5 Essential Skills You Need to Advance Your Career

how to build essentials skills to advance your career

The world works on the concept of supply and demand.

An increase in demand spikes the value of goods and services, especially if they’re scarce. An abundance of supply, on the other hand, turns goods and services into commodities.

Humans are in abundance today. That’s why we’re treated like commodities at the workplace. Machines are making jobs obsolete, salaries are falling, and it’s painful to see how many people get laid off.

Companies are spoiled for choice. Or so it seems.

It’s true that companies get flooded with applications for a single job opening. But the other end of the scale is also true, which is that all executives suffer from a common pain — the struggle to hire and retain talent. A whopping 82 percent of Fortune 500 executives don’t believe that their companies recruit highly talented people.

the in-demand skills for the future workplace

Strange as it sounds, executives will bend over backward to offer flexible job roles and disproportionate salaries in their attempt to win the ‘war for talent.’

Who are these in-demand talented people? Do they possess exceptional skills in programming, AI/ML, and digitization? Not really.

Such people possess technical skills that are good enough. But the single trait they all have in common is the ability to Get Things Done.

In the knowledge era, sound technical skills are no longer enough to stand out. You also need advanced cognitive skills like decision-making and critical thinking to come up with ideas that benefit your firm, and strong communication skills to convince others of those ideas.

What should you do to build these skills? Should you enroll in critical thinking or communications courses?

Those will help. But first, you need a strong foundation by imbibing business skills that are in high demand by companies across industries.

Harvard Business School Online outlined five such in-demand skills in a paper.

1. Negotiation

We rarely associate negotiation with something positive because one party wins at the expense of the other (and the other is often us).

So negotiation is best left to expert salespeople. Right? Think again.

Almost all our interactions at work and home are negotiations that boil down to the expression of a simple, animalistic urge: I want. Whether you want to convince your peers about an idea, get someone to prioritize your request, or advocate for a higher salary, you’re negotiating.

This art is all about communicating with results, about getting what you want from—and with—other people.

why negotiation is an important career skill

The skill of negotiation teaches you to listen better and ask better questions. It empowers you to move discussions forward. Done right, it helps you build a powerful network. No wonder the World Economic Forum identified negotiation as one of the top skills we need to thrive in the future workforce.

To strengthen your negotiation skills, you can read the book Never Split the Difference.

2. Management

Yesterday, management was about designations. Today, it’s about being able to get things done.

Each of us depends on others for the fruition of our work.

We need inputs for our tasks in the form of data and feedback from our peers. We have to build consensus in meetings to move things forward. We have to convince people to get the ball rolling when it’s in their court.

Management is about doing all this and more. When you can convince people to take action, your work becomes effective. You become a person who can get things done and earns your colleagues’ respect.

how to improve people management skills comic

In other words, you become a leader even without a designation. Then senior leaders notice you and start preparing to move you up the ladder.

How to Win Friends and Influence People is a powerful book to improve your people management skills.

3. Data Analytics

Data entry a basic cognitive skill that involves manually entering data in a system. Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, and other automation tools have turned it obsolete.

Data analytics is an advanced cognitive skill where you leverage data to make informed decisions that benefit your firm.

This involves “knowing how to summarize datasets, recognizing trends, and testing hypotheses to build analytical frameworks to approach complex business problems.” If you step into a meeting with data to support your perspectives, you stand out instantly.

In an increasingly digital world, data is abundant. Hence it’s a commodity. But people who can mine data to come up with useful insights… well, they’re worth their weight in gold.

build data analytics skills at the workplace

Use the existing reports that your peers email the team to enhance your skills. Ask yourself questions like “What does this mean?” “What if we…?”, “Why can’t we…?”, and so on.

You can also take primers like this course by Rice University (no affiliation) to explore different ways of data analysis.

4. Economics and Accounting

I’ve clubbed these two important skills together.

Baseline knowledge of economics helps you understand pricing strategies and demand better. It also equips you with tools to help your company build a competitive advantage in the market.

The ability to read a balance sheet is useful even if you’re not in the finance division. Cash flow and profitability help you understand the company’s position and potential. Financial statements help you understand and communicate your team’s contribution to the organization’s top line and bottom line better.

An added benefit is that you can build long-term wealth by investing in stocks and mutual funds.

If you want to know how a value investor reads a balance sheet, you can check out this post.

Summing Up

The best way to compete is to not compete at all.

The above skills will automatically improve your ability to think critically, make decisions, and communicate better over time. Regardless of your profession, these skills will make you stand out.

You’ll no longer need to engage in despicable office politics to get ahead. You’ll build strong relations across the workplace and turn into an indispensable asset for your team and your manager.

The only way forward from there is up.

In a later post, I’ll share specific steps you can take to build these skills.

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