Ask anyone with a highly successful career. They’ll tell you: Lifelong learning — and specifically continuous development of both soft and hard skills — is the single best way to improve your career prospects.
So we asked members of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) this simple question:
For the young careerist, what is the single best way to improve both soft and hard skills?
Here are some great answers from eleven people with some real “been-there-done-that” experience…
1. Take an Internship
If you’re looking to develop your soft and hard skills, then there’s no place better than an internship or apprenticeship to gain real world experience. I learned more from internships about how businesses operate in the day-to-day than I did by going to school. Internships allow you to practice your skills in a safe and supportive environment, and learn new skills and make great business contacts.
2. Attend In-Person Workshops
If you’re in a reasonably big city, there are more free workshops in a day than anyone could ever imagine, or even attend. To learn about the workshops most relevant to your career, subscribe to local e-newsletters with events, meet-ups and career-related functions. You’ll not only get to attend workshops that enable you to continue learning new skills, you’ll be meeting peers and mentors and developing your network.
3. Look for Mentors and Coaches
Look for a mentor or coach that is a star performer in the position that you’d like to be in. For example, if you are a sales manager, but want to become the vice president of sales or sales lead, find someone who is doing that and build a mutually-beneficial relationship. Then ask them to mentor you. Because they are in the position, they can give you an accurate description of what skills you need to obtain to fill the gap.
4. Go Outside Your Comfort Zone
While you can learn a lot at workshops and more formal learning, the best way to develop new skills is to get out of your comfort zone and tackle them head on. What do you want to improve? Your salesmanship? Go out and pitch investors or buyers directly. Your customer service? Work the phones for a day. Your public speaking or leadership? Organize and front an event. Live and learn — and improve your career skills!
5. Research Information on the Internet
It’s foolish to believe everything you read on the internet, but it’s also foolish to discount everything you can learn from it. For any given topic there are forums, blogs, videos, scholarly articles and expert-run websites. Do a search on the soft skills and hard skills relevant to your job, career and industry. Then start reading! After all, the internet as a tool for learning should not be discounted.
6. Run a Meetup Group
You do not need a business idea to start a Meetup Group; you just need passion and a purpose. While starting the group, you need to think about event planning, marketing, sponsorship and speakers (for workshops or fireside chat format). You would hone your soft skills by recruiting volunteers and managing them. Also during the meetup, you would leverage and build networking skills.
7. Join a Startup
From Day 1 on your job at a start-up company, you’ll grow tremendously in every capacity. In a smaller team with bigger responsibility, you’ll be forced to work yourself out of tricky situations on a daily basis. You’ll also be tasked to do more than most other jobs would ask of you. A few years in a startup environment can completely change you for the better — and significantly help your hard and soft skill development.
8. Start a Side Business
There is no better way to gain skills than being responsible for the success of your own side gig. If you start a side business, you will learn how to incorporate and run a business, including sales and marketing. You’ll also learn more about accounting, time management, and customer interaction and support. And, of course, you’ll improve your specific skill set that started the business in the first place.
9. Take a Low-Level Job in Your Industry
Regardless of your goals, an entry level job (or internship) in your industry will teach you a whole range of both hard and soft skills. When you’re responsible for all kinds of grunt work and everyday tasks, you deal with a wide range of people and technologies. For example, if you want to own a restaurant, you should work first to learn how everything works at ground level.
10. Invest in Subscription Sites
There are great resources out there that give you access to high-quality training from real experts for a remarkably low price. Investing in a subscription learning service like Lynda.com can be a great idea, especially if you’re early on in your career and need to build skills quickly. To prioritize the best subscription courses for your specific career, seek to understand the skills you currently have versus those you really need.
11. Get Into the Ring
The single best way to learn is to do. Jobs that provide a well-rounded set of experiences where you have to meet and understand people from different backgrounds with different goals immediately teach you how to deal with different and unexpected situations.
Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched Business Collective. This free virtual mentorship program helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.