several generations younger.
"No matter what kind of organization, small or large, you are looking at a diverse population," Coles says. "To be the most marketable and to be promoted and grow, you need to work with people from diverse backgrounds; it is a business imperative."
Diversity can be practiced by careful introspection and insight into the way you think about different ethnicities, age groups or members of the opposite sex.
6. Work Ethic
Perhaps the most overarching quality that can help you succeed this year is a strong work ethic. You can learn technique, or how to properly perform a task, but a strong work ethic comes from within. Work ethic can only be hard won through practice; it's not written on any paper or taught in a class.
"Be punctual, and stay as long as it takes to get a job done. Good managers and good leaders will notice, and that is what comes up when it is time for your review or promotion," Coles says. "Resolve to do your best with integrity. Be accurate and honest. The right people will recognize that, and it will go a long way."
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