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7 Steps to Build Skills and Get Hired

Boost your career and income by learning new skills

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Photo Illustration: Paul Spella; (Source: Getty Images (2))

Jason Myers had been working in marketing and public relations for more than two decades. But just before the pandemic, in his role working at the Manchester, New Hampshire-based marketing firm The Content Factory, he noticed some changes in how his business was being done in his field.  Myers knew he needed to catch up to stay competitive.

“I saw that the tactics that had worked previously were not yielding the same results, and that if I wanted to keep my reputation as a professional who could deliver … I needed to convince these large, well-established brands to try a new approach,” Myers says. But for him to convince his clients to change their business models and use new tools, Myers needed to learn some new skills himself first.

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The shifting job skills landscape

According to research from LinkedIn, employers are focusing more on applicants’ specific skills when they hire. For example, 45 percent of hiring managers said they explicitly used skills data when deciding who to hire in 2022, a 12 percent increase over the previous year. That emphasis on skills can be particularly important for older adults.

“A shift to skills-first may also mean that older workers will have to adapt to a world where more fluid career paths and less conventional job transitions are the norm, or else risk getting left behind,” the LinkedIn report says. “Governments and business leaders should develop programs to ensure that older workers not only learn the relevant and rapidly changing skills they need for the future, but that they also learn how to signal those skills to employers who are increasingly adopting a skills-first approach.”

The pace of change is fast. One 2023 poll by online learning company edX found that the executives surveyed estimate that nearly half (49 percent) of the skills that exist in their workforce today won’t be relevant in 2025.

Angie Kamath, dean of New York University’s School of Professional Studies, says that people who don’t devote time to upskilling (updating or adding skills to address changes in their jobs)  or reskilling (learning entirely new skill sets for changing jobs or careers) may find that their options for job opportunities or advancement become more limited.

If you’re ready for a skills upgrade or overhaul, here are some steps to help you create a plan to achieve it. If you already have an idea of what skills you would like to learn, you might start by looking at courses on AARP Skills Builder for Work, which offers free and low-cost online courses that are self-paced.

1.  Ask your employer for training options

One of the best places to get insight about where to focus your skill development efforts is your employer, says Nikhil Arora, CEO of learning technology company Epignosis. “In the modern workplace, culture is king and skilling is queen,” he quips.

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Your employer likely has a vision for the future of the company and the skills it’s going to take to get there, Arora says. The organization may already have learning and development programs meant to expand employees’ skills or policies, or benefits that support learning opportunities, such as sponsorship of continuing education opportunities or tuition reimbursement.

2. Keep up with changes in your field

Kamath recommends spending some time looking at trends within your industry. She and her team often look at skills requirements in job ads to get a sense of how various roles are changing. In addition, webinars, conference themes, and articles from trade media and associations can give valuable clues about changes that are coming — or already here, she says. 

“We’re always looking at kind of what other training organizations are doing,” she says. “We often look at what policymakers are focusing on or trade associations in terms of the ways the industries are changing.”

3. Find the right skill-building resources

Kamath adds that there are many resources to help you build your skills, ranging from free articles and online presentations to fee-based workshops, courses and seminars. She recommends checking out the free materials and planning from there based on your needs.

Myers says online sources like LinkedIn Learning classes, Facebook groups and YouTube tutorials are options, too — with one caveat. “Just be sure you’re signing up for something that’s up to date before investing time and money in training,” he says. “I’ve taught pro-level [social media marketing] and PR training for over a decade, and the classes I taught in 2012 aren’t going to be as helpful in 2024.”

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4. Look to your (younger) mentors

Arora says that mentors can be a valuable resource to help you identify skills that need reinforcement or building. And while it’s common to seek out more experienced and seasoned mentors, he also suggests building relationships with younger mentors, too. Mentors of all ages who are the most tech-savvy may be learning about changes even before they’re happening. “They’re understanding the implications of [changes] very early on, and perhaps they could be a great teacher to you,” he says. 

5. Carve out “learning time”

Keeping your skills current is an ongoing process. Myers recommends integrating learning and skills development into your regular work schedule. When he started upskilling, Myers regularly had personal, one-on-one consultations with experts in the field, found the best online training courses (and took them) and stayed up to date on industry media about the topic. This also gave him the knowledge to help his company look for new talent that could help the business build their internal skills. He estimates that it took him about 20 hours to get comfortable enough to make presentations to his clients about the skill he had been studying.

6.  Seek feedback

Asking for feedback about your abilities and skills can be daunting. What if you get negative feedback or are told that you’re underperforming in some way? That’s a gift, Arora says. “For you to even pursue and learn anything new, you need to know what you don’t know,” he says. Think back over your performance reviews or feedback from supervisors and peers. Are there areas where you have gotten the same feedback about improvement more than once? Are there areas where you’re struggling? Thinking about such feedback may give you valuable clues about where you need to focus on building new skills. 

7.  Embrace the challenge

Adding skills-building to an already busy schedule may not be appealing at first. But Myers points out that learning and staying ahead of trends can be energizing. Staying on top of the latest developments in his field has been a source of pride in his career. “It’s almost like a game,” he says.

Myers recommends blocking out an hour a week to take an online class, sit in on an industry webinar and ask questions, or read up on a new skill that will give you an advantage in your profession. “You’ll not only keep up with the generations coming up behind you, you’ll be able to lead as well as learn from them with your combination of wisdom, experience and adaptability,” he says.

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