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Will You Work for Free?

Recently, I was re-acquainted with a friend of mine. Four years ago, Allan was laid off from his company. After spending seven months to find his next opportunity, he told me that he felt defeated by the interviews because almost all potential employers asked him about upcoming data analytics tools and how he would utilize the tools to help businesses solve problems. Being an analyst at the same company for 10 years, Allan thought he knew everything. He became complacent. When he finally landed a new job, he swore that he would study something new every day so that he could maintain his expertise and would not be fearful of these questions anymore.

Last week, Allan called me for help on job search skills. Once again, he had lost his job. In this economy and due to COVID-19, job security seems to be out of our control. However, what he could have controlled, but did not, was that he failed to upgrade his knowledge in the past three years! He thought he had a reliable, secure job, then he got lazy. I still recall his words as to how he would learn something new about his field every day.

The world of work has changed. There is no job for life anymore. The world of work will also be different after COVID-19. On the 12th Day of my 14-Day Job Search Campaign videos that I posted via LinkedIn; I shared my personal view of the most needed workplace skills post-pandemic:

Learning can take place in many ways. Traditional classroom style learning is still popular but will slowly lose its attraction due to time, cost and people’s learning preferences. As adults, we should consider the following when we think about upskilling:

1. Self-directed studying is learning –

My fascination with the field of Human Resources largely comes from the satisfaction of constantly absorbing new knowledge. Every year, I set a goal for myself to deep dive into one area of HR. Then, depending on budget and time, I choose different study methods, such as reading books and online resources, watching educational videos, attending training, taking on new projects at work, giving a presentation, learning from experts, volunteering, etc. Many business leaders rank continuous learning as one of the most important leadership traits.

  • Call to action: What are some things you are interested in both professionally and personally? Set a goal and create a plan to work on what you want to learn.

2. Practicing is learning –

Remember how you learned a second language? It was through constant practice. A colleague of mine has recently posted on LinkedIn that she has just gotten her coaching certificate, and she is offering to coach three professionals for free to help her master her newly acquired expertise.

  • Call to action: What are your opportunities to deliberately use this new knowledge / skill? This can be done through explaining to / teaching others, demonstrating, volunteering using the skill, self-made projects, through work, etc.

3. Sharing is learning –

Every day, we are surrounded by two groups of people: the people who we can learn from, and the people who can learn from us. Talk to them, ask questions, seek advice. My biggest “aha” moments are when I speak with my mentors and other people who have done what I want to achieve.

  • Call to action: Create a list of people you should talk to and get some advice: Who are these people? How will you contact them? What are your top questions for these people so that the conversation can be respectfully ended in 10 – 20 minutes?

  • Call to action: What can you teach others? Create your social media post, a short video clip, a podcast or even a webinar to share your expertise. This will not only enhance your confidence and skills, but also widen your connections and build yourself a professional image.

4. Reflecting is also learning –

We are often too busy with things in life to give ourselves that short moment at the end of each day to reflect and to meditate. Research shows that reflection has a positive impact on our learning and life experience.

  • Call to action: What are your strengths and skills that you can continuously rely on going forward? How can you keep them sharp? What are some work tasks you often avoid doing? How can you become better at them?

When we gradually return to work after the COVID-19 health crisis both employers and employees will be busy getting operations back to normal, and we will be forced to learn the “new norms”. Employers will then rely on their employees to solve problems using their expertise, but within resource limitations. This means that workers will need to get things done more effectively and efficiently, because there will be no resources to spare. These forces will only challenge us to keep our knowledge up-to-date and our skills sharp.

Back to my conversation with Allan:

“Will you work for free?” I asked during our phone call last week.

“Of course, not - I have bills to pay!” Allan has been under pressure due to unemployment. I understand.

“Without the right attitude and skills, you may have to work for free in order to get back into the workforce.” I was being brutally honest, “But now is a good time, if you are able, to volunteer, give back, and upskill if you’re looking for work.”

Things change at a speed that is faster than we can ever imagine. For Allan, I understand that he is concerned that the post-pandemic job market will become tighter, and he’s still haunted by those tough interview questions. In other words, he is afraid of not being market competitive. My advice to him was while he is searching for work through job boards and networking, he needs to keep his know-how up-to-date and even think one step further: What will the most desirable skills in my field of expertise be? How can I develop them?

And NOW is always the best time to take action.


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