The Job Whisperer’s top eleven personal assets and must-have resources for almost anyone (but especially young professionals) seeking a 2009 career brand, because passion and determination are no longer enough.
Resume. Your resume should proclaim “I love work!” and “Bosses love me and give me lots of responsibility!” Don’t just enjoy talking about work and responsibility, be unable to waste time. Work when you aren’t working, talk about what you love about your work. Be your best advocate. That’s a brand with energy and a brand you want to be.
Research. What are the available jobs in your community? Are they clustered in one or another sector, profession, or discipline? Once you have established where the jobs are, you can build your campaign in the direction of the jobs, sector, profession, or discipline. This process increases your understanding of the depth and breadth and capacity of your market, making you a better marketer of your brand and its value.
Reputation. Be the calm level-headed one. There’s one in every group, at least one, who gets things done and maintains order and forward mobility. Be that one. There are other desirable and fun things you can be, of course, but if you want a solid brand image for the ages, this is it.
Nice, Stable Friends. If you are a shy person, make new friends anyway. If you start friendships but have trouble maintaining them, this would be a good time to learn how to manage your time so that you can spend it with others. Start a walking group, go to your neighborhood association meetings, find a church and reach out. People with friends have networking opportunities; people with nice, stable friends have good prospects. People without friends and people with unstable friends have a harder time finding a job or moving a career forward.
Sturdy bridges across relationships. Don’t burn bridges, and mend any you may have damaged. Learn the art of restraint, by simply restraining your impulses. The first question in the mind of a decision-maker or network contact is: “Is there a downside risk here?” Make sure that when your name comes up, the first association is anything other than the word “trouble.”
Advisers who want you to succeed. If you have not been good to others or yourself, that’s a brand you don’t want. Stop that right now, and make the fact of stopping unproductive behavior your central story as you seek people who are willing to forgive you and help you. Like the prisoner who found salvation, the addict who found recovery, or the bully who became the defender of the meek, your story and brand will have to be about change. The point of a brand is to be memorable in a good way.
Personal Philanthropy. Volunteer at one thing, not at a million things, but make it a significant volunteer gig that reflects something you really care about. Try to achieve a leadership level in a small but important organization, make a professional contribution (do the accounting, the brochures, or raise funds), or found a new organization. Volunteering at the nuts and bolts level (which lies above the pair of hands level) puts you in touch with members of the organization or the organization’s board, in addition to the organization’s constituents.
Publication. It can be a blog, a Facebook page, a website, a series of articles, or even a book, but publish your thoughts and ideas. Publishing what you know and what you care about will set you apart in a world of talent. Publishing doesn’t make you an expert, but it makes you someone with a point of view, someone with confidence, and someone worth talking to. Use your spell checker and if you need one, enlist an editor from among your advisers.
Good Stories. Good stories about your life experiences have a defining quality, and a beginning, a middle, an end, and an outcome. And a central figure: you. They are sometimes the kind of stories you might recount on a grad school application, or you might tell in a speech, or to a new but important person in your life. Our stories are unique, and that’s why we tell them—they present energy, evoke empathy, and create bonds. Reflect on the important moments and experiences of your life, and build your stories around them. Be honest, but not exhaustive. Good stories are brief but powerful.
Sales Training and Experience. Get yourself a sales job, just for a while, even if—no, especially if—you have no idea how to make a cold call. Everybody should work in sales sometime during a career. Working in sales teaches you what drives the top line. You will learn to sell yourself, deal with complete strangers confidently, and express your value, even if you never want to sell anything again.
Entrepreneurial mindset. When I was a pre-teen, my grandmother gave me one of those potholder-making kits. Before long I’d made thirty or so colorful potholders, I’d organized my younger siblings into a door-to-door army, and I was asking my parents for more equipment and raw material. This is when my father explained to me the concept of profitability and the role played by expenses. A business owner understands problems from a different angle; be self-employed somewhere along the line.
It’s hard not to notice that Great Big Honking Network is missing from The Job Whisperer’s list. Well, it’s in there, in a way, and in another way we think that it’s not so much a noun as it is a verb. It’s something you do in order to meet nice, stable friends, build sturdy bridges, and locate advisors who want you to succeed. Sometimes the shorthand in articles and books about jobs and careers is confusing, and sometimes we mistake profiles in cyberspace for members of a network we own. Here’s the difference.
You can have a network, you can build a network, you can promote a network, you can be a member of a formal networking group, but it’s not really an asset or a resource unless or until it includes nice, stable friends, sturdy bridges across relationships and advisors who want you to succeed. The network is a conceptual framework representing what you make of those assets and resources, at a specific time when you need a very specific kind of help. It isn’t real. You don’t wake up one morning and decide to procure one of those network thingies.
Imagine having a party and inviting all your friends and acquaintances. When you stand up to toast the guests, are you going to say, “Here’s to my wonderful network!” or “Here’s to my wonderful friends!” I hope you see the difference.
I think it’s okay to map your conceptual network to try to find a path to your goal. I think you must build a data base of your friends and advisors, and identify the sturdiest bridges, and connections you need to work on. But these are activities best done in the spirit of organization, not exploitation, and there is an important difference.