As a society, middle-class India places considerable emphasis on academics. It is seen – rightly so – as the ticket to a brighter future. Therefore, from a very young age we see children encouraged to study, to excel and out-do their classmates. At some level this is not a bad thing. After all, competition is a reality of life and though it makes me personally cringe to see five-year-olds reciting Sanskrit shlokas or Shakespearean verses by rote without understanding a word of what they are saying, there is no avoiding the academic peer pressure.
The problem, however, lies in defining the end-point of education. Too many of us see education as a race with an end-point – getting a good job. What we fail to understand is that education is really but a starting point, and that our careers will last for close to forty years, with many twists and turns likely along the way.
So it becomes important to invest continually in your career growth if you want to make it go on a faster trajectory. Often you will find that the skills you need for your career can be different – sometimes subtly, sometimes drastically – from those you picked up during your academic career.
Many people don’t have career investment plans because they rely on the organization they serve to provide them through training programs and on-the-job learning. A select few recognize that the investments your employer makes in your career are no longer enough – and most of the time these investments align with the company’s goals, not yours. From a personal standpoint, it is better to look for skills that should be transferable across industries and organizations that you may choose to engage with in the future.
You need to choose what you study carefully.
1. Align with your passions and long term growth plans
If you do not plan to remain in your present career for long, do not waste time and money doing courses in that specific field (unless your employer is paying). Rather, look at what you want to be doing three years down the line and align your study courses with that. If you intend to pursue a long term career in finance, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India regularly has courses on various topics, available to both qualified CA’s as well as non-CA’s. For core banking, RBI and IBA conduct seminars and workshops, NASSCOM does the same for IT, and the same is true of industry bodies across fields.
2. Invest in your strengths
Over a period of time you will realise what works for you. Strong technical skills, excellent analytical skills, maybe even softer skills like negotiation and networking. Spend a part of your planned outlay on strengthening these further. Become the best at what you are good at.
3. Do not leave out the weaknesses
Identify what you are not good at as well – a much harder task since most people do not voluntarily talk much about this to you. But somewhere you will be aware of them – maybe you are not good at people skills, for a lot of people, public speaking is difficult even after years in a career, perhaps your lack of a technical certification is holding you back from getting a promotion though you have the knowledge. Try to find and fill this gap, rather than simply doing a course because a ‘lot of people are doing it’, or ‘someone else did it and it worked for him’.
4. Stay on top of your industry
Skillsets increase and decrease in importance over time. What worked for you for the first few years of your career might not be as important when you are at a higher position. It might be a change in the industry itself, as when programming languages went through a paradigm shift in the late nineties.
Be prepared and ready to take this as a challenge and re-skill yourself for the future.
5. Look for certifications from reputed institutions
The education industry for part-time courses is a largely unregulated one. Be selective in choosing where you study from. This is going to be a major investment of time and money so you must ensure it is something that adds value not just to you, but to your CV as well. Opt for reputed institutes wherever you can. A course conducted by a top B-school or one of the professional institutes generally has a better impact on your job prospects than a lesser-know institution.
In conclusion, there are no easy answers to the question of how much you should invest in your career growth. Depending on where you are on the career ladder and what sort of demands exist on your time, the answer would vary. In the USA the thumb rule is to set aside 3% of your income for career investment. On an income of six lakhs, this amounts to about Rs. 18,000/- which would be very reasonable and should pay for a couple of workshops and lectures every quarter.
So take those steps, choose wisely. Remember that you need to invest in yourself, more than anything else, because nobody else has as much reason to do so, as you do.