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Staying Current: The Key to Consulting

Gone are the days when a person could expect to work with the same skill set for most of their career and never worry if they would soon be outdated.  Today’s companies demand quick thinkers with sharp skills and creative ideas to help them swiftly navigate through the forever changing global economy.  Any opportunity to set yourself apart from the crowd can be of great value.

In the Knowledge Economy, the demand for independent contractors is growing and many good opportunities await highly skilled professionals.  However, this does not mean that independents do not have to work hard to have a career that keeps them engaged and growing.  Clients want contractors who display knowledge, skills and expertise.  As an independent, what sets you apart from your competition can be the difference between getting the contracts you want and struggling to establish your value in the market.

Keeping up with your skills: For independents, the most important decision they can make is to continually improve upon their skill set.  Professional development courses are an effective way to keep your skills up to date.  There are a large number of onsite or online courses available to help you learn the latest techniques in your field, as well as master the nuances of more traditional methods.

It is certainly understandable that many delay these updates.  After a long work day, and for many a long commute home, who wants to then do more work, read about work, talk about work and practice work?  With that being said, the reality is that technology is ever changing and unless your recent contracts have frequently provided challenges for you, your skill set may be deteriorating.

Knowing your specific skills is a big part of doing your job well and growing in your field, but that may not be the only part.  No matter what you do, there are some universal skills that can help all independents.  There can be many soft skills that play a part in a prosperous career.   Two of the more important soft skills to master are effective verbal and written communications.  Also, learning new computer related skills can help to keep you hot in the market.  When a new version of the program(s) you use comes out, consider taking a class at the local community college to learn about it.

Knowledge in a knowledge based economy: The Internet and its infinite amount of free information offers a limitless source of educational resources. Whether you are seeking to gain knowledge on independent contracting, a specific field or skill, or just general business, up to date information can be found in a number of ways.  Educational webinars, seminars and forums can serves as opportunities to learn about developments and trends in your industry.  Blogs and social media groups like the ones available through LinkedIn can be valuable sources for industry news and expanding your knowledge.

Joining a professional association that puts on conferences or continuing education events is a great way to hear the latest topics from the experts.  Networking events can give you a chance to meet and share ideas with other professionals.

Reading the latest books or trade magazines can also provide new insights and the tips that can be incorporated into your job ahead of your competition.  Study the biographies or profiles of successful people to glean for relevant insight and nuggets of wisdom.

Know the job market: The job market can be fairly fast paced, especially in IT.  As technology changes, some skills increase in demand while others fall.  Many skills remain useful long after being popular for maintenance work, but may not provide the most interesting projects or well paying contracts.  On the other hand, technologies that may be “hot” in the press may not necessarily make for many job opportunities.

Keeping track of the job market, even if you are currently on a long term contract is important.  Stay in touch with recruiters and other professionals to get an idea of what kinds of jobs are available and what skills are required.

If you are interested in a change or sense the economy may bring a change on its own, it may be worth working with a career counselor.  Career counselors study the job market every day and have a solid grasp on today’s and tomorrow’s market. 

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