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How to plan a digital career in a rapidly changing landscape
When I was young, I used to read “choose your own adventure” books, and, after falling in snake pits, getting caught in traps and hitting dead ends, I would take a different approach: I’d find the perfect ending and then work my way backwards through the story to find the ideal journey. Imagine if you could plan your career with an end-in-mind approach like that.
Unfortunately, in digital, we don’t yet know what that perfect ending looks like. It’s not just a matter of going to uni, doing a degree, starting at the bottom and working your way up. Digital technology is constantly paving the way for new career paths (hello, social media).
It’s easier to adapt to new technologies and trends early in your career, because lower salary expectations mean companies are more willing to take a risk on you, and you are more open to change before you have restricted yourself to a skill set.
With that in mind, the best approach is to stop trying to predict the next trend and, instead, focus on staying relevant throughout your career.
Diversify and Specialise
- The digital sector has a fairly flat structure
Four strong years in social media, for example, can see you working on the level of marketers with double the year's of work experience. That’s exciting, but remember that your career isn’t a sprint, rather a very long marathon. While everyone wants social media, SEO or CRO specialists right now, that may well change. The key is to be as hireable to as many companies and roles as possible.
- Don’t be a one-channel wonder
It is valuable to get really solid, hands-on experience in new channels, but what if that channel was to dry up? You need to make sure that even if you specialise in one area, your responsibilities also cover other zones. And the most important thing is to show your areas of responsibility clearly on your CV.
If you’re an engagement specialist with strong expertise across social media, EDMs and content, that makes your background far more applicable to a range of roles across or in each of these areas.
Being a generalist can be just as limiting as being a one-hit specialist if you lack the nitty gritty skills to really drive results without the resources of a team — This is especially true in digital, where teams are often small or non-existent on the client side — again, the more adaptable you are to different companies and teams the better. Sure cross-channel experience is important, but make sure to be very, very exceptional at a few key areas/subjects/channels that integrate nicely (because being an ace trombonist, architect and pilot won’t open a lot of potential jobs). Secondments can be a great way to diversify your experience or get across additional areas as well.
Get exposure to multiple industries while you can. At the moment, you can work across industries in digital roles, as skills are transferrable and outstanding talent is rare. Anyone who isn’t trying to broaden their experience across industries should seriously consider it. Again this is about being as hireable as possible. If that automotive company you love knows you have industry experience then it gives you an edge when you eventually apply for a role there. In Europe, the digital landscape is already becoming far less flexible and more aligned with marketing where moving industries is a battle. It might not happen for another 10 years in Asia but you want to have diversified as much as you can by then.
This is actually one of the bonuses of gaining agency experience – the opportunity for a lot of exposure to different industries in a short amount of time.
- Keep your friends close and your subject matter experts closer
There is so much change in digital, from new technology to Facebook algorithim updates. In an area that is already time consuming and full-on, it can be challenging to keep up with the trends. This is where subject matter experts can offer a wealth of knowledge. Keep networking and attending conferences regularly so you can learn about new innovations or potential channels that could define your next strategy. Don’t just have one go-to expert for each channel — we’re all human and it’s worth getting as many opinions as possible so you can have the broadest view.
- Keep your hands dirty
I can’t emphasise enough the value of being able to keep your hands dirty. Strategy is fun — very fun — but to keep your strategy sharp, it’s important to work on the everyday too. Go deep dive into the analytics, try using new email service providers, manage the community on social media for a day or two and get an understanding of how the algorithm is messing with your content plan. You want to be up-to-speed on the latest updates and that means keeping a ground-floor view as well.
- Try stuff
Being able to experiment and to track your results is one of the keys to digital. There is no point chatting to subject matter experts if you don’t try out your hypotheses. Run tests, play around and see if you can be getting even better results. This will make you more hireable because you can back your experience with strong achievements.
- Learn to be data mad
The strongest digital candidates are driven by data and facts and in turn this gives them the results that keep them in high demand. With most innovations happening in the data realm, it pays to start learning the art of deep data diving and appreciate the value of using insights to inform your strategies.
- Get across as many platforms as possible
Sometimes employers are very particular about experience using a certain CMS, listening tool or email service provider. Getting experience or certification in different platforms means you will have a higher chance of being exposed to their platforms of choice. It will also give you the benefit of being able to advise the best platforms for your company as well.
Succeeding in the rapidly evolving field of digital technology means staying relevant and on top of the latest trends and innovations.
The key to this is diversifying and specialising, and continuously up-skilling to ensure your skill set is applicable.