When you mention the word trends, most people visualize the latest fashion, food, dance moves or language among many other lifestyle examples. On social media, what’s trending on Twitter for example, is a short-lived wave of posts and conversation linked to a topic using one hashtag. We have also heard about business trends, how the market is predicted to perform and what is forecast for an upcoming period. A trend is therefore movement and transformation of something in a certain direction, which can be developing or established over a long period of time. The data from trends research forms the basis of observable patterns of gradual change. The movement in a trend can be an increase upwards, a lateral move sideways or a decrease downwards.
Trends influence business decisions, personal behaviour and actions. Similarly, trends research, analysis and use is a key career planning step and career management tactic. Trends analysis is useful in career development or job search because:
- The process of analysing past data helps you to capture lessons and predict future direction.
- It gives you a birds eye-view of information, patterns and these can direct you to either further research, a decision or an action.
- The information points you to opportunities that you can take advantage of.
- You can assess yourself against a trend e.g. digital technologies; and identify areas of improvement.
- It is an evidence-based strategy to help you make informed decisions and future-proof your career.
Identified trends or gradual patterns of change therefore impact career actions such as job search, occupational choices, education decisions, retirement planning, career change and learning investment in skills development. This is because, at the heart of making good career decisions and planning for action is having access to the latest information from relevant trends, which will affect your desired goal. Of course, one needs to discern whether something is a “fad”, which is short-lived or a genuine trend, which has a much longer lifespan.
5 Tips to Help you Research Trends for Sound Career Decisions and Actions
Targeted trends research and analysis for career purposes is not something most people do consistently. Many do not know where to start and where to get information. The following 5 tips will help you started:
TIP 1: Identify, triangulate, and validate information sources
The sources of information for data and insights about trends are varied and many and they are around us everyday. The type of data can be both qualitative and quantitative. In the list below, I provide pointers of the sources, which can be local, nation, regional or global. The specifics for each of these will depend on your context and location. This is not an exhaustive list, but it will get you started.
- Research institutes or companies
- Academic publications in peer reviewed journals
- Professional Associations or Sector bodies
- Career services websites including job portals
- Industry Thought Leaders
- Labour Market Information
- Government Statistics reporting bodies
- News channels – TV and newspapers
- Social media – Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram
- Conferences and similar events
TIP 2: Follow Thought Leaders in the sector who are Trends Analysts or Predictors
Each industry or sector and profession has got people who are known as Thought Leaders because they research, write, and share content that shapes thinking, discourse, actions and decisions by the majority. Their “voice” is influential, and they are recognised for this role in various ways. These include publications, their social media content, the depth of their experience and expertise, the leadership roles they hold in their organisation and other platforms, awards received, their contribution to knowledge and consistency, as well as track record. They enjoy the tri-factor social proofing, which is peer recognition, follower affirmation and concrete evidence of work.
For example, I follow Dori Clark who is a Thought Leader in personal branding, career reinvention and how to build your independent work as a career management strategy. I follow her on Twitter and have activated notifications for her posts, on track her LinkedIn live sessions and courses. I am also on her mailing list so her weekly content comes directly to me. I regularly read her many articles in Harvard Business Review and I also purchased her books. All this helps me get the latest thinking about the issues she covers that are relevant to my work.
TIP 3: Conduct a Webquest and Track what is being written and talked about
There is no shortage of data out there about everything and if anything we all suffer from an information overload. This means you will have to be strategic about what sources of written content you will track. Google search is a go-to for most of us when we want to find out something. However, when doing trends research using online sources you need to do a deeper search. This is called a webquest, where your research is based on online sources, and these can be audio, written or visual.
Here is an example of a webquest I did for my blog on soft skills. In the book, Time to Explore, Roberta Neault in 2012 highlighted one trend that those looking for work opportunities pay limited attention to, “soft skills”, which are now called “essential skills”, compared to technical skills relevant to the job. Several workplace trends forecasting research institutes, organisations and individuals continue to produce evidence in support of this trend six years later. Inputting search words on Google Scholar for “soft skills for the 21st century” in 2019 yielded 451 scholarly articles. This demonstrates that there is a global body of knowledge around the importance of soft skills in the current and future workplace.
Another good source of “what people are buzzing about” it’s both online learning summits and face to face conferences. Read through conference themes and papers to see any emerging issues that many people are writing and talking about.
TIP 4: Track increased demand or shrinkage in certain jobs and types
The main purpose of career and digital trends research and analysis is so that you have information and insights timeously to help you make informed decisions and take appropriate actions that help you remain relevant and competitive in your current job or as you search for a job. This means for the types of jobs or roles you are interested in, you need to track their trend in terms of growth or shrinkage. Your information sources for this are news reports, labour market information such as national Quarterly Labour Market Reports that report on job losses, unemployment rates by location and gender, as well as sectors where jobs are shrinking or demand is increasing.
You can also be on the lookout for reports from career services websites such as Glassdoor – https://www.glassdoor.com/index.htm, Indeed – https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/, LinkedIn, https://www.thebalancecareers.com/ etc who report on skills in demand, who is hiring, as well as jobs and recruitment trends. Or you can review business pages that highlight sectors or organisations that are in “boom period” and therefore likely to hire more or the reverse, going through huge retrenchments/lay-offs.
TIP 5: Tap into your Social and Professional network for Insights and Leads
The oldest form of getting information about what’s going on, observed changes and an assessment of what’s to come is people. Your social and professional network is therefore a great resource for trends information and analysis from their vantage point and area of expertise. For you to effectively tap into this information source, it means you need to have a robust network in place, that has “warm-hot” links you can activate. In the image below, I outline 15 roles you should have in your network. You can review your network against these roles, and think about the type of information and insights they can give you on trends in your profession and career.
Trends research and analysis is not a one-time event. It is something that must be embedded in your weekly career actions or even daily dosage of what you read, watch or have conversations about. With time it needs to be something you instinctively do like an entrepreneur who is opportunity seeking all the time. This is because you pick up information from various sources, create a picture of patterns relevant to you and use this data over time based on your career goals and needs.
Knowledge of these trends supports you in making decisions about areas you have gaps and need upskilling on in line with what is coming, as well as how best to position yourself. This is one of the best ways of future-proofing your career and securing your job and income. Good luck!
Ennie Chipembere, Career Coach and Learning Expert
LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ennie-chipembere-chikwema/
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/EnnieCareerCoach