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10 Core Skills that Everyone Needs to Hone Throughout their Career

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January 25, 2023
Define “professional”. Well, it’s a profile of hard and soft skills that set you apart in the workplace, that set your CV apart from the rest, and that is embedded in your reputation. The good news is that professional skills can be acquired at any stage in your career development, from your first job all the way through your retirement. But some seem to forget that a spirit of continuous learning and refining professional skills is crucial to career growth. We’re taking the lens of which skills are worth working on at different stages of your career path to set yourself apart from the pack.

1. Exploration 

Your first taste of professional life sometimes comes long before signing onto a Monday-to-Friday job. Internships, part-time employment, volunteering, and temporary positions are all part of the Exploration stage of career development.  Long gone are the days when it was assumed that you would stick to the field of your first job because now it’s all about developing a curiosity to learn. Especially when you are one of the youngest employees and, unfortunately, need to prove your worth early, it pays to show a willingness to not only complete the assigned work but to ask questions and actively demonstrate that you’re able to take on more responsibility. Curiosity to learn can be exhibited by asking broader questions about the company’s context, competitors, and mission; but also by taking the opportunity to job shadow more senior members and explore outside your immediate team. During a marketing internship, don’t be shy in asking how they interact with the Sales team, for example.

By way of hard skills, nearly every professional role in an office setting today involves some degree of analytics. Just when you thought you would never see the application of those math and statistics classes, analytics will likely appear in your weekly responsibilities, whether that be summarizing ad performance data, breaking down application data, or doing a retrospective on a program launch. Developing data fluency and having work experience to back it up on your CV from the start of your career will aid in showing your right-side brain competencies applied to a professional environment.

2. Establishment

In your early career, you may expressly, or just by sheer natural flow, land on a field and position that suits you well for the next 3-8 years. As you begin to settle into your field and specialty, this is a great time to also look laterally within your organization to acquire hard skills. Commonly, customer service and sales are highly coveted to demonstrate a self-starting posture and ability to deliver on targets. As one of the most important parts of the customer funnel, sales are at the heart of sealing the deal while communicating up and down the funnel to understand consumer needs better. Some people adore the adrenaline rush and competitiveness of sales and business development roles, while others treat it as a masterclass in nailing down a pitch, client relationship building, and cross-team collaboration. Dialectica for example, could be considered the perfect opportunity for a recent graduate, ready to kick start a new career. With its rapid expansion and by being recognized as one of the fastest-growing companies in Europe by the Financial Times, Dialectica has 40+ international professionals joining monthly.

As you continue to get settled into your career, don’t forget to network. Getting to know those within your company, industry, alma mater, and elsewhere, is important not just when job hunting but all throughout the year. Not all sales leads, learning opportunities, and job postings are Google-indexed and available online. Having a human touch and building a network of professional contacts is a mutually beneficial endeavor. Platforms like LinkedIn are brilliant for searching by specialties and localities, while in-person meetups are de rigueur for that coveted facetime and letting that charisma shine.

3. Mid-career

As you mature with your career, you now have a full set of hard skills that you can list on your CV, informed by a few positions to date. At this point, we start moving more into soft skill development. In your mid-career, demonstrating drive is often rewarded with opportunities for managerial and leadership positions. Taking the initiative and highlighting the results you’ve delivered are great ways to show colleagues and superiors that you are driven to take on a more demanding position. For many, this is also the point in their lives when financial needs around home ownership or family needs also drive the need for higher compensation and more senior roles.

In conjunction with taking on new responsibilities and managing team members, is a need for effective professional communication. Many workplace conflicts are rooted in poor communication, whether in content, timing, format, etc. Understanding how to give and receive feedback, fostering an environment for open communication channels, being comfortable with public speaking, and being adept in understanding power dynamics in communication, are all crucial in your mid-career.

4. Late career

Later in your career, a full CV and a respected job title may have you sitting on your laurels. But wait, remember what we said about continuously learning and honing professional skills from start to finish? Well, your late career is no exception. When you’re in a higher-ranking position with influence, diplomacy can be key to reputation management. Much like a real-life diplomat, being diplomatic in the workplace is about fostering healthy interpersonal relationships. Mediating conflicts and finding creative solutions in your late career are great ways to ensure you are well-liked and respected within your organization.

More than ever, employees also expect to see the human side of their leadership, and part of demonstrating your emotional intelligence is vulnerability and empathy. Though this could feel foreign and not suited for the office, on the other hand, the act of masking and hiding our after-work selves is work in itself. Instead, creating an environment where the team shares openly and humbly start with you, as a leader, modeling that behavior. Admitting to mistakes, acknowledging tough periods, and raising the profile of equity-seeking groups will make you a leader not within your organization but within your community.

5. (Semi-)Retirement

We had to leave in the “semi” because often retirement isn’t simply checking out permanently from work. An increasing workforce contingent is seeking to transition from a 9-to-5 to more flexible work arrangements like consulting, part-time positions, and advisory board roles as they sunset into retirement. Likewise, where there is work, there is the chance to develop professional skills further.  Just when you thought everyone should be listening to you as the most senior member, this is the time for you to be actively listening. The world is changing, and so is the context of your business. Listening to younger employees is invaluable in understanding the reality on the ground and the future of the business context. Show your active listening by quoting and paraphrasing, asking open-ended questions and follow-ups, And demonstrating through your body language that you are engaged in the conversation (that means, ahem, putting the phone down).

Semi-retirement is also a brilliant time to offer mentorship. Much like how we seek the help of guidance counselors in school, a mentor can uncover new career paths (or branches) and make introductions to those already in the field. For junior employees, a mentor can help advise on workplace conflicts and ethical dilemmas when they feel stuck.

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