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Indispensable: How to Upskill and Advance Your Career

By Sarah Treleaven

Published March 28, 2023 • 6 Min Read

You’ve probably heard it before: there’s never a bad time to future-proof your career. But against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and (gulp) high-profile layoffs, you may be feeling a little more determined to cement your place on the team, position yourself for a salary bump or simply expand your options.

There’s nothing wrong with doubling down on your assignments and becoming great at your job today — that’s definitely half the battle — but the employees who become truly indispensable at a workplace tend to be those who prepare for what their job could be tomorrow.

We connected with Lianne Krakauer, a career and leadership coach, for her thoughts. One way to grow your career is by upskilling, she says, or committing to continually learning new skills that make you smarter, faster and all-around better. Here, she shares eight ways you can safeguard your income, and grow in your professional and personal lives.

Don’t just think skills; think qualities

In considering the contributions you make, Krakauer recommends that you assess not only your skills but also your qualities. “What makes you exceptional as a human being is what makes you indispensable,” she says. Think about your role in a team or as a leader. Are you reliable and trustworthy, the kind of colleague that everyone can count on? Are you a quick learner, someone who can pivot quickly? Are you adaptable, keen to keep up with whatever your industry or an individual client requires? And do you get results, setting out intentions and then accomplishing them?

Pay attention to feedback

Performance feedback can vary widely from place to place and role to role, but Krakauer says that these assessments are crucial to understanding how competitive you are—especially with your present employer. “Are you being rated as highly as you could be? Is there a consistency with how you see yourself? What messages are you getting about your future trajectory with the company?” she asks. “If you’re not hearing anything, then you have to ask.” Krakauer says that it’s important to listen to both what you’re hearing and what you’re not hearing. “If you’re not hearing that you are indispensable, that you’re someone we project to be at this next level or in another role, then there could be an issue.”

Open the door to opportunities

If you want to know how competitive you are, it’s helpful to test it, says Krakauer. That doesn’t mean you need to immediately start applying for new positions. But if you’re networking, online and off, are people seeking you out? Are past employers or former colleagues coming to you to see if you might consider moving? Are recruiters gauging your interest in a new role? If you’re not feeling sought after, it might be time to take another look at both your skillset, and how you position yourself.

Find role models — whether you know them or not

Krakauer suggests studying the people who have the job you want. “Check out who’s in a role more senior to yours,” she says. “What was their training? What credentials do they have?” LinkedIn can be a helpful tool for this, as can company bios. But Krakauer says that it’s also important to find mentors within your own workplace. “This is huge, particularly for newer or younger professionals,” she says. But don’t be passive about your interest; take charge by setting up meetings, asking for advice, and being clear about what you hope to learn. And then make a plan to implement what you’ve learned.

Go above and beyond

With all the talk of quiet quitting, Krakauer suggests distinguishing yourself by doing the opposite. While acknowledging that this can be tough for anyone already stretched thin, both professionally and personally, she says that it can be a shortcut to getting ahead. Pick one thing that transcends the scope of your work and make sure that people know about it. Krakauer had one client who volunteered to start developing Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion efforts, and was eventually able to create his role. “It made him stand out at the company in a very different way than just in his job,” she says.

Stay on top of your training

Any additional relevant training, education or certification is a great way to stand out—and help you figure out your next moves. “Being a continuous learner throughout your career is essential to being successful,” says Krakauer. “It sparks innovation, new ideas, new thinking, and it helps you expand your network.”

Keep up on the latest trends

As with all things, skills development is subject to trends. Krakauer sees two specific trends related to skills or qualities that are particularly relevant now and likely will continue to be important to employers for the next few years.

One, adaptability: The pandemic forced a mass pivot and sent shockwaves through nearly all industries — and employers continue to take stock of which employees were able to adapt to changing circumstances. “I work with professionals who suddenly had to do things remotely,” says Krakauer. Before, Krakauer says there was a greater expectation that change was necessarily slow. Not anymore. “Hearing about lawyers who had to quickly learn how to attend court on Zoom was incredible.”

And two, management skills. Beefing up the skills that can be directly applied to your field is one thing; but as most people climb the ladder, they’re going to have to take on a role managing other people. Krakauer recommends making a formal plan to learn how to get the best out of people, how to communicate effectively, and how to handle retention issues. “These seem like obvious skills but if someone has been an engineer and has relied on their technical skills to get ahead and now their scope is getting other people to deliver, it’s a really different skill set.”

Always look ahead

Part of remaining competitive is a constant process of checking in with yourself: Am I happy where I am, and what else do I want for myself? Where do I want to be in three or five or 10 years? “It doesn’t have to be a finite goal, just a direction,” says Krakauer. “[Otherwise], you won’t know what steps you need to take to get there.” Engage your colleagues and industry peers in conversation and expand your sense of possibility — both in terms of where you can go and what you can learn along the way. “Don’t wait until you’re desperate to leave,” says Krakauer. “If you get to a point where you’ve stopped growing, it’s going to be much tougher to start somewhere else.”

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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Career Planning & Development