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:
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. [Related article: People Trust Newsletters More Than the Actual News]
“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:
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:
“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:
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.