The One Characteristic You Need For Career Longevity: Learnability

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Two massive industry leaders Google and Ernst and Young look for this characteristic above all others in candidates. What is this one thing they want?

A whole slew of our articles deal with employability, successfully getting your dream job and surviving the panic-inducing competitive job market. That information is all valuable and valid, but there is one thing that both Google and Ernst and Young look for in all their candidates. This characteristic also happens to be a trait that trumps all others when it comes to guaranteeing career longevity. It’s not just work ethic, experience or being a good fit for the corporate culture. It’s not just about the ability to lead or interpersonal skills.

Learnability is something that Google and Ernst and Young look for in their new hires. This trait, a thirst for knowledge and self-improvement, is something that not only will keep you competitive throughout your career, but it will also keep your career moving in a vertical path. We are seeing a form of this phenomenon taking effect in the contemporary workplace. Baby boomers that have been at the apex of the job market for the past few decades are consistently having problems keeping up with the technological advances, especially since the implementation of cloud based technologies.

Google Calls Them “Learning Animals”

You might think it’s derogatory, but the term is used to indicate someone’s propensity to learn on a fundamentally natural level. Google isn’t looking for people that have the ability to learn, but people that have the need to learn and do so on their own. Although top tier employers often offer their employees programs and even stipends to continue their education, they need individuals that will take the initiative to grow their knowledge base on their own. The old model of industry, which many companies and organizations still stubbornly adhere to, is obsolete. It saw management break down tasks into smaller components, limiting both choice and initiative for their employees to make processes more efficient.

This model not only created the well-known “corporate zombie”, but it might also be at the centre of the vast number of disengaged employees we see in the contemporary job market. Today industry is in constant flux and dynamic, something which companies must do (stay in flux and dynamic) to be competitive. In turn the people they employ must do the same.  

Exit Corporate Zombies - Enter Hungry Brains

Hungry Brains is another term that has been created to describe people or new hires with a ceaseless thirst to learn. This is not only used to describe insatiable learners but also to describe people that are inherently inquisitive and seek to gain new insights. Why do these individuals make better employees? Here’s a hypothetical scenario: your Hungry Brain employee is working on a project when they encounter something outside their skill set. Of course, they ask for assistance, but also watch carefully and probably even study the skill they lacked on their own.

The next time they come across the same set of challenges, they will be able to overcome them with the new skills they acquired on their own. This is why employees with high levels of learnability are so valuable to an organization, they not only adapt, they evolve. They are the embodiment of going above and beyond.

What Can Companies Do

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So you have developed yourself into a person that takes the initiative to learn, evolve, acquire new skills and knowledge. That won’t matter if you are in a company that still abides by old models of management, which limit choice and initiative assuming it increases productivity. So finding a company that will not only nurture but also reward your natural propensity to learn is crucial. As mentioned above some businesses offer continued education incentives; others offer in-house training programs. Considering you are an insatiable learner, before you choose where to apply research the company, check if they have an environment conducive and welcoming to people that are learners and if they offer any extra benefits to these types of employees.

For example, just a simple search of “companies that offer continued learning programs” yields 14.800.000 results, with one of the first articles proposing some interesting and pertinent information: companies like AT&T and G.E. are spending over (billion) dollars a year on programs that train employees. That same article mentions that it could also be a factor in employee retention. In fact, a poll done by Louis Harris and Associates shows that 41% of employees that worked at companies that offered poor or no training programs planned to leave the year they were polled. Whereas only 12% of employees working at companies that offered great training programs planned to quit.

Academic Credentials vs. Learnability

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Academic credentials are often mistaken for the natural propensity to self-teach, but this is a huge fallacy. Someone could even argue that it’s the opposite because high academic accolades indicate an ability to work within a very specific system, whereas learnability is a dynamic, fluid system of learning, which is entirely motivated by the joy of learning and self-betterment. Gaining high honours is an impressive feat, but as success stories have proven time and time again, they matter little in the real world. Paradigm shifting individuals such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Gabe Newell and Whole Foods founder John Mackey never graduated from college, and there are many similar success stories.

This isn’t an anti-academic rant; I am just trying to showcase that academic accolades and awards aren’t as important as the innate need to learn and in turn that learnability will not only keep you informed it will also keep you relevant and employable. If you aren’t sure if you are a natural born learner, a learning animal or a hungry brain take this quick test, and this isn’t just for fun. Eventually, questions like the ones below will start showing up in interviews to gauge candidates learnability.

1) Are there any skills you have that are self-taught?


2) In the last six months have you dedicated any of your own personal time to learn a new skill or expand your knowledge?


3) What is your learning style, or the most effective one for you?


4) Since you left traditional education have you invested any time or money in learning something new?


5) In your last position did you decide to learn anything on your own initiative that made you more valuable to your company or organization?


6) Have you taught yourself anything outside your current job that made you more marketable and relevant in your field of interest or industry?

How many did you answer yes too? To be a “hungry brain,” you should’ve answered yes to all of these items, if you didn’t and want to become one, then you can simply use the questions as points you need to work on.

Are you a learning animal or hungry brain? Let us know how you do it and what drives you to constantly learn in the comment section below!




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