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6 Ways to Future-proof Your Job

About two months ago, a long-standing business acquaintance of mine learned that my company had created a series of data literacy training courses. He called me and asked if we offered them for individuals (we didn’t; at the time we only offered our programs to companies). When I asked him why he was interested in data literacy, he said, “Data is all anyone is talking about. I don’t know anything about it at all. I thought you guys would be a good place to start.”

In some cases, this would have been a totally reasonable exchange – a mid-level executive seeking continuing professional education. But in this case, the man’s title was SVP Marketing. I say “was” because he just updated his LinkedIn profile. Not surprisingly, after three years at his present job, this 18-year corporate marketing veteran is looking for work. Sadly, he is unemployable. While he’s under 40 and looks like a Millennial, he has been “inside” too long and lacks the skills to be competitive in this job market.

So, in his honor, here are six things he could have done to future-proof his job:

1 – Don’t Think of Your Job as a Job

The U.S. Bureau of Labor reports that Baby Boomers are averaging 11.7 jobs from age 18 to 48. That’s an average of 2.5 years per job. (Millennials are likely to switch jobs every two years or even more often.) At those time scales, you should not think of your job as a job, you should think of it as a project. Which means not only should you think of your boss as a client, you should think of yourself as a consultant engaged to solve a specific problem. If you think of your full-time job as just one of your projects (you can and should have other projects, as we shall soon discuss), you are going to be well on your way to future-proofing your income.

2 – Inject Yourself into the Process

Be a student of the world you live in. What’s new? What’s next for your business? Are you in a growth industry? Is your company likely to be the best in its class? If you got promoted, could you do your boss’s job? Would you be better than your boss because you have more competitive, more productive skills? The best way to answer these questions is to inject yourself into the process. Pretend you run the whole company. What would you read every day? Whom would you speak with? What would you discuss? Seek out people who do what you want to be doing and get into their groups. Social networking tools are perfect for this. Use them.

3 – Do Side Projects

If you work for a big company in a specific job doing specific stuff, your skills are atrophying. Every day you are on the inside, you are getting weaker and people on the outside are getting stronger. The best way to keep your skills sharp is to do side projects. If your employment agreement prohibits moonlighting or you’re not comfortable working directly in your area for other companies, just find a side project that will help you hone your skills. It could be doing a specific function for a charity organization. Avocational training can also have huge vocational benefits.

4 – Get Famous

You may not get “Kimye” famous, but fame is a relative term. You need to be famous in your world. Get permission from your company and start to blog. Create a body of knowledge that sets you apart from your peers as an expert in your area. Post a minimum of once weekly. The quality of your writing is more important than the quantity of posts. Take the most common problems faced by the people who might hire you and demonstrate (through your writing) that you are the best person to help solve them. Then, promote your work using social networking tools. This is also a job. Treat it like one. Importantly, this is a career-long commitment. There is nothing more pathetic than an abandoned webpage with your name on it.

5 – Network Relentlessly

Going to a few business events or even specific networking events and collecting business cards is not networking. Networking is a job in and of itself. It requires you to carefully pick the events you will attend. Research the speakers and the probable attendees and target people you want to meet at the event. When you meet the people you are there to meet, try to find some common ground or a subject (because you have done your research) that you can use in your follow-up. After you’ve established contact, you will correspond or meet at appropriate intervals and do your best to build a business relationship. If you don’t think you’ll do this with a new contact, throw away their business card – there was no reason to ask for it. This takes an incredible amount of time and energy. It’s not a second job; it “is” your job. Relentless networking is an exceptional way to future-proof your income.

6 – Plan Your Career

Do you know the daily objective/goal of almost every SVP Marketing? It is to become the EVP Marketing, or EVP of anything, anywhere. You may disagree with this statement. Great. Set your own objective. But have an objective!

What is your next job and what will the résumés of the competitors for that job look like? Do you need “digital” on your résumé? Do you need “data science” or some other crossover job that bridges the gap between the traditional way your job function has been done and the way it is done (or going to be done) at your next job?

Consultants can be opportunistic predators; employees cannot. Which means, for the most part, employees are prey – simply waiting for a re-org or layoff or a change in strategic direction to send them packing. You may argue that I’m painting with too broad of a brush, but the trend is clear. We are quickly transitioning to a world where “jobs” as they have been previously defined no longer exist. So redefine your “job” description and add some future-proofing tools to your skills. They will help you translate the value of your intellectual property into wealth.

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Shelly Palmer is the host of Fox Television’s "Shelly Palmer Digital Living" television show about living and working in a digital world. He is Fox 5′s (WNYW-TV New York) Tech Expert and the host of United Stations Radio Network’s, MediaBytes, a daily syndicated radio report that features insightful commentary and a unique insiders take on the biggest stories in technology, media, and entertainment.