Q: How to improve your job skills? A: Read the news!!

Do you read the business section of your favourite newspaper / website? Or do you read the front section and then skip right to the back pages?

For many years I did this. I thought that the news section was the most important part and that the business section was dry, irrelevant and to be avoided.

I was wrong!

During my career I have worked in a number of business sectors and for local and international organisations. Then one day I was nudged (by a very astute business mentor) to read articles that were relevant to my current job, organisation and industry. I soon realised just how interesting and useful they were.

Why read the business news?

If you are not convinced let me give you three compelling reasons why you should spend 10 minutes every day scanning the business pages.

  • Reading the top stories every day makes anyone, in any job, better at what they do. It keeps you informed and makes you more competent by developing critical work-relevant skills.
  • By taking the time to read one in-depth article a day (and not just scanning the headline and the first paragraph) you will improve your business knowledge, vocabulary and comprehension.
  • You also become a better networker as you are able to comment, confidently, on current events and topics to your colleagues, managers, clients and customers or to people you meet at a conference.
  • Reading prepares you for unexpected conversations and can change the way people think about you.
  • Being aware of industry events and developments can help you plan your next career move. If you can see a particular skill or sector is growing (or in decline) you can take steps to ride the wave.

So, by consistently following the news, you will become a more valuable employee.

How to read news articles about business

If you have avoided the business section so far it may seem daunting. To avoid failing in your first week set yourself a challenge.

  • Pick a time that you know you can focus. This may be on your daily commute, when you arrive at work or over lunch. Put it in your diary or set a reminder.
  • For the first week pick a different newspaper / website each day and see which style and tone appeals to you the most. Make this your default read (but to keep you on your toes mix things up as you go along - reading liberal and conservative papers to challenge your thinking).
  • Start by reading items that are directly related to your own organisation or industry or those about companies that you are interested in e.g. anything related to non-work interests or hobbies.
  • Treat yourself at the end of each ‘read’ by reading something you enjoy - it can be lifestyle, sports pages or the gossip column. This helps the brain associate the business news with something pleasurable!
  • After week one start focussing your reading activity. Broadly speaking, you are looking for four categories of information: general news, financial data, analysis (markets, companies, industries etc.) and speculation (or business gossip!).
  • As you read the news you need to ask yourself two questions: ‘Is this good or bad news?’ and ‘What will it do to the company / industry / share price?’. For example good news does not always lead to a rise in share price and vice versa - it all depends on what the market was expecting. The market may be expecting bigger profits or quicker expansion than the company announced in the news. If the market is disappointed the outcome may be a drop in share price.
  • Remember - company news cannot always be taken at face value. You need to assess the information comparatively and find out what the market was expecting.

If you are not used to reading 'serious' news this may seem difficult but, over time you will start to understand how companies, industries and markets operate.

To help you get started treat it as a game (or set it up as a game with your colleagues) by following certain companies or sectors and trying to guess what happens next. You will soon find yourself going straight to the business pages!