5 steps to improve your skills from home

Whether you’re working from home, or you find yourself out of work during quarantine, there’s no time like the present to focus on professional development. Here are four steps to identify which of your skills need work and how to start learning from home today.  

Identify gaps in your skillset  

Skill gaps are the things you could be better at or haven’t quite got around to learning yet. The best way to start closing the gaps is to identify your priority areas and start working toward improvement. Get started with this simple exercise. 

Strong skills: interpersonal skills, G Suite, calendar management 

Needs improvement: Microsoft Excel, Quickbooks 

To learn: first aid, project management

In the first column, write a list of your strongest skills. These are the skills you learned at school or on the job that you feel most confident about.  

In the next column, note your existing skills that could use some work. Include old skills that have become rusty, and newer skills that you aren’t fully confident in yet (like a new computer program).  

The final column is for brand skills that could make you a more valuable employee in the future. One way to source these is to view job postings that you might like to apply for. Think in terms of aspirations and look at roles beyond your current experience level.  

For all three columns, be sure to include soft skills like emotional intelligence and decision making.  

Focus on strengthening one or two skill gaps at a time. Interviewers will be happy to hear about your plans for improvement, and don’t forget to clearly represent your strongest skills on your resume.  

Reach out to your network  

Your peers and colleagues are the most accurate resource when it comes to prioritizing which skills to learn. In this time of physical distancing, don’t be shy to reach out, but keep in mind that everyone handles stress in different ways. If you don’t hear back, respect their privacy and move on.  

For those willing to connect, schedule a call, and prepare a list of questions in advance. You might ask a hiring manager in your field what skills they find most valuable, or simply check in with your peers to learn what skills have helped them adapt to this new normal. Whoever you connect with, use this time to gain insight on how you can improve your skills while opening avenues to job applications in the future. 

Take an online class 

Now it’s time to narrow down which skills you can tackle with an online course. There are many free and paid resources available online. Platforms like Coursera and Udemy are structured like an online college class complete with video lectures, online assignments and exams. Courses cover everything from how to be a better communicator to the ins and outs of machine learning. 

Many tech platforms, like HubSpot and Salesforce, offer online courses specifically geared toward using their products. You can even find online certification programs for hard skills like forklift operation, although you may have to postpone practical exams until physical allowances return to normal (more time to study!). 

Be sure to update your resume with completed courses and certificates as you go. Employers love to see that you’ve taken the initiative to continue your education and professional development.  

Subscribe to industry newsletters and podcasts 

If an online class is too much of a commitment right now, there is a wealth of educational resources available to you in the form of podcasts, webseries, newsletters and blogs. Look to your favorite brands, thought leaders and dream employers to see what they offer or recommend. The shorter format is ideal for shorter bursts of learning. Try listening to a podcast while you cook dinner or exercise. You’ll get a sense of what’s coming next in your industry, and maybe even a great talking point for your next job interview.   

Practice makes perfect 

The best way to strengthen a skill is to put it into practice and there’s nothing stopping you from starting a project on your own. Take a lesson from copywriter Luke O’Reilly, who created an ad for Guinness in his spare time. The ad went viral, giving him worldwide attention and a winning piece for his portfolio. You might also offer your services to one of the many charities working overtime in this unprecedented situation. Although unpaid work isn’t the end goal, helping others in a time of need is always a good decision and volunteer work provides a valuable learning experience to add to your resume. 

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