Around the world the market for skilled people, for professionals, for generalists and specialists, is increasing exponentially. Ironically, at the same time the market is demanding only specific skills, knowledge, understanding, experience and qualifications, and these are often not the traditionally known ones. Remaining marketable in such fast changing and demanding times is now essential if an individual is to continue to be successful in their work. It is not enough to have traditional skill sets, nor rely on qualifications which have been superseded by more modern versions or completely replaced. To remain marketable it is essential to continuously, appropriately, and visibly, update your qualifications, skills, knowledge, and understanding. Additionally, in many business sectors you will need to demonstrate that your experiences are also current, varied, and relevant.
Successful providers of goods or services adopt what is known as the Marketing Concept. This, in essence, is the producing or selling organisation focusing primarily on identifying the needs and wants of the customer, rather than the operational capabilities of the organisation. This customer driven approach ensures that the organisation is aware of current and likely future customer needs and enables it to provide products that it knows certain customers will purchase. Of course, other factors, such as competitor activity and background changes in the marketplace, are very important, and will be factored in to the strategies. It is this approach that must be taken by the individual seeking to be successful in their careers.
To remain marketable, to be successful in finding new opportunities, to make good progress in whatever field you have chosen, you will need to adopt the marketing concept to yourself. This means researching what your customers or clients want. If you are intent on staying within your current organisation, you must research and establish what are their current, but more importantly, future people needs, what skills, experience, expertise, qualifications, are they seeking from their key people. To highlight the importance of this, consider what an external applicant, applying for a post in your organisation, would do. Correct, research and present themselves in a way which matches the needs of the organisation as closely as possible. If you are planning to change organisations, or sectors, or to set up a business, the same applies, you must identify the current and future needs of your chosen target. If you do not, then it is highly likely that your profile will not meet their needs.
This is the most essential first step. You will need to consider which markets you are targeting, which customers. In other words, which business sectors and which organisations, or which clients and customers if you are setting up a business. This is not an easy task but it is critical that you do this well. If you are planning to remain employed then much information is readily available, directly from organisations and from business sector trade organisations, indirectly from sector reports, educational research, educational institutions who provide sector or profession specific courses, educational departments of professional associations, marketing companies, government departments. The danger is that many of these information providers may themselves not be up to date with the latest developments and trends, so you will need to cross-check most information. If you are planning to set up a business, then you will need to carry out market research on your potential customers or clients. Armed with information on the current and forecast condition and the current and future people or services needs, of your target markets, you can then move on to the next step.
The essential second step is to carry out an analysis of your current skills, experience, qualifications, and ongoing development activities. The best and most simple tool to do this with is the SWOT analysis: identifying your strengths and weaknesses and then the opportunities available to you and the threats that face you. You can do this alone, but it is much better to seek help from others, such as a coach, mentor, human resource specialist, line manager, or friend who can give advice and support objectively. When you have identified your strengths consider how these can be enhanced. When you have identified your weakness (in relation to your target customer’s needs) you should plan how to reduce or eliminate them. In both areas, this will probably mean taking on personal and-or professional development activities, which we will discuss below. Opportunities will need to be assessed in two stages: firstly those available to you now, given your current profile, and secondly those that will be available to you after you have made yourself more marketable, by enhancing your strengths and taking positive action to eliminate or reduce your weaknesses. Threats are also best assessed in two stages: firstly those currently facing you, and secondly those that are likely to arise in the future. As you can see, identifying your current attributes is a major task, but one that is highly valuable and essential if you are to move forward successfully.
As we are illustrating in this article, your most valuable transferable skill may well be that of being willing to continuously develop yourself. That aside, there are other attributes that will be highly valuable. Whether you are considering moving into another business sector, or setting up your own business, then in the process of carrying out the SWOT analysis, you should add a category where you can list your current transferable skills. These are skills, experience, qualifications, knowledge, that you already possess and which will be valuable in your new work situation. These attributes can range through the hard to the soft, and can include contacts, experiences, specialist expertise, passion for certain type of work, qualifications, internet skills, foreign languages, and so on.
After you have completed the analysis of your targeted markets, and of your current skills, the next step is to draw up a development action plan that will fill identified gaps, enhance strengths, reduce or eliminate weaknesses, prepare you to take advantage of opportunities and equip you with the means to defend against threats. Preparing a personal professional development plan is a major task and should not be taken lightly. Advice and guidance should be obtained from appropriate sources, even if this is simply to research current best practice, by using the internet and-or textbooks. Your plan should be designed to develop yourself in a way which results in your profile matching that of the target markets. It is unlikely that you will achieve a complete match in a short space of time, but you must start the journey with that in mind. Considerable help is available, from professional associations, sector specific educational qualification providers, private business schools, public colleges and universities, and can be studied in distance learning, classroom, or on the job formats. Some development areas are widely useful, such as courses in general business and management, quality management, project management, and marketing, whilst other subjects can be highly useful if identified as a specific need, such as risk management, event management, financial awareness, strategic planning, and customer relationships. There are, of course, many more that could be essential development areas.
In addition to the necessary personal development activity, there are other avenues that should be explored. These include: networking, which is seen in some sectors as a valuable marketing tool for employed and for self-employed people; building a presence by publishing articles, in relevant journals or internet directories or publishing a weblog, or even writing and publishing a book on your business specialism; taking on public speaking; joining and participating in local branches of professional associations. These are but a few of the many ways of promoting yourself, which can be explored in more depth through research on the internet.
The message here is very simple. You must take action. Whatever your marketplace it will be highly competitive and highly demanding. You will need to be actively managing your participation, your self-marketing, in order to be amongst the successful participants.
There are some common pitfalls that can damage the process. The main danger areas are: Allowing current workload to prevent you from taking the action described here. You will almost certainly never be less busy, it’s the way of the modern business world that the amount and the pace of change is continuously increasing, and this translates into workload; You are tempted to focus on technical, operational skills, rather than broader, more conceptual skills, such as interpersonal skills, negotiation skills, or strategic approaches; You become committed to a position because it was easy to obtain. If this happens it is unlikely that the attraction of the post will last; You limit your opportunities by trying to match your existing skills with opportunities; You limit your opportunities by carrying out little or insufficient research; You limit your opportunities by not looking beyond your current business sector; You procrastinate and don’t take action. All of these are fatal mistakes. You must avoid them and take positive, realistic action, now.
Making yourself more marketable, more attractive, more credible, more interesting, is an essential skill in today’s highly competitive, complex, and fast-changing business world. The need to show evidence of continuous personal and professional development is no longer expected of the few, or in certain professions only. It is now mandatory in all business sectors, and in all organisations, be they private or public, commercial or non-profit making. The most successful individuals embrace this requirement and add it to the range of skills that they equip themselves with, and then develop it with passion and commitment. To make yourself more marketable you have to take that task very seriously, and commit appropriate effort and energy to it. If you can also add passion for continuous development and learning, the rewards will be considerable.