By Yoshitaka Shiotsu, writer and SEO consultant
When it comes to landing new clients and projects, the competition can be fierce. You need the talent to do the work and a pitch that stands out in a crowd, as well as the skills to navigate this increasingly technical world.
What are those essential skills? While your specific needs may vary depending on your industry, here are eight of the basics you should understand in order to get — and keep — your edge.
1. Be familiar with Microsoft Office, especially Word and Excel
Bill Gates first introduced the Microsoft Office suite of desktop applications, servers, and services at COMDEX in Las Vegas on August 1, 1988. Since then, this bundle of basic applications like Word, PowerPoint, and Excel has evolved into a critical suite that has become a mainstay of the modern work environment.
While there are other options out there — like Google Docs, noted below — Office is still a common standard; if you’ve ever written a report, created a presentation or used a spreadsheet, there’s a good chance you’ve used one of these products.
Learn how to maximize the capabilities of Microsoft Office — especially the tools that can have a direct impact on your area of work. Become an Excel wizard and learn how to do basic calculations, use VLOOKUP, or write your own User Defined Functions. Or brush up on your word processing skills using Microsoft’s official training videos.
2. Get to know Google Docs, too
Google Docs, Google’s free web-based office suite, is one commonly used alternative to Microsoft Office, offering some of the same tools: word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, in addition to cloud-based forms and file storage. It supports a variety of common file formats, from .doc and .docx to .pdf and .psd.
If you’re not comfortable working in the cloud yet, take time to familiarize yourself with these tools; if you have a Gmail account, you can automatically get access to Google Docs.
One of the most useful features is the ability for multiple people to edit or view a document in real time, making it a great platform for teams to collaborate. Google offers a number of tutorial videos and resources to help you learn the ins and outs of their apps.
3. Communicate comfortably with people online
These days, it almost goes without saying that you should be proficient in communicating via email, but you should also familiarize yourself with services like Skype, Google+ Hangouts, and Google Voice — some of the more popular web communication tools. These services are free and easy-to-use platforms that enable video chat, voice chat, or instant messaging.
If you need more business-grade webinar or web conferencing software, GoToWebinar, Adobe Connect, and AnyMeeting are a few of the more popular platforms. Check out this oDesk blog post on remote work technology for a look at some of the options available.
4. Experiment with social media platforms
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest are just a few examples of the many social media platforms available; you don’t need to be an expert, but you should at least be familiar with these popular platforms. If you’re pursuing work in search engine optimization (SEO), marketing, customer service or any sort of communications position, being social media savvy is increasingly a “must have” skillset.
These platforms aren’t just part of doing the work, either. You can use these social tools to research potential clients and identify the decision makers you need to connect with. Having a prominent social media presence can also be an important part of your personal brand, enhancing your visibility on the Internet and driving traffic to your website, a critical component of building your own SEO.
5. Learn basic coding
There’s an ongoing debate about whether everyone should learn how to code, even if you don’t consider yourself a programmer or developer. I think knowing a little code can go a long way in helping you gain a leg up on the competition, or having a better understanding of how coding fits into a project.
For example, a graphic designer who understands the basics of web development may have a clearer understanding what he or she needs a programmer to do. From a project management point of view, being familiar with the work involved in writing a piece of code can help you set more realistic deadlines or better manage a team of developers.
Even if you run a WordPress website, knowing how to tweak formatting with a bit of HTML or a simple CSS script can help you make a website that is truly your own.
6. Learn how to edit digital files
How many times have you needed something simple — a logo for your webpage, an image for your article or a video for your blog – but weren’t confident enough to do it yourself?
There are many instances where knowing the basics of editing pictures, video and audio could save you time and money, and make you more competitive in the workplace.
For example, if you’re a writer, you might be expected to provide images to go with the content you produce. Having the ability to quickly whip up original images can help you avoid copyright issues and add an additional stroke of creativity.
7. Develop your troubleshooting tech skills
A recurring joke among IT professionals today is that their entire job really boils down to being better at “Googling” solutions to everyday technical problems than their peers.
In fact, many common technical issues can be solved with a quick Google search, and knowing how to troubleshoot issues with your laptop, tablet, PC, or mobile device on your own will make you more efficient.
Plus, your business’s IT department will thank you for your ability to solve minor issues so they can focus on the larger tasks at hand; if you’re your own IT department, you might learn more about fixing your tech tools when problems come up.
If you want to go the extra mile, why not pick up some real IT skills through an online course at Udemy? Knowing how to troubleshoot issues with your own equipment can help avoid problems and show that you possess critical thinking skills and know how to solve problems.
8. Take advantage of online education options
Finally, whether you are a web developer, a software engineer, a marketer, or a freelance writer, we all need to stay up-to-date with the latest innovations in our fields.
There are many resources available on the web to allow you to gain new skills and learn new fields. Coursera, Khan Academy, and Udacity are just a few examples of online education systems that you can use to remain competitive in your field. See what skills you can add to your resume using these 10 top sites for online education!
What skills have you found to be essential for the work you do? Share your recommendations in the comments below.