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Are Your Windows Broken?

7/25/2006 6:31:06 PM

By Peter Weddle -- The idea was the brainchild of James Q. Wilson, a professor of public policy at Pepperdine University. Writing in The Atlantic magazine in 1982, he argued that the physical state of a neighborhood was an accurate measure of its social and political health. In what came to be known as his “broken windows” theory of urban development, he linked structural blight to leadership blight. In other words, the physical disrepair of a neighborhood was a symptom of broken city government.

I think a similar notion can be applied to your career. The state of your professional competence is a reflection of the person who is responsible for maintaining its upkeep: you. In other words, when an employer assesses the skills, knowledge and experience that you bring to the table as a candidate, they will consider what they find to be an indication of the motivation, determination and energy you offer as a person. If the former is in disrepair—if your skills are substandard, your knowledge is antiquated, your track record is spotty—then they will assume the latter—your desire and propensity to contribute—is, as well. Broken professional windows reflect broken individual values.

How is that? The best employers see the offer of a job as an investment in you. Sure, that means the skills and knowledge you have, but equally as important, it encompasses your capacity and commitment to apply that capability on-the-job. In other words, employers want to know if you take enough pride in your occupational expertise to:

  • keep it up-to-date,
  • use it effectively in your work,
  • transform it into a meaningful contribution for your employer.

  • A well kept career indicates you are; a career with broken windows indicates you aren’t.

    How can you check to see if you have career blight? Here’s what employers and recruiters see as personal broken windows:
      1. You cannot identify discrete accomplishments on-the-job that demonstrate your competence in your field and your commitment to making a contribution to your employer.

      2. You have a track record of working to the limits of your job description and no further.

      3. You avoid special projects and ad hoc task forces that require you to work outside your comfort zone.

      4. You don’t feel any passion for your work and devote the bare minimum of time and effort to it.

      5. You have not taken a refresher course or training program in your primary field in the last three years.

      6. You are not continuously enrolled in educational programs to develop “value-added skills” in such areas as a second language, time management, and cost-benefit analysis.

      7. You do not participate in a professional association or society that serves your field or industry.

      8. You don’t read the literature in your field and, therefore, can’t comment on key issues and trends that are affecting it and its role in the workplace.

      9. You have gaps in your employment that are filled with active job searches, but no concurrent effort to maintain and/or enhance your occupational expertise.

      10. You aren’t able to articulate your goals for employment or the contribution you can make to an employer.
    There are two reasons that employers reject candidates for their openings:

  • There is a mismatch between their qualifications and those required by the position; they are either too junior or qualified in a field or specialty that is not central to job performance.
  • The candidates have let their career slip into disrepair as indicated by one or more of the broken windows listed above.

  • If you aren’t selected for an opening due to the first reason, you remain a viable candidate for that employer’s openings in the future. If you aren’t selected for the second reason, however, you are unlikely to ever be considered seriously by that employer. In other words, broken windows slam doors shut.

    Ominous as that sounds, it is not a permanent condition. The wonderful thing about broken windows is that they can be repaired. It takes a little effort, but fixing them can transform what employers see when they look at you. Solid windows reflect sound qualifications and a person with the values to maintain and apply them on-the-job.

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