Last month, I had the great honor of keynoting the Geeky Summit, a gathering of women in technology in Calgary, Canada.
The topic of my talk was making yourself continually employable by creating a powerful body of work.
As I prepared for the keynote, then delivered it and had conversations with the participants afterwards, I thought about what it means to be highly, continually employable.
At its core, continual employability means you would be a perennially desirable candidate in any work mode, whether you work for yourself or for someone else.
I do not pretend to ignore things like workplace discrimination and age discrimination. There is data to back up that these situations exist in just about every industry.
But outside of things we cannot control, there is a lot we can control when it comes to maintaining employability.
We have all known people who defied expectations, maintaining their relevance far beyond the scope of their education, or span of their life.
Before he got sick, my Dad at age 81 was still freelancing for the company he worked for his entire career. This was no accident.
In my 25 years experience in career development, here are the five critical areas to focus on to ensure you remain employable:
1. Meaningful Connections
It is very common to get in a comfortable groove with people who directly impact your work. We may know our teammates and colleagues at the office very well. We may have an excellent relationship with our clients and partners.
But imagine for a second that the bottom fell out of your job or business. Do you have a rich network of people who know, like and trust you outside your immediate circle?
These circles take time to build, and require that you get creative given your limited time, budget and energy for networking.
Suggestions for expanding your network:
-Attend a new conference once a quarter and put a priority on meeting a few interesting new contacts
-Join a local business association
-Talk with people at your gym, on your kid’s sports field, or anywhere else you are in community with people from a cross-section of different backgrounds
2. Continual Skill Development
How fresh are your skills? Do you feel strong and confident in what you do day to day, or do you have a nagging feeling that you could freshen up and strengthen your craft?
The most employable people put a priority on continual learning. They invest time in training, ask for feedback and actively pursue opportunities to learn new things.
Skill development does not have to come in the form of a formal class or training (although that is great too).
It can be as simple as nerding out on YouTube to learn new tips in your skill area.
Suggestions for developing new skills:
-Take on a volunteer assignment outside of work that allows you to learn new skills in a non-threatening environment
-Interview or shadow an expert in your field once a quarter
-Read new articles or industry publications
-Check out university certificate programs in your area of specialty
3. Creating Every Day
What is your tangible body of work? Do you create exquisite code, beautiful business plans, or exceptional graphic design?
Sometimes in a service-based business (such as coaching and consulting) it is hard to explain the tangible thing you create. But it is important that you understand the importance and craft of your work, and make sure that you are doing and tracking meaningful work each day.
Suggestions for consciously and continually creating:
-Define the stages of your creative process
-Reflect on and tally up the work you do every day, or week (“I wrote 10 new proposals this week, and closed 3 new clients!”)
-If you work in an organization, watch the amount of time you spend in meetings as opposed to directly in your creative process. Cut out all non-essential activities so you stay fresh and engaged with your work.
4. Sharing Your Story
How many people in your life really know what you do? How often do you share images, stories, videos or case studies of your work?
Are experts in your industry aware of your talents and skills?
I know that many people hesitate to brag or appear self-promotional, but the truth is, if you do not share your story and your work, no matter how good it is, it will not lead to invitations of employment.
You must let people know what you do, and the span of your capabilities.
Suggestions for sharing your story:
-Create a personal website (if you work for someone else) or update your business website (if you work for yourself)
-Find a fun and enjoyable way to share stories about what you do (such as updates on social media, blog entries on your personal website, or visual displays in your office)
-If you never have time to write your own case studies or content, look into hiring someone like Full Stadium to do it for you.
5. Good Reliable Habits
My coach Mark Otto has helped me see this year that good habits are essential to excellent performance, goal attainment and ongoing employability.
If we are not aware of the behaviors that hold us back, we will find our productivity and success continually torpedoed.
If you own your own business, I am a fan of Tiny Marketing Habits, my term for implementing small ways to seed new business development each day.
Things like sleeping enough, walking in the morning or not checking email until you have accomplished your most strategic tasks in the morning are examples of good, reliable habits that fuel success.
Suggestions for developing good habits:
-Evaluate your health and note the area that feels the most out of balance. Make small adjustments until you feel better about your overall health.
-Note the biggest causes of your procrastination (for me, it is Facebook for sure) and set up alternative habits (like taking Facebook off your phone, or using a social media blocking app like Freedom.)
-Set regular weekly and daily planning times so you have a clear idea about what you need to accomplish
-Brush up on habit formation best practices (and get double points since this contributes to Continual Learning too!) by reading this excellent New York Times bestselling book by James Clear: Atomic Habits.
Nothing can guarantee that you won’t ever go without work, but if you focus on these five critical areas of employability, you will have a much better chance at bouncing back quickly.
My wish and prayer for all of us is that we have continual, meaningful and abundant work opportunities, regardless of the volatility of the market.