Well before the pandemic covered the world in the itchiest, most suffocating wool blanket imaginable, the job market was starting to strongly favor you: the worker. Employers were scrambling to fill yawning talent gaps and convince those already on the payroll to stay put amid ever-increasing competition. The best and brightest workers could figuratively write their own paycheck. Businesses were stuck in a tough spot; employees had the upper hand.

Those now feel like the good old days for companies given that the post-pandemic job landscape looks like an apocalyptic desert by comparison. After more than 18 months of reflecting on work-life balance, purpose, passion, and all the other drivers of personal branding along with other things that truly matter in life, employees have been quitting their jobs en masse. Around 4 million Americans walked away from their jobs in April 2021 alone. And it’s not just low-paying, benefit-anemic fast-food chains that are feeling the crunch; Microsoft found that some 41% of all workers are strongly considering an immediate career change.

Are you one of them? As long as you continue developing your skills in the quest to upgrade your professional status, the business world can be your oyster.

A Competitive Edge

Quitting a job shouldn’t be a knee-jerk reaction — or a decision made lightly. Sure, companies in just about every sector are desperate for help, but that doesn’t mean everyone is an automatic hire once they walk in the door for an interview. You still need to stand out from the crowd — which is more crowded than it has been despite 9.2 million job vacancies at the end of May.

If you want to make the best of the “Great Resignation” and set yourself up for a life-affirming, soul-soothing career move, here are a few steps you can take to improve your set of essential skills when applying to jobs:

1. Practice a growth mindset. 

Employers will always favor prospective employees who love to continuously grow and learn. Having a strong personal brand requires remaining relevant. This growth mindset isn’t ingrained in everyone, but those who have it tend to be happier, more productive workers. Your talents and capabilities should evolve over the years; stagnation never looks good on a career progression line graph. Even if striving to achieve and learn new things doesn’t come naturally to you, there are ways to practice honing these skills.

For one, take advantage of content libraries that your current employer, local library, favorite social media platform, or other channels might provide. Soak up all the information you can: new regulations in the IT sphere, best practices in healthcare settings, advances in SEO, you name it. If possible, acquire certifications for the training you receive and make sure to update your résumé accordingly. When you work those mental muscles, you’ll be a strong candidate when the right opportunity materializes.

2. Become a bona fide data expert. 

Like the air we breathe, data is everywhere — and critical to a good life in 2021 and beyond. When you aim to improve your critical thinking, analysis, or just your understanding of the customer journey, having a grasp on how data truly works is a huge differentiator between you and other job candidates.

“Working with data is no longer a specialty or a nice-to-have; it’s how marketing works,” writes Shalini Gupta, SVP and client partner at RAPP, a global marketing and advertising agency. “Data tells a story about purchasing behavior and brand affinity, and it can predict what a customer might try next. For marketers trying to use this data well in 2021, they’ll need to get comfortable with foundational analytic techniques as part of the craft.”

But data also has broad applications well beyond the world of marketing. Whether you’re in R&D for the tech sector or you’re a CFO in healthcare, it’s to your advantage to make sure you’re on the cutting edge of gathering, interpreting, and applying the abundance of available data.  

3. Take up a creative hobby. 

It’s as true for 8-year-olds as it is for 48-year-olds: If you want to improve your innovation and ideation, engaging in an expressive outlet is a surefire way to stoke your creative embers. The more mundane and monotonous our lives become (personally and professionally), the less our brains learn how to solve new problems or see things in a different light. Got a latent passion that’s been bubbling up during the pandemic? Time to jump in with abandon.

It’s all about “cognitive flexibility,” which occurs when the brain is forced to make unforeseen decisions on the fly. Artistic endeavors — improv classes, dance, art, pottery, music, and so on — have been proven to be especially effective at helping people manage stress and develop creative solutions for complicated problems. Better yet, you’ll surely meet other like-minded individuals who can act as sounding boards as you work toward establishing new career opportunities.

These three steps create an ideal balance, enhancing your outlook, your practical skills, and your creativity. By strengthening those areas as you prepare to make a career leap, you’ll be ready to soar.