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Career Success Depends on Your Willingness to Learn

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Ridofranz / Getty Images
  • Willingness to learn new skills is one of the most important qualities employers look for when hiring new employees.
  • To demonstrate your willingness to learn, embrace emerging technology, highlight your dedication to growth with concrete examples, and ask questions in the interview.
  • Tailor your resume to each job description, and include certifications, side projects, statistics, soft and technical skills, and your level of expertise for each skill.

When hiring a new employee, employers analyze a candidate's current skills as well as their ability to learn new ones. Growth potential is an important quality in an employee, and a willingness to learn demonstrates that capability.  

According to a study conducted by global staffing firm Robert Half, 84% of HR managers reported their company is open to hiring an employee whose skills can be developed through training. Further, 62% of employees surveyed said they had been offered a job even though their skills didn't match the exact job qualifications. Since executives place a high importance on an employee's willingness to learn new skills and grow with the company, the abilities to adapt easily to change and accept increased responsibility are necessary for career advancement.

As the importance of these soft skills rises, many job seekers are left wondering, "How do I demonstrate my willingness to learn to a potential employer?" We spoke with experts about how to best convey these skills to help you land the job.

Of the many ways you can demonstrate to an employer that you are eager and willing to learn new skills, we narrowed down experts' suggestions to the top five recommendations.

The advice to be a lifelong learner may seem cliche, but this can play a major role in a hiring manager's decision.

Ciara Hautau is the lead digital marketing strategist at Fueled, where she is responsible for hiring new team members for her department. She said one the most important qualities she looks for in a candidate is the ability to stay on top of trends. This can include simple tasks such as 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 told Business News Daily. "Especially since we're a tech company, tools, industry standards, and tech are always changing, and it's vital that the employees we hire stay on top of those trends without managers asking them to do so."

However, it is not enough to just stay on top of trends. Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half, said you should prepare concrete examples of how you are 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 out a professional certification on your own to keep your skills current? A handful of anecdotes like these are key to share in interviews."

When you are speaking about previous work or volunteer experience, you should highlight your participation and the growth you achieved. Hautau said that a quick promotion in a previous company can say a lot. 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," said Hautau. "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 important part of modern-day growth is embracing new technology as it comes out. McDonald said that job seekers should learn about not only new technology but also its impact on their chosen industry. This shows employers that you are aware of industry trends and the impactful changing elements.

This is especially important for those seeking roles within 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 with the technology. This shows employers that you are willing and able to learn about the required technology. 

So you are dedicated to lifelong learning, great – but how has this benefited your previous employers? Harry Sivanesan, director of sales and business development at staffing firm ExecuSource, said that 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, it will give you a chance to gain more knowledge about the company. 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 continuing your education after you land the job.

Since your resume is a potential employer's first impression of you, it is important to demonstrate not only your current qualifications and skills, but also 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," said Sivanesan. "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."

Hautau shared a few key elements that job seekers can include on their resumes to convey their willingness to learn.

  • Software and certifications: Certifications you've earned on your own (e.g., Google Analytics, Google AdWords, Facebook Blueprint) demonstrate your dedication to learning.
  • Side projects: List side hustles on your resume so employers can see just how passionate you are about your industry.
  • Statistics and KPIs: Include statistics on how you've used your skills to improve your past organizations' KPIs.

In addition to these elements, you can list a few specific skills on your resume to display your motivation and eagerness to learn. Choose action words that you can support with numbers.

  • Technical and soft skills: McDonald said it is important to include a balance of technical and soft skills on your resume. Digital transformation shapes the way we work and will make these skills increasingly important 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, and it shows the employer where you excel and where you are willing to improve.  
  • Tailor skills to the job description: Sivanesan recommends tailoring the skills on your resume to fit the specific job description you are applying for. He said that most job descriptions have a "preferred qualifications" section and "minimal requirements" section, 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," said Sivanesan.

Experts also suggested some key strategies for advancing in your career. In an interview, it is always helpful to show instead of tell. Instead of simply saying you are a dedicated lifelong learner, Hautau said, you should show physical examples of how you are continuing your education, whether that be a personal blog, certification or related webinar. 

Although you may be enticed to stretch the truth in your current advancements and education, Sivanesan said it is important to never oversell yourself to an employer. 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," said Sivanesan. "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."

If you land a job and are looking to advance within the company, be proactive. McDonald said to demonstrate enthusiasm for learning opportunities and embrace challenges that come your way. He said that employees should seek to take on volunteer projects outside the scope of their regular responsibilities.

Sivanesan added that the key to get any sort of 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," he said. "Being a selfless team player without being told to do so will generate long-term wealth."

Skye Schooley

Skye Schooley is an Arizona native, based in New York City. After receiving a business communication degree from Arizona State University, she spent nearly three years living in four states and backpacking through 16 countries. During her travels, Skye began her blog, which you can find at www.skyeschooley.com. She finally settled down in the northeast, writing for Business.com and Business News Daily. She primarily contributes articles about business technology and the workplace, and reviews remote PC access software and collection agencies.