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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

The 4 Fastest Ways to Pick Up New Skills in Your Current Role

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Whether you're looking to land a new gig, angling for that big promotion, or wanting to be better at your current job, there's no better way to rev up your resume than by adding new skills. From coding to communication, from SQL to spreadsheets, learning something new can give you a leg up on the competition.

Start by establishing your goals. If you want to move into a different department, identify the skills you'll need in order to contribute to that team. If you're interested in climbing the ladder, work with your manager to figure out what you need to know in order move to the next step.

And once you've settled on what you want to learn? Here are some of the fastest ways to add those tools to your current toolbox.

Meet a Mentor

One of the best ways to pick up a new skill is by learning from an expert, and one of your senior colleagues or someone in your network may be a perfect fit. Reach out to a few people with a polite email asking for 30 or so minutes of their time. Explain that you'd love to learn from them and outline a few goals you have. Remember to come with a clear plan of action and be mindful of their time. Then, continue to build the relationships over time​ and see if you can turn one of them into a more formal mentorship or learning arrangement.

And don't forget that your mentor can be a key player in your network. He or she can likely make valuable introductions or pen recommendations that can help you take the next step in your career.

Shadow Another Team

If you're looking to learn a skill that's outside of your current role or department, spending time with another team is key. If, say, you're in marketing, but you'd really like to transition into product management, why not make an effort to shadow the product team? If your boss is cool with it, reach out to a product manager and ask if you can be a fly on the wall during their next sprint. Once they're ready to begin work on a new product or feature, be a silent participant in their planning meetings, and listen in to their daily or weekly status updates. (Just remember you're still responsible for your day to day work on your current team, too!)

Shadowing another team will give you critical insight into how that team works, who does what, and what additional skills you'll need to pick up in order to contribute. Then you can make a plan for how you'll learn those skills in the coming months or year. Then again, you might find out that product development isn't the career for you. You may be surprised by how much you can learn just by listening.

Take a Course

Once you've settled on one or two key skills you'd like to add to your arsenal, why not follow the tried-and-true route and take a course? Some companies offer in-house courses, so check with your organization to see what they may have. But there are also a ton of options online via resources like General Assembly, MediaBistro, Code Academy, Coursera, and Udemy. Costs and time commitments vary, but there's so much out there that you're sure to find a course that fits your needs—and your schedule. Forbes has an exhaustive list of online course providers here.

General Assembly, MediaBistro, and others also offer in-person courses, which can be a great way to meet like-minded professionals and grow your network. And don't forget about the universities and community colleges near you. They may offer courses in the subjects you're looking for, too.

Read Up

One of the oldest methods of learning might just be the perfect solution for today's most hectic schedules. That's because reading eliminates all the dependencies that come with other ways of learning. You don't have to accommodate anyone else's schedule or be anywhere at a certain time. You can pick up a book or read an article online whenever your calendar allows. Plus, you can learn at your own pace, even if that's just a few pages per day.

If you're setting out to learn something completely new, build yourself a reading list. Start with titles that provide high-level overviews of a given subject, and pick up books that let you get more granular as you progress. As hard as it might be, resist the temptation to start with a deep-in-the-weeds book. You might find yourself in over your head, and that may lead to frustration and stagnation. Treat it like college—master the 101 info before you tackle the hard stuff.

Your best bet? Combine all four of these approaches. When taken together, mentorship, shadowing, instructional courses, and self-directed learning can help you add new weapons to your arsenal fast. It may take time and effort, but when you land that big promotion, you'll be glad you put in the work.