By just about any measurement, today’s workforce is more educated and competitive than ever before.
Many of us know the stats—the percentage of college graduates has been on the rise for decades. The number of people with graduate degrees has doubled since 2000. And the “requirements” on every job description seem to include a four-year degree.
But it’s important to recognize that the ultra-competitiveness of the job market isn’t only due to an increase in diplomas. It’s also the result of a boom in self-learning. That’s because it’s easier than ever to share knowledge, so people have access to entirely new forms of education. From YouTube videos and webinars to six-week boot camps, people have a variety of options for building knowledge and skills.
As a result, “educated” is no longer determined by possessing a degree from a “brand name” college, and companies’ expectations for candidates in this increasingly educated workforce are evolving. In order to compete, candidates need to understand how much relevant education they actually have. And, crucially, they have to be constantly upskilling—educating themselves in order to stand out.
The good news is, technology and online resources make it easier than ever to upskill. The bad news is that with so much information out there, it can be difficult to answer the most important question:
How do you know what to educate yourself in?
After working in the recruitment industry for almost a decade, I’ve learned the answer depends on the career you want. But I’ve also found a few simple steps you can take to educate yourself and, ultimately, stand out from the crowd.
1. Identify how much education you have—and how much more you need.
Some people get complacent about improving their skills because they believe their current company or the educational system will provide them with what they need to know.
Unfortunately, that’s not true.
Upskilling isn’t passive—it’s self-motivated. It doesn’t mean going back for a master’s degree. It means learning on your own, reaching out for feedback, and constantly looking for ways to improve your skills.
To see where you need to upskill, start reading as much as you can about industry trends. Look for terms and language that you don’t understand because that could point to a skill gap. If you have a mentor, ask them for honest feedback on where you can improve. Talk to people in similar careers and ask them where they think the market is today and where it’s headed. Ask them about which tools, technologies, and skills are becoming obsolete, as well as which ones will soon be in high demand. You can even use a product like Edvo that collects data on what skills and behaviors are most relevant for roles to understand how your skills compare to other candidates.
Once you understand how much education you really have, and how much more you need, it’s time to identify the role you want and learn as much about it as possible.
2. Learn the lingo so you can effectively upskill and showcase your relevance.
Part of your self-education is often learning a new language—the language of the job you want.
Every industry and company has its own internal language for talking about responsibilities, outcomes, and even titles. If you don’t understand the language, it will be difficult to understand exactly what will help you land the job and thrive in the role.
To start learning the lingo, contact people within the industry.
Reaching out can be as simple as messaging them on LinkedIn to say you’re exploring an opportunity in a similar role and would love to hear about their experience. Ask for a 15-minute phone call, or buy them coffee if you’re in the same area. Give them a chance to talk about themselves and their role. Learn how they’re evaluated and what tools and technologies they use. While they talk, pay attention to the terms they use and jot down any you don’t recognize so you can look them up later. Or simply be transparent with the person you’re talking to and ask them to clarify the unfamiliar terms.
Once you have a better grasp on the general industry lingo, then it’s time to begin researching the language of the specific companies where you want to work.
For each company, search for the current employees on LinkedIn and pay close attention to how they describe their roles and articulate their results and experiences on their profiles. That way, when you talk to a hiring manager or internal recruiter, you’ll be able to speak the language of the role and understand the metrics they’re using to evaluate you as a candidate.
3. Once you can talk the talk, learn to articulate your value to get the job.
A lot of people have trouble expressing their past success and future potential, which is why they struggle to be competitive candidates.
If you find it difficult to explain the value you added to a company or project, try breaking it down to three main questions:
- Duty: What did you do?
- Skill: What skills did you use?
- Accomplishment: How well did you perform?
So if you’re a sales development rep, don’t just tell an interviewer you made cold calls. Tell them about your duty: “I made 50 cold-calls per day by leveraging X and Y tools to create a strong prospecting strategy.” Highlight your skills: “I honed in on my communication and time-management skills to understand my prospect better, and learned crucial insights like when they’re more likely to pick up the phone versus respond to an email.” Prove your value by stating your accomplishments: “Every month, I exceeded my quota by 110%.”
When explaining your skills and experiences, realize that you’re answering the same questions as hundreds of other applicants. So you need to articulate why you can do the job—and do it better than anyone else. If you’ve already worked to improve your skills and learn the language of the role, then this is just a matter of speaking to your strengths.
Remember, the amount of education you have isn’t limited to the letters behind your name anymore or the university you graduated from. If you’re self-motivated and determined to constantly learn and upskill, there’s no reason why you can’t compete—and win—in today’s workforce.
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