How to prepare for a solid career in a dynamic environment – II

Preparing for a solid career

Preparing for a solid career

In part I, we saw the need to creatively and strategically identify your career path.  In this post we will look at some of the skills that will become useful in the next decade for a satisfying and successful career.

Over the past few weeks I had the privilege to listen to two very eminent authorities in their fields.  The first was Professor Tony Cai, Professor of Statistics at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and the second was Paul Martino, Managing Director Bullpen Capital.

Both speakers stressed the ubiquitous presence and importance of big data and the opportunities that are (already) being seen in the areas of data analytics.  Areas such as genomics and bioinformatics, while traditionally seen as “inexact” sciences are increasingly drawing statisticians to analyze and make sense of the huge volumes of data that are now available.  Such data analysis can be used to predict occurrences of ailments based on patterns seen in the data.

At the same time Paul and Tony also called for building social skills in conjunction with geeky, technical skills.  Personal skills such as self-confidence, self-discipline, ability to weather setbacks, influencing people ,speaking in front of a crowd, making solid business cases, leading teams, effective communication and other skills are very important to be built and nurtured from a young age to prepare for a solid career.

So what are the skillsets that you should develop as you think about careers and the future.

Here are four:

1.      Math and computational skills

In an age of mobility and cloud computing, smartphone apps and social media, every little act we do contributes to the generation of big data.  In fact even we are even unconsciously contributing to the growing pool of big data.  The following is a very limited set of unconscious everyday activities that contribute to generating big data:

  • ·         driving through a toll booth with your ez-pass
  • ·         searching for self-medication on Google
  • ·         hitting the “like” button on Facebook
  • ·         buying a book on Amazon or anything online
  • ·         making travel bookings online
  • ·         downloading a free app on your Apple device
  • ·         following someone on Twitter
  • ·         reading a blog online

Google’s Chief Economic Advisor, Hal Varian, has stated that the sexy job of the coming decade will be statisticians.   –

A basic foundation of math is essential to any future career.  Most startups are now requiring the services of data analytics experts and this has given rise to a new job, that of Chief Statistical Officer or Data Analytics Expert.  Major corporations where big data has accumulated are setting up departments to analyze their data and provide operational, pricing and customer insights.  Companies are now intentionally setting up their systems to collect big data, knowing that their analyses will lead to future profits and business growth.  A solid foundation in mathematics accompanied by another major in statistics, economics or computer science would position someone well for a career in analytics.

2.     Problem-solving skills

 Problem-solving skills will always be in demand.  This ability becomes especially useful as one get buried under a huge mountain of data or is faced with a complex problem.  Separating the signal from the noise and then interpreting the signal to gain useful insights will be crucial to career success. 

All this requires a problem-solving mindset trained to analyze information and follow strong leads, which can be practiced into a habit.  MBA candidates that aspire for a career in management/strategy consulting practice this skill to analyze business cases both qualitatively and quantitatively, narrow down the problem and then provide meaningful conclusions based on facts.  Skills in building algorithms, computer programming or devising strategic solutions to business and personal problems will always be valued. 

3.     Solid personal skills such as resilience, self-discipline and ability to manage change

As you embark on your chosen career you will slowly begin building your value system.  This can get built unconsciously (not desirable) or you can decide how you want to be perceived.  Your self-discipline, time-management and ability to step out of your comfort zone will be noticed and recorded.  You also want to be seen as someone that takes ownership of tasks and likes to be accountable for their quality and completeness.  Moreover, make it a habit to step out of your comfort zone every now and then, and take on tasks that are challenging and which stretch your abilities. 

At GE, future leaders are thrust into roles entirely different from what they have been used to working in.  Then as they grapple with the “stretch” task and bring it to some level of stability, they are moved into another different “stretch” role.  The saying in the company is that no one is ever comfortable in their role, because they don’t last long enough in one.  However, this all-round skill-building, along with the proven ability to manage constant change, helps build future leaders at GE.

You can take this example and train yourself in taking on tasks that will stretch your abilities.  There is no growth in repeatedly doing what you are already good at.

The ability to adapt to changing environment and demands, bounce back from failures and setbacks, set a goal for yourself and execute the plan while believing in yourself, all contribute to your personal make-up. 

These are the skills that senior management looks for and once they notice it, they will put you on the fast track.

4.     People engagement and team leadership skills

Having good math and problem-solving skills will help you get your first job and launch your career.  Perhaps you can become an expert in your field.  But as geographical boundaries are being flattened and people work cross-functionally and cross-culturally in a virtual environment, you need other skills to work with teams.

As you position yourself to grow in your career, you will absolutely feel the need to articulate your thoughts, build solid business cases, convince and engage people, manage customers, navigate the “system” or manage politics in your organization.  No amount of math skills can help in these situations. 

Working with people, being a solid team member and leading teams are the skills that will take you further in your chosen career.

Any career based on a technical or problem-solving skill is subject to automation at some point.  Those that survive will be too few and chased by far too many.  These soft-skills, when complemented with your technical skills, will give you the confidence and ability to take on challenging situations and complex issues and help further your career.

Send this to at least one person you know who is looking to achieve a self-development goal.

Image: (c); author: geralt