Career Key

Author: Career Key's President and CEO, Juliet Wehr Jones, GCDF, J.D.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

3 Principles for Helping You Learn a New Career or Job Skill

We all know career success is linked to lifelong learning. To remain competitive and adaptable, we have to be constantly learning new skills and knowledge. It’s the only job security we have. But how do we learn? What can science tell us about the best, easiest way for us to absorb and become proficient in a new career field or skill?

I’ve been fascinated by a new book, "Why Don’t Students Like School?” that offers some answers. In it, cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham looks at what techniques help students and adults think and learn effectively. I adapted some of his findings for people choosing or changing careers.

If you’re concerned about entering a new career or learning a new skill, keep these 3 principles in mind:

1. The Snowball Effect of Knowledge: Gain basic background knowledge of your subject or skill and it will become easier for you to learn more about it and practice it (see next step). Just dive in and start reading and talking to people who are experts in it.

2. “Sustained, Long Term Practice”: Practice your new skills so many times they become automatic. That means go beyond just mastering the skill. 3 strategies Willingham recommends (my examples):
  • Getting informative feedback (from peers, friends, supervisor);
  • Doing other activities that will improve your skill (like Toastmasters to improve public speaking); and
  • Consciously trying to improve (make a plan, set goals, ask for support).
3. Intelligence is nature (genes) AND nurture (environment) – so get to work. You can improve your intelligence – you need to believe you can improve and work on actually doing it. The fact your father was not a rocket scientist doesn’t mean you can’t be one. I wish I had known this about math and maybe I would have become an oceanographer instead of a lawyer.

To gain more knowledge and information about your career choice or a skill that will be required for a new job, several activities at The Career Key website will help:
Information Interviewing
Learn More About the Jobs That Interest Me
Identify My Skills
Free Agent Outlook on Work

This all just reinforces the fact that you are in the driver's seat when it comes to improving your career prospects and options. More work for the weary!

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