Specialties Change – So Should You
By Susan Fenner, Manager of Education and Professional Development, International Association of Administrative Professionals
During the course of our careers, most of us have established ourselves in some specialty area. We may have been noted for organizing information and files. Maybe we were admired for having a memory like an elephant and were able to pull out historical trivia from procedures and policy manuals. Perhaps we were singled out because of our innate ability to meet new people and put them ease, making us a plus in welcoming new clients. But, as in all things, time has a way of eroding the past and creating new horizons in the future.
Are your skills the ones that employers consider top priority today? Do they mesh with the changing economic and work environment? If not, then you’d better get busy honing new talents that will set you apart from the crowd.
Here are some questions you might ask yourself.
1. Am I still doing my work the same way I did it five years ago? If you answered yes, then you’d better talk to other administrative assistants to see how you could do it better, faster, and cheaper.
2. Am I at my best in face-to-face interactions? If you are, then you’ve missing out on most of today’s communications, the ones that happen virtually. Take a course to beef up your written and electronic skills. Learn the ropes of talking and establishing trust with individuals at a distance. The most prized employees are the ones who can collaborate across time and space.
3. Do I prefer to work with someone I already know? If the answer is a resounding yes, then you’re missing the boat. It’s as easy to do business with partners across the country as it is to work with someone down the street (sometimes easier). If you are relying on a printer across town, ordering supplies from around the corner, or knocking on local doors for donations, then you are in left field. The really savvy folks are those who make the best use of technology to same money and take advantage of pooled resources for mutual gain.
4. Am I using a less-than-the-most-current software version? If you are, then you may have settled on your laurels and grown comfortable with the familiar. You probably don’t even know what you’re missing. True professionals keep their fingers on the pulse of the latest equipment. Push your employer to help you be as productive as you can be, by supplying you with the latest computer aids. At the same time, push yourself to keep current with the latest technology and applications. Know what you need and ask for it!
5. Do you read a professional publication, a technology magazine, and a business book or newspaper at least once a month (meaning all three every month)? If you said no, then you are not staying up to speed. How can you predict how your job may change and offer suggestions for innovations if you don’t know what is working in other places, what skills you need to develop, and keep an eye on what’s new and cutting edge?
6. Are you displaying and promoting a certification that is outdated? If you are not certified, you can’t vouch for your proficiencies as compared to the profession. If you haven’t recertified, then you can’t verify that your skills are up to date. Document your continuing education.
7. Have you completed any training in the last year that directly applies to your job? This doesn’t count meetings or passive engagements. If you have to say no, then I guarantee that you are not headed for top billing in your company. In today’s workplace, most things you know have a shelf life of no more than five years. By that time, the software you’re using is outdated, the resources that were once useful are no longer available or in place, the people you used to rely on are most likely gone. Get out. Meet new contacts, learn new techniques, find new shortcuts.
8. Does your office look the same way it did five years ago? If it does, then something is wrong. Electronic files should have superceded paper files, phones and faxes can be handled on your computer, your desktop should now be control central. If things are in the same place and your methods are “old faithful”, then you are out of touch.
9. Do you have the same corporate heroes as five years ago? If you do, then you need to expand your relational base. You should have mastered the skills you learned from your heroes in five years and moved on to new areas of development. Extend your mentoring and find new people to learn from.
10. Do you have the same aspirations you did five years ago? That can be to retire at 65, move up to management, or start your own business? If you do, then something is wrong – either you have chosen the wrong goal or you lack self initiative and ambition. Reinvent yourself on a regular basis. When you set goals, give them timelines and measure your progress. Don’t “wish” your life away. Make it happen.
Every year, do a systems check of yourself. If you don’t have the skills needed for the emerging workplace, get them. In today’s marketplace, there is no such thing as standing still or holding ground. You are either moving ahead or falling behind. The choice is up to you.
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