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When you start your career, your skills are pretty much what you learned in school. It’s like carrying a small purse with some cash and a debit card. In the first few years, you’ll take that purse everywhere. Many years later, you’ll find it safely tucked away in a suitcase full of skills that you’ll carry along from job to job. Throughout my 20-year career, I’ve picked up many skills since graduating.
Before I pass along my advice on building up your skill set and maintaining a successful career in marketing or tech, I have this story to share. It’s not off topic, I promise.
Over a diet soda (and some chocolate, I must confess), I had a nice chat with two women, each at different points in their careers. One just graduated college; the other has been working for about five years. They both had a familiar look in their eyes. The recent grad had the look of, “What am I going to do next, and am I fully prepared for my first job?” The other had a slightly similar look, but you could see a sense of confidence mixed with some curiosity. I could see her thoughts forming, and then she said: “I wish I had learned this in school. Then, I could do these projects myself.”
I told them that the best years of your career will come when you take the initiative to learn something new. I’m not talking about on-the-job experience. Of course, that too is incredibly valuable. I’m talking about taking a class, watching a tutorial or getting someone to teach you something you have absolutely no experience in.
Advice For New Grads: Be A Sponge
When you start your first job, you’ll meet many people with different levels of experience. This is when you need to be a sponge and open to learning new things. It’s normal to be excited and eager to apply your training and education to impress your co-workers, but keep your eyes open for opportunities to self-educate and learn from others.
Skill-building is essential. So much so, LinkedIn not only lets us add skills but social sharing encourages us to endorse each other for skills we excel at. Make sure you spend ample time improving your skills before you pick up another one. Learning new things, especially in the early years of your career, can be scary or seem like a distraction that won’t help you improve your craft. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
At my first job, I worked as a graphic artist for a small business, a software consulting company. My first task was to build the company’s new website. During my interview, I vividly recall explaining to the CEO that I had absolutely no experience coding a website but that I was confident I could design a beautiful and intuitive site for his company. He assured me he wasn’t concerned about my lack of coding abilities and that I would learn those skills in my new job -- and I did. I was paired up with two senior developers, and they taught me HTML. It was hard, especially for me, a right-brained person. And this was back in 1997, when CSS was in limited usage and Adobe Dreamweaver hadn’t yet been released for PCs.
I have looked back on my first year and realized that taking on a new skill was a lifelong lesson. Be a sponge!
Advice For Anyone: Take Every Opportunity To Learn Something New
Every opportunity I’ve had to learn something new has made me a better designer and marketer. Learning how to write HTML code, for example, helped me in different ways. First, it reminded me that designing for the web is not like designing for print. It’s not a blank canvas on which you can freely design across the pages. Coding also taught me how engineers think and how things are built. These concepts are particularly important when designing user interfaces or working on product marketing.
About halfway into my career, I hit a crossroads and picked up another skill. I was at a fantastic company but found there wasn’t any room for advancement. I put out a few feelers and went to an unusual interview. I wasn’t told what job I was applying for. In fact, my interviewer said something like, “I like your portfolio and I want to hire you, but I have to get with human resources to sort out a job title and description.”
He eventually offered me a role in executive communications, supporting the office of the CEO. I was hired to do presentation design and communications support. Everyone in the department had either a degree in communications or journalism. I had neither; I was an art major. I had little experience in writing outside of advertising.
In the beginning, I received some harsh feedback, and that pushed me to want to become better at writing. I read books, I wrote a lot, I edited a lot. And most importantly, I got advice and tips from some amazing writers who I worked with over the years.
Seek the resources you need to learn new skills on your own, and never hesitate to reach out to others who can teach you. As a woman in the marketing or technology field, you’ll find challenges along the way, but you can overcome them and find success simply by having the courage to learn something new.
Since you’re reading this article, you’ve already got the best tool to get started. Just decide what you want to learn and type it into the search bar or open an email and ask someone for help with something you want to learn more about.
If you’re like me, an expert packer when it comes to traveling, I know you’ll find room in your suitcase for one more skill. Happy learning!
Original article featured in Forbes.com on Sep 17, 2018.
Article by: Deanna Salas