If you are entering the job market this summer as one of 1.7 million new U.S. graduates with a bachelor's degree, your education is your best asset -- one projected to earn a 12 percent to 22 percent return over your lifetime, even 40 percent or more in some fields. But like a high-performing stock portfolio, your educational investment needs managing. Just as you must continually adjust your portfolio to match personal goals and global changes, you must make a commitment to lifelong learning, starting now.
As you start your job search, you cannot afford to luxuriate very long in your college accomplishments. Now is the time to take a hard look at what you know and what you can do, and then set out to develop the skills you lack. Research shows that to be relevant and employable in the next 10 years, individuals must continually reassess the skills they need and quickly gather the right resources to develop and update these skills.[i]
Here are some ways to get started.
Align yourself with work skills of the future. The skills you learned in college may not reflect those you will need in the decade ahead due to disruptive shifts in technology and in the global marketplace. Future Work Skills 2020, a 2011 study by the Institute for the Future for Apollo Research Institute, identified 10 key skills workers will need to stay competitive. Among these are "transdisciplinarity" (understanding concepts across multiple disciplines), "virtual collaboration" (proficiency in working as part of geographically dispersed teams), and "cross-cultural competency" (ability to operate in multicultural settings).
Employers and workers across the country agree that continuous improvement in industry-specific skills is also critical, according to an ongoing Apollo Research Institute study of workforce readiness in 35 major cities. Of course, there is no substitute for hard work as a skill-development strategy -- practice makes perfect as you gain industry experience -- but be alert for professional development training, certifications, or formal education you may need along the way.
Get technical. Virtual collaboration and new media literacy are important competencies in the emerging workplace. IT may not have been your major, but technology will be a driving force in your career. Online classes with self-paced tutorials, YouTube videos, and even cell phone and computer stores are easily accessible sources to stay IT literate.
Learn to love change. The days when college graduates secured a job in their field and stayed with it until retirement are long gone. Nowadays, you can expect to have at least 10 different jobs, employers, and even careers over your lifetime. To ride the wave of change, align your skills with a growth industry, even if it's not your own. For example, health care is booming --representing one in 10 jobs today -- which means you can expect to find opportunities in related areas such as medical sales, communication, and IT systems.
Maintain a global perspective. In today's flat-world marketplace, someone a continent away may be competing for your job. Similarly, your company is likely to have global competition, if not a presence in other countries. The global marketplace demands not only cross-cultural skills, but preferably the ability to conduct business in other languages. If bi- or multilingual ability is not in your professional portfolio, consider adding it. At the very least, get curious about other cultures and demonstrate your global awareness through respectful, knowledgeable conversation and behavior.
Cultivate key partnerships. To manage your educational and career portfolio effectively, you will need expert advice. Mentors are invaluable for newbies and veteran workers alike. Seek a mentor who will help you develop your weak points, adding value to your skill-and-knowledge portfolio. Social network sites, especially those with a business and professional focus such as LinkedIn, can also be a source for finding mentors or peer coaches. Venture out of your comfort zone to develop strong relationships in a variety of networks. As you do, you will cultivate the skill of transdisciplinarity, discover new trends, and spawn entrepreneurial thinking that will fuel your career planning and help open doors.
Your college degree represents a AAA-rated career investment in your knowledge portfolio. Now enhance that asset with a solid plan for lifelong learning, and you will be well on your way to remaining relevant and employable in the 21st-century workplace.
 Tracey Wilen-Daugenti, Society 3.0: How Technology Is Reshaping Education, Work and Society (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2012).
Follow Dr. Tracey Wilen-Daugenti on Twitter: www.twitter.com/traceywilen