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By: Skye Schooley
When hiring, employers analyze a job candidate’s current skills and assess their ability to learn new ones. Growth potential is an essential quality in an employee, and a willingness to learn demonstrates that capability. According to a 2021 Harris Poll survey, this invaluable soft skill tops the priority list for 81% of businesses.
Since executives emphasize an employee’s willingness to learn new skills and grow with the company, job seekers must demonstrate that they adapt easily to change and prioritize accepting increased responsibility.
We’ll explore best practices and tips from experts for professionals eager to convey their willingness to learn to help advance their careers.
Employers want to attract skilled workers, but they also prioritize hiring for a cultural fit. When a job candidate shows that they’re open to changing, learning and upgrading their skills, they instantly become a better investment. When navigating your career path, demonstrate your willingness to learn so employers can see your growth potential.
Your willingness to learn tells employers several important things:
You keep your skills up to date. Technology and modern work techniques don’t stay still, and neither should you. By demonstrating your willingness to upgrade your skills, staying on top of industry trends and continuously enhancing your knowledge, you prove you’re a sharp and valuable addition to the team.
You’re a good long-term investment. When hiring a candidate, most businesses assess if they’re a current fit and if they’ll grow with the company and adapt to emerging changes. Showing that you’re constantly developing your skills and acquiring new ones positions you as a worthy long-term investment.
You’re a fast learner. When hiring for senior positions, 34% of companies perceive being a fast learner as the top required skill, and the number rises to 52% for junior roles. Indicating that you’re eager and quick to pick up new skills and techniques will speak in your favor when it comes to hiring or getting a promotion.
You’re a team player. One of the ways to demonstrate your willingness to learn is by actively listening to your co-workers and managers and being open to their feedback and ideas. This shows you’re eager to learn from their experience and perspectives.
There are many ways to show an employer you’re willing and eager to learn new skills. Here are five suggestions from experts to get you started.
The advice to be a lifelong learner may seem like a cliche, but demonstrating that you are an active learner can play a significant role in a hiring manager’s decision.)
Ciara Hautau was a digital marketing strategist at Fueled, where she was responsible for hiring new team members. She told us that one of the most vital qualities she looked for in a candidate was the ability to stay on top of trends by joining industry-specific newsletters, reading industry blogs and watching tutorial videos.
“You’d be surprised how many candidates can execute tasks assigned to them but aren’t actively learning on their own,” Hautau said. “Especially [with a] tech company, tools, industry standards and tech are always changing, and it’s vital that [new hires] stay on top of those trends without managers asking them to do so.”
But it’s not enough just to stay on top of trends. Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half, said that you should prepare concrete examples of how you’re gaining that knowledge.
“In a past position, did you volunteer for a stretch assignment and achieve great results by pushing yourself to learn a new skill or strategy?” he said. “Are you a self-taught expert in a coding language, or did you seek a professional certification to keep your skills current? A handful of anecdotes like these are key to share in interviews.”
When speaking about previous work or volunteer experience, highlight your participation and what you learned to show your growth. For example, Hautau said that receiving a quick promotion in a previous company can speak volumes. Even a minor title bump demonstrates your ability to adapt quickly and take on new tasks.
“If you haven’t had [a promotion], I’d love to see what you’re actively participating in to get you to where you want to be,” Hautau said. “Maybe that’s a side hustle that creates extra practice in your skill set, or maybe that’s participation in webinars and community meetups. Show me your participation and enthusiasm beyond just your roles in previous companies.”
Since many industries center on technology, an essential part of modern-day growth is embracing new technology as it comes out. McDonald says job seekers should also learn about new technology’s impact on their chosen industry. This shows employers that you’re aware of industry trends and impactful elements.
Embracing new technology is especially important if you’re pursuing a career in the tech industry. In addition to reading about new technology, tech-focused job seekers can benefit from participating in supplemental courses and certifications to receive hands-on experience. A hands-on approach to new technology shows employers you’re willing and able to learn.
It’s not enough to be dedicated to learning. Consider how your willingness to learn benefited your previous employers. Harry Sivanesan, recruiting practice leader at OneDigital, said those job seekers should quantify their results when possible.
“To me, the No. 1 thing that sticks out in a resume is how you have helped the bottom line in the past, along with any ideas you’ve brought to the table that helped you do this,” he said. “Numbers don’t lie!”
An interview is a two-way experience, and job seekers should use it as a chance to ask questions. Sivanesan said that asking highly thought-out questions will showcase your willingness to learn during the interview. Additionally, asking questions helps you learn more about the company and demonstrates that you won’t hesitate to ask questions or seek advice if you’re having difficulty performing a task.
You can ask about the company or job description; however, to go the extra mile, ask about the organization’s dedication to assisting with continued employee education. This will show that you are interested in pursuing professional development after landing the job.
Since your resume is a potential employer’s first impression of you, it’s essential to demonstrate your current qualifications and skills as well as your motivation to learn new ones.
“Currently, we’re seeing a trend of companies hiring candidates that are willing to learn because they see it as an opportunity to recruit an employee that is coachable,” Sivanesan said. “The main objective of your resume is showing a company how and where you can add value, and companies are starting to value the eager and hungry candidate now more than ever.”
These are a few crucial elements to include on your resume to convey your willingness to learn:
Side projects: List side hustles on your resume so employers can see your passion for your industry. If you have any previous freelance experience, include it to show your resourcefulness and ability to self-manage and perform in a competitive environment.
Statistics and KPIs: Include statistics on how you’ve used your skills to improve your past organizations’ key performance indicators.
Additionally, list specific skills to display your motivation and eagerness to learn. Choose resume action words you can support with numbers. Here are some items to list on your resume:
Technical and soft skills: McDonald said that it’s crucial to include a balance of technical and soft skills on your resume. Digital transformation shapes our work and will make these skills increasingly essential to organizations.
Level of expertise for each skill: In addition to listing skills and certifications, McDonald recommends including your level of expertise for each critical skill set. This can range from beginner to advanced; it shows the employer where you excel and where you’re willing to improve.
Engagement in professional communities: Aside from helping you grow your professional network, being a member of specialized groups can show your commitment to the industry, desire to stay on top of the latest trends and interest in improving related skills.
Skills that match the job description: Sivanesan recommends tailoring the skills on your resume to fit a specific job description. Most job descriptions have “preferred qualifications” and “minimal requirements” sections, so you can list your skills accordingly.
“On your resume, you can also notate a brief description of what you have learned in your previous roles that you had no prior knowledge about,” Sivanesan said.
While this essential soft skill strongly relies on your innate curiosity, it’s possible to improve your desire to learn so you can advance in your career and stand out among other candidates. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Identify what you need to learn. Reflect and identify any tasks you might be avoiding or struggling with during the workday due to a lack of relevant knowledge or skills. This can help you zoom in on areas that need improvement. If your responsibilities have increased over time, consider if you’ve had sufficient training to succeed. Outline the skills you lack or need to upgrade and consider requesting support to improve your knowledge.
Set short-term learning goals. If you receive regular performance reviews or feedback, ask your manager which skills they think would help you progress in your role and whether your existing skills need upgrading. A defined date for the next review will provide a clear deadline.
Set long-term development goals. Consider your career goals and identify skills you’re lacking to achieve them. For example, if you’re interested in advancing to a management position, consider the managerial skills that make your current manager successful, and concentrate on acquiring or improving them. Additionally, actively networking and participating in relevant discussions and events can help broaden your perspective and highlight potential advancement prospects.
Take advantage of company training. Research your company’s available training opportunities, and don’t hesitate to use them. For example, participate in a workshop on using new equipment, attend a relevant conference, access online training resources or enroll in a sponsored learning course.
The experts we interviewed also suggested some key strategies for general career advancement.
Instead of saying you’re skilled in a particular area, give examples from your career that illustrate your capabilities. For example, rather than say you’re a dedicated lifelong learner, show how you’re continuing your education by explaining recent certifications you’ve achieved or webinars you’ve attended.
Share stories about your actions at previous companies. Did you request to be sent to a conference or a seminar? Did you embrace a new skill outside of your core responsibilities to lighten your teammates’ workload? Did you implement a technique or advice you learned from a relevant business book? Real-life examples are always compelling.
Although you may be enticed to stretch the truth about your advancements and education, Sivanesan said that it’s crucial not to oversell yourself. Instead, if you don’t know how to do something, express that you want to learn how to do it.
“A common mistake of an eager candidate is to overpromise, which creates the risk of underwhelming your new employer,” Sivanesan said. “Companies are more interested in self-awareness and what you’re doing to develop yourself professionally. If you can show them that you’re able to help yourself, it’s a great sign that you will be able to help them.”
Demonstrate enthusiasm for learning opportunities, and embrace challenges that come your way in your current position. For example, McDonald said that employees should take on volunteer projects beyond their regular responsibilities.
Sivanesan added that the key to getting a promotion is to do the job before the job is yours. “I’ve experienced many employees wait[ing] to be told to take on additional responsibilities without diving in and having a positive, hardworking attitude. Being a selfless team player will generate long-term wealth without being told to do so.”
Since assuming the role of CEO at Microsoft in 2014, Satya Nadella has introduced a growth mindset as a key element of the company’s culture. According to him, an ideal employee, as well as a leader, must strive to become a “learn-it-all” rather than a know-it-all. In explaining the difference, Nadella mentioned that a kid with less innate capability but is willing to learn will always perform better in the long run than a more capable child who is a know-it-all.
The same applies to job candidates and employees. If you claim to be an expert in the field, it might indicate that you won’t actively seek out additional knowledge and opportunities to learn. On the other hand, admitting that you don’t have complete knowledge but are willing to learn can work in your favor.
Demonstrating your willingness to acquire new skills, stay on top of industry trends, and continuously improve your performance and knowledge is instrumental to career success. It can help position you as a valuable addition to the team, a smart long-term investment for the company, and a worthy candidate for promotion.
Additionally, actively seeking out avenues for improvement will help open new career paths, keep you sharp, increase your work-life satisfaction and ensure you make the most of any emerging opportunities.
Nadia Reckmann contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.