Professional Development

5 Strategies That Will Help You Build Strong Workplace Skills

Written by Kate Lopaze

As we look at a brand new year, you might have the classic resolutions lined up: eat better, sleep better, be better. If your revamped goals also include being better at your job (or stepping up your game so you can nab a new job), there’s a great way to make progress without changing everything at once: build your workplace skills. This can mean bolstering skills you already have, or seeking out new ones.

Saying “go forth and build skills” is one thing, but how to actually do that? Let’s look at some strategies for how to start your growth process.

1. Be realistic.

If you decide you want to brush up your Spanish language skills, don’t expect to be fluent in six months’ time (no matter what that app tells you). Make sure you’re setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Bound). Make sure your skill-building goals have concrete steps that can be achieved in the time and brainspace you have available.

For example, if you’ve been saying you’ll take that management seminar when you have a magical period of free time that never materializes, chances are you’re not going to do it this time around, either. Make sure you have the time and space in your life to work on these skills before you dive in.

2. Focus on quality over quantity.

Making a little progress on 10 skills is nice, but wouldn’t you rather make tons of progress on 2 skills? Pick a few areas where you can really dig in and put in the work, with the time you have available.

3. Focus on process over end result.

Let’s say your current plan (realistically) looks like this:

  1. 1. Improve communication skills.
  2. 2. Yada yada yada.
  3. 3. …Promotion!

That’s a system that isn’t going to work. It’s great to envision where you want to end up (that’s a key part of any goal setting exercise), but you can’t let the details in the middle get muddled while you focus on the end. Make sure you know exactly how you’re going to get to that endpoint by creating specific steps and touchpoints along the way. Where do you want to be in two months with this? Six months? A year?

4. Pick skills that will be useful.

Don’t learn Swahili because hey, why not learn Swahili? Learn Swahili because your company just opened an office in Tanzania, or because your boss’s boss is fluent, and you’d love to drop some key phrases at next year’s office holiday party. Focus on skills that will be useful to you in the short term, and that are specific to your career path. For example, if the next level at your job involves presentations, work on your public speaking skills. If data analysis is an emerging trend in your field, seek out online lessons for some ninja tricks to improve your Excel game.

5. Know your existing strengths.

Yes, the whole point of this exercise is to learn new things. But it will be very difficult to learn these new things if you’re going too far outside your comfort zone, and want to give up because your new skill is hard. It could very well be that you’re just not learning the skill in a way that makes sense to you. Make sure that you understand how you learn best. If it’s by watching other people do things, take online tutorials. If you process information by hearing it, seek out lectures. If you would rather read about it, head to the library. If you try to align your skill-building with your best learning style, you increase your chances of success.

So what skills will you be building in the new year? We’d love to hear about your progress!

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.