Interdisciplinary studies are not a recent development, Greek historians and dramatists took elements from other realms of knowledge to further understand their own material. New occupations demand multiple skill sets once attributed to multiple professions. Careers are merging. What if you’re skilled in two or more disciplines, but you’re stuck in a job that makes use of only one? What if you want to explore your full capacity? You can learn the skills you want, and hone the skills you have to become an independent professional and make your own opportunities.
Now is the best time to join the independent workforce. Information is available on demand and in your pocket, and continues to rise at an unfathomable rate never before experienced. New and fundamental methods to enhance learning are accessible to all. Using graphic design and writing in the tech field as examples, I’ll discuss reasons to foster multiple skills, abilities that transcend time and craft, and resources available today to help you go independent as a professional with multiple skill sets.
Reasons to pursue multiple skills
Owning multiple skills in today’s tech-driven industries is obligatory. With new technologies invented at a record clip, the demand placed on graphic designers to keep up is greater than ever. The following is an excerpt from a recent job posting I found online for a content designer:
- Experience in product writing, content strategy, and/or copywriting, with a demonstrated record of writing successful UX/UI copy with measurable impact.
- Proficiency in Sketch, Figma, Photoshop, Illustrator, or equivalent design tools.
- Experience advocating for content and design, garnering resources when needed, and driving projects forward even in the face of obstacles.
- Experience creating and applying style guides and related artifacts to help others write successfully.
- 5+ years of industry experience.
- Ability to track the effects of your work across multiple teams, and proactively manage issues and complexity.
- Leadership skills: the ability to give strong, thoughtful feedback, and an active drive to help others improve.
In those seven bullet points there are at least 15 required skills, not including the 5 years of experience. What were once separate fields, content and design, are now joined into one. Professions are merging. For the humble graphic designer it’s not enough to know Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, that’s the base level minimum—new software such as Sketch, Figma and even After Effects are being added to the fold. Likewise, a writer who wants to break into content design has to somehow find the time to learn the required software, understand crucial design principles and put in the time to gather industry experience.
Freelance designers that have experience with After Effects are in high demand, but motion design used to be a field of its own. Product design used to be user interface and user experience design, or UX/UI. Next, take into account skills required to gather verifiable information, manage projects and people, communicate ideas using specific digital terminology, all to achieve daily success. The label “Jack-of-all-trades” is no longer a snub, it’s part of the job requirement.
In his article Polymath Interpolators: The Next Generation of Designers, Paul A. Rodgers states that, “a new emerging generation of designers is needed to tackle the many different challenges facing the design profession,” describing this new designer as the “hybrid designer.” He goes on to reference that, “designers no longer fit neatly into categories such as product, furniture and graphics; rather they are a mixture of artists, engineers, designers, entrepreneurs and anthropologists.”
Transferable skills for success
“Where a man’s word goes, and where his power of perception goes, to that point his control and in a sense his physical existence is extended.”
Whatever skills you choose to pursue as a consultant, there is one area of expertise that determines success or failure—social skills. No matter how talented you may be, if you don’t know how to relate to others, success in any field will be temporary.
The following are 7 transferable skills that will help you across careers, and they’re interconnected to one another. They’re transferable because they enable you to do your job well, whatever that job may be.
Competence and technical ability in your chosen field will make you competitive and offer professional stability and growth.
- Verbal skills — what you say, how you say it and how it’s perceived.
- Listening skills — listening to understand and make decisions, especially during discords, and to read between the lines.
- Writing skills — clear written communication is imperative in any field; it creates a lasting impression of your disposition.
- Technological communication skills — a cousin of technical skills, this is the ability to use alternative communication media appropriate to your audience and message. Think social media, Zoom, Slack and Medium.
Critical thinking skills
How to clearly define a challenge and logically think through the best solution from all available options, and implement it with a plan of action.
Plan, do, review. Be organized, establish priorities, manage your time. At the end of every day, review what you’ve accomplished, and think of what’s working and what needs improvement.
The ability to work efficiently and respectfully with others who have totally different responsibilities, backgrounds, objectives, and areas of expertise.
The following two skills are considered complex transferable skills. They come into play by integrating combinations of the skills above.
The ability to use your experience in your profession and industry to develop ideas with the strategic and tactical know-how to bring them to life.
Leadership is a combination and outgrowth of all the transferable skills plus the clear presence of all the professional values. When your actions inspire others to think more, learn more, do more, and become more, all while making them feel good about doing it, you are on your way to becoming a leader. This is a comprehensive topic beyond the scope of this article, but one thing is for sure, it takes time and hard work.
Concepts to help you succeed faster
Learn to influence people
Many self-help books today are offspring of previous groundbreaking research. In 1936, Dale Carnegie wrote his seminal work in the self-help movement: How to Make Friends & Influence People. The wisdom it contains will be relevant as long as humans exist. Learn the essentials of human interaction, a powerful tool that cannot be overstated.
The 80/20 rule
The Pareto Principle states that 80% of results will come from just 20% of the action. Taking this into consideration, you can isolate which skills are most important in your field, identify your best reliable clients, what skills pay the highest, focus on what brings in the money, focus on what matters to you and your goals.
Be the 25%
The popular cartoonist Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, wrote that if you want to be something extraordinary, become very good (top 25%) in two or more fields. It’s easier than being the best at just one thing. This combination is rare and gives you the advantage of creating your own niche. When you add interpersonal or business skills into the mix, then you can be the boss of people who only have one skill.
Give yourself time to learn
Using the 5-hour rule, you can set aside one hour throughout the week to learn or practice something new. Successful people like Bill Gates, Jack Ma, Marc Cuban and Elon Musk use it, among many others. Benjamin Franklin would set aside time between 5-7am to “prosecute the present study” as part of his daily routine.
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” — Alvin Toffler
We are in the Golden Era of Information, and there’s no better time to invest in yourself. Classrooms are online and tutorials abound, however, multi-skilled individuals looking to expand or sharpen their skills will benefit from media literacy—the ability to sort through most of the rubbish that makes up the large majority of information on the Internet. A Google or Bing search is just a start.
Designers can subscribe to time tested online resources such as LinkedIn Learning, Udemy and Treehouse. Major software brands have their own YouTube channels and extensive help documents. Writers will continue to benefit from time tested sources such as libraries and their comprehensive databases of curated publications, studies, public records, and essays. Verify the author is credible (recent information, author citations, peer reviews); think critically about what they’re saying.
Author Thomas Corley spent 5 years studying the habits of 200 self-made millionaires, among his findings is that most read books or listened to audiobooks during their free time, such as the morning commute. After you read, reflect on what you’ve learned and experiment with your new knowledge, put it to use immediately so you won’t forget it.
YouTube has become a treasure trove for visual learners. Take for example the new generation, Gen Z. In a 2018 Pearson survey of 2558 14-40 year olds, similarities in attitudes and behaviors around technology were explored. Gen Z (ages 14-23) listed YouTube as their #1 preferred learning method. 47% of them spent three hours or more a day on the video platform.
A representation of the times is the young soprano, Amira Willighagen. She learned to sing opera from watching YouTube videos of her favorite opera performers starting at age 7. She has gone on to record six albums since.
Let’s not forget the most important resource of them all—people. Sign up for lectures, conferences, local groups, and events where you can meet leaders and influencers who already possess the skills you have or seek, these will be at the forefront in their respective fields, and connecting with them is a tremendous advantage over the competition; you will have foresight of emerging fields and new skills in high demand.
Keep separate resumes for different professions, and as you look for new opportunities tailor each to the job requirements. Your resumes, like cover letters, are flexible and adaptable documents. The aforementioned transferable skills can overlap, likewise for experience with universal software like business suites made by Google and Microsoft, project management software like Slack, Asana, Jira and Wrike, or any of the new tools used by marketing and design teams to address their needs.
As you find new jobs with different teams, one of the best things you can do is to learn the tools they use to communicate and solve problems. Tools like Jira and Wrike are used worldwide. Evaluate how you can benefit from learning them. As a freelancer, you’ll have the unique opportunity to learn new tools and add value to your resume.
Finding purpose and dealing with failure
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, only this time more intelligently.”
I used to believe that following one’s passion is better than following the money. But now I know that following a purpose is much better. When you find purpose in what you do, you find perseverance and that makes you more likely to succeed, because you’ll weather the storms and droughts; you have a mission to accomplish. And lastly, embrace failure. As you figure out your niche as a multi-skilled professional, you’ll take risks—doubt and fear naturally creep in, and so can failure. It will hurt. It will pass. It may take a day, a week, or longer, but it will pass. Stick to your plan and adapt as necessary, continually honing your skills, aware that fortune comes with risk. One day you may find that you’re a Jack-of-all-trades and a master of some, perhaps quite a few.
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