Wanda Anglin was stunned when her boss pulled her aside on a Friday afternoon and broke the news: The giant tech firm where she worked was laying her off. “I loved my boss and my team,” says Anglin, who had managed up to 200 colleagues around the world on big projects.
Anglin had two months’ notice and the timing couldn’t have been worse. Her youngest son was finishing high school, and college tuition bills would soon be rolling in.
Not wanting to return to corporate life, she made a radical move and taught herself search engine optimization. In early 2013, about six month after she left her former employer, she opened a business called SEO Buzz Internet Marketing from her home office in Katy, Texas.
That calculated bet paid off: In her first 12 months, she replaced 75% of her corporate income, helping small businesses raise their profile online. She expects to do even better this year. “It is scary, but you just decide what you want to do and hammer down and do it,” says Anglin, now 52.
As Anglin found, learning new technologies is one of the best ways to open new career possibilities at a time when no one’s work is secure. “We’re in a hostile world. You have to make sure you’re protected,” says Roy Cohen, a New York City career coach.
The time to shore up your skills is before an emergency like a job loss, but it’s never too late to play catch-up. Ask yourself these four questions to figure out what you need to learn quickly.
Am I using the same technology as younger people in my field? If you haven’t swapped your cellphone for a smartphone, do it in the next few months. Otherwise, you’ll be missing out on productivity-enhancing iPhone or Android apps that competitors are using. “If you don’t have one of these devices, then you’re not app friendly,” Cohen says. Plus, carrying around a clunky old phone gives your clients the impression you are not on top of things.
What technology do I need to do my work more efficiently? Focus on gadgets, software and apps that support your goal and skip the rest. “That’s what people need to do nowadays. We’re so overwhelmed,”says Cohen.Because he works with clients around the world using Skype and FaceTime, Cohen has gotten intensely familiar with his iPad mini, which, he says frames images better than a larger device. For someone whose professional focus is research, mastering a site like SlideShare, where users post written presentations, or the note-taking site Evernote, might be a better efficiency-booster.
Using a site like Facebook or LinkedIn to follow publications relevant to your field can be a time-saver. “I get a lot of my news on Facebook,” says Ira Wolfe, president of Success Performance Solutions and author of the book Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization. Similarly, setting up Google alerts can help you stay on top of professional news that is important to you, says Diane Eschenbach, 57, a consultant who advises startups. “It’s your own personal research assistant,” she says.
How can I learn most efficiently? Tech-savvy colleagues will often point you to what you really need to know—and tell you what you can skip—so ask for their guidance.When Anglin mentioned her plan to start her own digital marketing business to a friend who’d been downsized from the same company and started an SEO firm, her colleague pointed her to shortcuts, like reading a book called The Art of SEO and perusing the digital marketing website Moz. Other former colleagues with tech skills guided her on what type of website she needed, saving her hours of research. “They not only set me up but trained me,” she says.
How will I fit this in? For busy professionals and folks who feel overwhelmed by technology, breaking down what you want to learn into bite-sized chunks can ensure that you meet your goal, advises Jeff Fernandez, CEO and co-founder of Grovo, a website that offers an extensive library of 60-second videos to teach tech skills like working remotely and mastering the iPhone. “Make a commitment over 30 days and stick with it.”
There are many other sites that offer short learning modules and videos, so find the one that works best for you, say experts. Eschenbach recommends searching YouTube for videos. Other free resources include Microsoft Virtual Academy, Alison and GCFLearnFree. If you set aside just one minute a day to watch a video, you’ll be surprised at how much progress you can make by the end of the month.
Of course, none of this will happen if you aren’t committed to breaking through whatever is holding you back from learning what you need to know. “People just have to get over the fear of doing it,” says Wolfe, who is in his sixties. “There are so many opportunities for people who are in the workplace to cross the digital divide.”
Maze photo: Wavebreak/Vetta/Getty Images
Woman at computer: Thomas Barwick/Stone/Getty Images