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5 Successful Upskilling Strategies for Career Pivoting

Upskilling

Whether you’re interested in a new job, progressing in your career, or pivoting to a different job or industry type, upskilling can help you get there faster.

Even if the job, sector, or job level is new to you, being able to demonstrate transferable skills in your resume and during interviews can help convince potential employers that you’re a risk worth taking.

But you can’t just throw yourself at job opportunities and hope for the best. The path to career progression, pivots, and successful job offers often requires a strategic approach to upskilling.

In this blog post, we’ll explore 5 practical upskilling ideas, as well as anecdotes about other professionals who have successfully applied these tips to boost their own careers.

1. Embrace Digital Literacy

The digital age has transformed the way businesses operate, making digital literacy a must-have skill for employees of all ages. Mid-career and late-career professionals often find themselves lagging in this department.

But it’s never too late to catch up. Digital literacy means not only being good with internet platforms, mobile devices, and social media. It also means being at ease with a wide variety of programs, tools, and platforms that enable you to do your job better, faster, and more precisely.

Admittedly, it’s something we tend to put off as a skill to develop until it affects our current job. However, in an ever-evolving digital world, doesn’t it make sense to get ahead?

Jakub’s Story: The Power of Digital Literacy

Jakub, a mid-level Sales Manager, found himself at a crossroads when his company adopted a new CRM instead of the old Excel spreadsheet system he was used to. Instead of resisting change, he decided to become proficient in it. More than proficient. Especially as he had his eye on a promotion to team leader. Jakub completed an online course about the CRM, in addition to the training provided by his company. He also put his hand up to become a super user, helping other employees with queries and individual support. Within a few months, Jakub not only mastered the CRM, but also began using its data analytics function to optimize his sales strategies. During his next performance review, armed with his super user training experience and increased sales, Jakub successfully negotiated his promotion to team leader.

How can you follow in Jakub’s footsteps?

  • Check out online courses (free or paid) on programs, platforms, or other tools that are desirable in your next career move. If you’re not sure what these are, then read some sample job descriptions online. You’ll find any required digital knowledge in the ‘Essential Requirements’ or ‘Desirable Requirements’ sections. Look for common trends, and then focus on these skills.
  • Wherever possible, obtain certificates as evidence. Don’t forget to add these to your resume and LinkedIn as you go along, in case a job opportunity suddenly arises.

2. Develop Your Soft Skills

While hard skills like project management or budget management are very important for both your resume and ability to carry out your job, upskilling soft skills like communication, flexibility, and adaptability is equally crucial for career progression and job hunting.

While soft skills are definitely more subjective (you may think you’re great at time-keeping, for example, but your boss may say you’re often late for meetings), these can - and do - help you stand out from professionals with similar hard skills.

Because we tend to develop our soft skills over time, as we learn and grow as a professional, it can be hard to keep track of areas for improvement until a situation arises to test our abilities. As well as your own self-reflection, think back to times when you felt a particular skill of yours could be better. Or re-evaluate feedback from team members or performance reviews.

Perhaps you struggle with making decisions, or you’d like to be better at mentoring and motivating junior colleagues. Write down a list of your soft skills to focus on.

Maria’s Story: The Power of Smarter Communication

Maria had been a Project Manager for several months. She was assigned to a project to roll out a product update across four sites of a key client. The client stakeholders were often dismissive of her team’s efforts, believing their product management team should be taking the lead, not Maria’s company. This was Maria’s first major project leadership role, and working with such a difficult client was challenging to say the least. Recognizing that her communication and negotiating skills needed refining, Maria took an online course in advanced communication techniques. She also sought advice from more experienced senior colleagues, gaining highly insightful advice on techniques and strategies to try. Maria applied her upskilling straight away. As her communication abilities improved, she found herself better able to overcome resistance from the client’s team. At the end of the implementation, Maria’s CEO received a letter of commendation from the client’s CEO to praise Maria’s leadership, communication, problem-solving, and bottleneck resolution skills.

How to follow in Maria’s footsteps?

  • The way to upskill the soft skills you’ve identified can be varied and multi-faceted. In-person or online courses in public speaking or conflict resolution are ideal, whereas negotiation or effective decision-making could be refined and practiced by watching online masterclasses or videos.
  • Don’t forget to practice any techniques learned in your current job, so that you have the opportunity to develop and refine what you’ve learned in real-world settings.

3. Upskill to Explore New Industries

For many of us, contributing to the growth of an industry or sector we love may be a huge motivator for career satisfaction. Conversely, investing your working days in something you feel neutral or even unhappy about can be a source of great dissatisfaction.

But just because you’ve worked in certain industries for your entire career, that doesn’t mean you can’t branch out and try something new. Career pivots can be intimidating, but they offer opportunities for growth and fresh challenges. Sometimes, switching industries can even rejuvenate your career. In fact, the best industry for you may as yet be undiscovered.

It’s true that some hiring managers view experience outside their industry as irrelevant. However, the vast majority are certainly willing to consider candidates with clearly transferrable knowledge, as well as applicable soft and hard skills. The trick is to ensure these speak loudly and clearly in your resume, cover letter, interview responses, and LinkedIn.

For example, your ability to not only plan curriculum-based classes but motivate and inspire learners as a teacher in the education industry, can be transferred to a learning & development setting in a corporate environment.

Luis’s Story: From Automotive to Renewable Energy

Luis, an accountant with 23 years of experience in the automotive manufacturing sector, decided to pivot into the realm of renewable energy after becoming fascinated by the sector at a climate change conference. In addition to reading up on the industry, he joined his current company’s Sustainability Committee and researched new energy vehicle development in the automotive industry. In particular, he attended webinars and a conference on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and electric vehicles, then shared his learnings with his company’s development team. But it was more than this. Luis also built up a network of accounting and recruitment professionals working within renewable energy. When an opportunity came along at Siemens Gamesa, Luis got in touch with a contact there and asked for his resume to be submitted via their referral program. Of course, his resume reflected all the conferences, learnings, publications read, and committee involvement, not to mention relevant keywords grabbing the reader’s attention immediately. It took several rounds of interviews, including winning over a sceptical interview panel member. However, Luis eventually secured a mid-level accounting role at Siemens Gamesa, and honestly couldn’t be happier about his career.

Pivoting to a new industry often requires learning industry-specific knowledge and networking extensively within that field, as Luis’s case illustrates. And the further into your career you are, the more work that will probably entail. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible by any means.

  • Depending on your target industry, you may need to be creative about how to showcase transferable knowledge. This may range from rephrasing your professional summary and key skills section of your resume, through to pursuing volunteerism or hobby opportunities in your desired sphere to build up your on-paper knowledge and experience.
  • Also, like Luis, immerse yourself in learning everything you can about your target industry. Press releases, publications, research papers, books, videos, industry events, and networking with people in the industry are all valuable ways to learn more and to decide if it’s right for you.

4. Master the Art of Data Analysis

This one may sound a bit far out, but hear us out. Just think about it: how often has a manager or senior leader asked you for metrics or data-based insights on your work? This might include sales target or KPI achievements, marketing campaign metrics, the statistical pros and cons of developing a certain product, or even data to identify high performing or underperforming clients.

Data is the lifeblood of virtually every industry. So (do you see where we’re going here?) highlighting your proficiency in data analysis can make you much more attractive when it comes to promotion or industry pivots. Even if you’re not pursuing a role as a data analyst.

Emily’s Story: The Power of Data Analysis

Emily really, really wanted to be promoted to Marketing Campaign Manager. A colleague beat her to the post when the job was recently advertised. Although Emily was a great fit, the Senior Marketing Director told her that her colleague had deeper data analysis expertise. Emily in fact had plenty of data analysis experience. But she a) hadn’t thought to highlight this on her resume because she didn’t think it was relevant and b) found out that her colleague studied statistical analysis as a core subject as part of her Marketing degree. Emily was determined to land that job next time it became available. After updating her resume and LinkedIn, Emily completed three certificate courses related to tracking, analyzing, and reporting data-driven insights, and how to apply these to creating and evaluating campaigns. This upskilling anecdote has an unexpected twist: while waiting for that coveted internal opportunity to arise, Emily was approached by one of the course leaders for a remote opportunity with a hugely promising start-up. Emily took a leap of faith and accepted the opportunity (after negotiating for a more senior job title). The new role gave her not only a broader job scope, but the fast-paced start-up environment suited her much better than a more traditional setting.

Data analysis skills are highly sought after in many industries, including marketing, finance, and healthcare.

  • To upskill in this, consider pursuing online courses in data science, business analytics, or machine learning to enhance your data-related skill set.
  • Learn how to use any data analysis programs your company uses, or study commonly-used programs such as Adobe Analytics or Tableau.
  • The next step is to apply what you’ve learned to an aspect of your current role. Be seen by leadership as someone interested in data analysis. Pursue tasks or projects that will enable you to put these skills in action.
  • Then, ensure your upskilled experience and skills are reflected on your resume and LinkedIn.

5. Cultivate Leadership Skills – Before They’re Needed

Leadership should not just be a logical next step up the career ladder. Almost certainly, if you close your eyes and think for a moment, you’ll recall some terrible leaders you’ve worked with who were promoted for their industry, sales, or other expertise, but floundered once they were promoted to leadership. Particularly when that involved managing people.

They struggled because they either didn’t have the skill set, experience, or character to be a good leader. While the latter is harder to overcome, and experience takes time, the skill set angle can certainly be prepared for. This is where investing in quality leadership programs and upskilling courses can pay dividends (literally and figuratively).

Robert’s Story: From Employee to Leader

Robert, a robotics engineer with 15 years of increasingly progressive expertise, aspired to be a department head. He’d been passed over twice already, and had been ghosted by an external recruiter after three rounds of interviews. Robert had no solid feedback to go on, but he knew that his leadership skills were either not clear, or he wasn’t seen as quite ready. He was determined to change that. The first step was a Coursera certified course on leadership by the Copenhagen Business School. This opened his eyes to several aspects of leadership that he hadn’t considered before, especially in an innovative company that was regularly commented on by the media and public as his was. Robert completed two additional Coursera courses to round out his perspective. He then began applying some of his learnings to two junior colleagues that he mentored. The next step was to revise his resume, putting emphasis on more recent experience and gained skills, and minimizing earlier roles and outdated expertise. Additionally, Robert joined an industry membership body, which enabled him to attend specialist conferences, network with industry movers-and-shakers, and participate in membership committees. It was another 18 months before Robert tried applying again. And this time? He was successful.

While developing leadership skills doesn’t mean pursuing an MBA, it does mean actively upskilling to ensure you’re fully ready. After all, it’s not just a senior job title: you may have the professional satisfaction of many employees under your wing. As well as pursuing any practical experiences in your current role, aim to immerse yourself in the art of leadership well beforehand.

  • Check out YouTube videos and online masterclasses to learn more about modern leadership.
  • Read leadership books and listen to leadership podcasts.
  • Take online or in-person leadership courses (as Robert discovered, Coursera is a great resource).
  • As you go along, figure out your leadership style. Think deeply about areas of strength and areas for development. Cultivate the upskilling of both.
  • Learn common leadership interview questions and practice great responses (check out the JobLeads MasterClass on Mastering the Job Interview or the JobLeads Ultimate Guide to Interview Questions).
  • Consider seeing a career or leadership coach.
  • Pursue leadership interviews with the mindset of ‘practice makes perfect’, even if you don’t land the job this time around.

In short, do everything you can to be a great leader so that, when the time comes, you will be truly ready to be one.

Conclusion

Upskilling is not a one-time effort: it’s a career-long commitment. Whether you’re aiming for career progression within your current industry, a pivot to a new one, or simply looking for a new opportunity, these 5 practical upskilling tips will help you get there faster.

Remember: It’s never too late to invest in yourself and embrace change. As Jakub, Maria, Luis, Emily, and Robert show us, with determination and the right upskilling strategy, you’ll get there faster and be better at it.

Key takeaways

  1. Embrace Digital Literacy: The digital age has transformed the way businesses operate, making digital skills a highly valuable asset. The more tech-savvy you are, the more you can potentially contribute to your employer (e.g. data analysis, faster task accomplishment).
  2. Develop Your Soft Skills: While hard skills are of course vital for your resume and for your ability to carry out your job, upskilling soft skills like communication, flexibility, and adaptability can help you stand out from the competition and do your job better.
  3. Upskill to Explore New Industries: Sometimes, switching industries can rejuvenate your career. To showcase your transferable skills, ensure these speak loudly and clearly in your resume, cover letter, interview responses, and LinkedIn.
  4. Master Data Analysis: Data is the lifeblood of virtually every industry. Sales targets, KPIs, marketing campaign metrics, the statistical pros and cons of developing a certain product – a huge amount of business decisions rely on data. Being skilled at tracking, evaluating, interpreting, and applying learnings from data analysis can make you a very valuable employee.
  5. Cultivate Leadership Skills: Leadership should not just be a logical next step up the career ladder. Too many people struggle with leadership because they don’t have the skill set, experience, or character to be a good leader. While the latter is harder to overcome, and experience takes time, the skill set angle can certainly be prepared for through a strategic approach to upskilling.

What are the benefits of upskilling?

Upskilling benefits your career in the long term by keeping your skills relevant and competitive in a rapidly changing job market. It enhances your employability, opens up new career opportunities, and can lead to promotions and higher salary prospects. Continuous learning also shows employers your commitment to personal and professional growth, making you a more attractive candidate for various roles.

What are the best online platforms for upskilling?

Some of the best online platforms for upskilling include Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, and edX. These platforms offer a wide range of courses across different fields, allowing you to learn new skills at your own pace. They often provide certifications upon completion, which you can add to your resume and LinkedIn profile to showcase your new competencies.

How can I identify which skills to upskill for my industry?

To identify which skills to upskill for your industry, research job descriptions for roles you aspire to and note the frequently mentioned skills and qualifications. Engage with industry reports and trends to understand emerging skills. Networking with professionals in your field and seeking feedback from mentors can also provide insights into valuable skills to develop.

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