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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

How to future-proof your employability

Once upon a time, the world didn’t change that fast, and most people could use the same skills throughout their whole career. But technology has made change happen faster.

How to future-proof your employability
[WavebreakMediaMicro/AdobeStock]

A few decades ago, future-proofing employability wasn’t much of a concern. Most people got “jobs for life” from their first employer and stayed with them until they retired. In contrast, 25% of millennial and 33% of Gen Z workers changed jobs in 2020, which demonstrate the largest portion of the job-hopping groups.

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What gives?

Once upon a time, the world didn’t change that fast, and most people could use the same skills throughout their whole career. But technology has made change happen faster—it only takes a few years for knowledge and skills to become outdated now.

So, there’s a clear case for why we need to future-proof our careers. But how can we actually do it? Here’s a guide to a few of the most effective strategies I’ve found to thrive in your career for many years to come.

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WORK ON YOUR PERSONAL BRANDING

Brands aren’t just for companies or entrepreneurs anymore. Chances are that you already have a social media presence of some kind, so why not double down on that and use it to your advantage? It’s better than having an unintentional brand or one that you’re in denial about even having in the first place.

If you’re not sure exactly what to focus on yet, start by establishing a professional brand on LinkedIn. These are the first actions you should take:

• Use a professional headshot as your profile photo.

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• Fill in your employment history accurately.

• Come up with a catchy headline (and don’t be afraid to use emojis).

• Write a profile summary that’s personal to you, your skills, and your motivations

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But this is just the beginning. If you have a clear idea of where you want to go in your career or the impact you want to have on the world, you can center your brand around this and make it even more effective.

For example, if you work in fashion and you’re passionate about sustainability, you could work toward becoming a thought leader in this area by making regular LinkedIn posts about related news.

You can then use the same focus for your other social media accounts. Why not tweet about sustainable fashion and post pictures of your favorite style finds on Instagram?

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HARNESS YOUR CREATIVITY

Creativity isn’t just about making paintings or music. As technological solutions become more intelligent and capable of doing the tasks we once relied on humans for, creativity is becoming one of the most crucial and in-demand skills for work. You’ve probably heard that artificial intelligence (AI) is coming for your job; one of the best ways to protect yourself from this trend is to become a master of creative thinking and innovation.

So, if we’re not talking about art, what are we talking about? Creativity is all about innovation. If you can come up with new ideas that relate to the future of your industry or the processes your company uses, that more than qualifies as creativity in my book.

Even if you don’t think of yourself as a particularly innovative person, remember that idea generation is a muscle. Entrepreneur James Altucher has a special method for becoming an “idea machine” that involves coming up with 10 ideas every day. They don’t have to be related to your work—this is simply about building your creativity.

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Keep this up for a few months and you’ll likely find yourself making suggestions to your team and becoming a more valuable asset in your workplace.

HONE YOUR COMMUNICATION SKILLS

Like creativity, effective communication is a skill that’s becoming more crucial in an AI-filled world. And thanks to everyone living behind a computer screen for the last two years, I find that it’s becoming one in short supply.

You might think you’re not extroverted or charismatic enough, but communication isn’t about being the loudest person in the room. Emotional intelligence and active listening are key components of communication, and these are two aspects that introverts tend to excel at.

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Ultimately, communication is all about practicing. You need to get yourself out there to talk to people whenever you can (even if it’s not in a professional capacity), then reflect on how it went afterward. Did you struggle to keep the conversation going? Did you say anything that made them uncomfortable? Did you give them a chance to speak?

If you’re feeling brave, you could even ask people you know and trust for feedback about how you communicate with them.

LEARN HOW TO NETWORK

Once you’ve mastered basic communication skills, put them to good use by channeling them into networking. Everyone has heard the saying, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” yet I find that most people don’t want to put the effort into actually doing the networking (or they simply don’t know how to get started).

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There are a few ways to go about this. Some people prefer to start digitally by interacting with others through their posts or messaging people directly and arranging to meet up. This approach makes sense if you’ve worked on building your social profiles and have an existing network of interesting people you’d love to get to know better.

But equally, you might prefer to go about things the old-fashioned way by attending in-person events. It’s more daunting for many, but it also gives you more of an opportunity to hone your communication skills and to develop an authentic connection with others. Consider looking for networking events on platforms like Eventbrite, Meetup, or even your alumni network.

YOU CAN’T FIGHT THE FUTURE, BUT YOU CAN EMBRACE IT

Whether we like it or not, the future is coming. So why not embrace it by future-proofing yourself and your employability? While everyone around you is trying to work on their technical skills or suck up to the boss, hone the things others are neglecting, like your personal brand and network.

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You might be surprised at how far it takes you.


Tim Madden is an Executive Coach and former Headhunter. Founder of Executive Career Upgrades, he’s on a mission to help accelerate careers.

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