Where I mix career information and career decision making in a test tube and see what happens

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Improving Your Skills, Part 1

This blog is a departure from my usual focus on career information. It’s about career advancement. Many people who want to get ahead in their careers think their only option is to get an additional college degree, certification, or other formal credential. In my book 2011 Career Plan: The Best Moves Now for a Solid Future, due out in September, I explain some other strategies for getting ahead.

You advance in your career by improving your skills. Degree programs and other formal courses are not the only way to do this.

Let’s face it, nobody knows exactly what to do on the very first day at the worksite. Every new worker needs at least a little informal on-the-job training from experienced workers. Why should this end once you’ve learned the job? When you see co-workers using a skill that you don’t have, ask them to show you how. Most co-workers will be happy to teach you, if it doesn’t take up too much of their time.

Another way to learn informally is through independent study. In fact, this may be your only option if the skill is so arcane that local classes are not available. A few years back, I was involved in a project for a university in Saudi Arabia and realized it would be useful for me to learn some Arabic. This was before 9/11, and it would have been difficult for me to find an academic course in the language, so I undertook a self-instruction program using a textbook and homemade flash cards.

I managed to teach myself a smattering of Arabic, but the program eventually ran aground because I lacked a study partner. Study partners help reinforce each other’s learning and keep the learning program on track. Without a study partner, you’re more likely to give up quickly.

In 2011 Career Plan I include a checklist of characteristics that are good to have in a study partner:

Characteristics of a Good Study Partner


__ This person is interested in learning the same skill that I want to learn.

__ For the skill that I want to learn, this person is now at roughly the same level.

__ For the skill that I want to learn, this person has roughly the same aptitude for learning.

__ This person is as committed as I am to keeping the study program going and staying on task.

__ This person and I can agree on what book (or other learning resource) to use in our program of study.

__ This person and I can get along reasonably well.

__ This person’s schedule and mine allow time to meet regularly for study sessions.

__ This person is able to find time to do the homework required between meetings.

When you’re filling out this checklist, it helps if you know which statements you feel positive about. However, you may be unsure about some statements. For example, you may not know how committed the study partner is until you have started studying together. If you feel neutral about some statements, you may choose to give the person the benefit of the doubt, start studying with this person, and eventually decide whether the arrangement is working out.

On the other hand, if you already feel negative about several statements, maybe you should consider finding someone else as a study partner

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