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How to discover new skills and broaden your experience

by Rebecca Acree, on Feb 11, 2020 10:44:06 AM

“Write their customer-facing content? Me?” I asked, taken aback. I was a humanities major, but I had absolutely zero experience in professional writing, yet was writing how-to guides for a software startup.

My friend nodded. “They need someone ASAP. Do you want in?”

At the time, I was scared to say yes — I was worried that it would be too hard, that I would do a bad job, that it was too different from my 9-5 role. But I ignored the little voice in my head and said yes anyway, and am glad I did! Two years later, I’m still writing professionally, and am loving every minute of it.

When you push your boundaries, you can learn new skills that you never knew you’d have. Trying new things is the best way to gain exposure to other areas of expertise and to broaden your portfolio of experiences. Read on to learn about different ways to expand your professional horizons!

1. At school

If you’re still in school, you likely have a major, which determines which classes you take. But that doesn’t mean you can only take classes within your major! Each semester, try to broaden your scope. Take a class that’s slightly outside of your academic comfort zone. If you’re a humanities major, try something in the sciences, like statistics. Even if it’s not your main area of expertise, imagine recruiters’ excitement when they find out that you can write articles and run SQL queries! The same goes for the sciences — if you’re a science major, try a humanities course, like English. While there may be many people who are great at science, fewer are great at science who are also awesome writers. Having a balance of “hard” and “soft” skills will make you a much more attractive candidate!

2. At work

If you’re already a member of the workforce, you’re in luck — chances are, you’re already surrounded by experts in other specialities. Spend some time taking stock of your company and its other departments. Outside of the work of your own team, what interests you? What projects can you take on that will benefit the company and you? In your next meeting with your manager, mention that you’re looking to develop some new skills. Your manager may have some suggestions, or you can offer up some ideas of your own. It doesn’t have to be a big leap — if you’re in marketing, ask if you can help out with a sales project. If you’re in compliance, ask if you can help out with an operations project. That said, don’t be afraid to try something completely different. Imagine the demand for a marketing professional with experience in coding!

3. Through extracurriculars

Whether you’re in school or are already working, if you have some free time, you can put it to use by getting involved in extracurriculars. This could mean any number of things — from babysitting to playing ultimate frisbee to volunteering at a local soup kitchen, there’s a lot to be learned from these experiences, even if they are just for fun. But the more they’re out of your comfort zone, the better! If you’re a highly introverted person by nature, you could get involved in improv, for example. If you love to play sports, join a trivia league. Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t — but either way, you’ll learn something new about yourself, and you just might even discover your new passion.

4. Through a side hustle

When you’re looking for a side hustle, more likely than not, it’s in an area that you’re already familiar with. You may have the opportunity to pick up a job in a new space, like I did, but that’s not necessary in order to learn new skills! What you’re doing matters less than the fact that you’re doing it. Having a side hustle helps you build your resourcefulness, entrepreneurship, time and project management, salesmanship, and other critical business skills. These will serve you well, no matter what career you want to pursue!

The more you expose yourself to new experiences, the more likely you are to gain new skills that will be valuable to potential employers. Whether these experiences take place in the academic context, the professional context, or something else altogether, what matters is that you’re pushing beyond your comfort zone. Being proactive, taking risks, and trying something new is always worthwhile — at worst, it’ll be a learning experience, and at best, it’ll be a fantastic new addition to your resume!