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How to Stay Relevant in a Changing Environment

In my previous article, “Why a Career in Analytics Pays Off in the Right Place”, I discussed how aligning skills with the right company can make the difference in finding job satisfaction. I hinted that the satisfaction is derived from a constantly moving target – fueled by advancement in technology and media – how it is consumed, bought and sold, and most importantly, how it is tracked. So is it possible to not only keep pace with progress, but to put yourself in a position to be differentiated from other employees?  We have all most likely heard the advice, that you have to control your career and path – which is ultimately true, however there is a difference in companies that outline the skills needed for success today, and those that help you build the skills for tomorrow.

I have found that the people who are most content in their careers have been able to align their daily tasks with something they are interested in and passionate about. The example that comes to my mind is a manager I had, who was passionate about banking and consumed by helping others. He was one of the most genuine, driven, caring people I have ever worked with.  He understood the market, and tirelessly read internal and external reports as if every piece of information was unlocking a critical puzzle. The idea of finding your flow, as described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi here in his TED talk, describes how time seems to disappear when you’re involved in a task where you feel capable and one that you are empowered to complete.

Continuous skill development is comprised of smaller, incremental increases combined with more significant focused efforts. The former is more reliant on a combination of self-awareness and constantly looking for efficiencies in minor tasks, for example: learning macros in SAS to simplify code, or mastering pivot tables in excel (the latter, being what I’d like to focus on next).

What does a company who values continuous improvement look like?

It’s important for a company to build a culture around learning and continuous improvement for its employees. This is usually evident in formal and informal ways. For example, a company should allocate  a portion of the monthly or quarterly group meeting agenda to sharing innovative work across teams.  At Merkle we not only do this, but we have also formalized a company-wide initiative, the Cool Sh!t Awards, that are submitted to a committee to evaluate the most innovative, forward-thinking projects delivered in that half. In this case, employees are nominated for something that has had an impact on client business, a key operations project or something that has made a difference to Merkle overall. The submissions themselves provide content for knowledge management and learning, which is distributed across the organization, with key pieces converted into videos for knowledge sharing.  These are motivational examples that keep employees continuously wanting to deliver excellent quality every day and also inspire them to think of ways to innovate.

More formally, the company offers a wide variety of classroom, or on-demand, sessions through the Merkle University portal.  It’s a tremendous resource which has a searchable function to allow employees to find targeted material, course work and training sessions – from harder skills such as  using Tableau and building/interpreting visualization, to softer skills, including leadership training and personal brand development through social engagement.

A recent addition has been the Merkle Digital Professional development series. Created entirely internally, the series of five classes, labs and tests is designed to guide the employee through the use of digital data in marketing. In our search to maximize the ways we can reach consumers on an individual level, we continue to build capabilities in the digital space through acquisition. This series has been a great tool for those who have not had the working knowledge to gain the skills necessary to continue to deliver value to our clients and on top of the latest and greatest.

Training and development are not just resume builders or boxes to tick to keep up with colleagues and the industry. They are discrete, measurable ways to move your specific career forward. To get the most out of it, you must have a broader plan of what you hope to accomplish, an awareness of how you want to differentiate yourself. 

How to evaluate skill advancement in an interview?

Why is it important that a company be committed to developing employees?  It is one signal that the company is forward looking. It is advantageous for the company to consider the strength of every employee as it works toward delivering value to its clients.

If you’re currently interviewing, how can you tell if a company is truly committed to your growth?  Even after over 10 years of interviewing and hiring, I’m still amazed at the number of candidates who are silent when I ask, “What questions do you have for me?” Candidates should be interviewing the company as much as they are being interviewed. Ask questions directly to the recruiting team and to the junior and senior team members to see what ways employees are either required or encouraged to sharpen their skills.

If you don’t get a clear or consistent answer, that should be a red flag. Look for signs of enthusiasm and a clear point of view.

With continuously changing technology, especially in the field of analytics, it’s vital to stay ahead of the competition to maintain relevance and to put yourself in the position to get the jobs you want. Choosing a company that is invested in employee growth is a critical component to managing your career path. You must set out the plan for growth and regularly develop skills to progress it.