Treat Your Career as an Investment

Published: May 09, 2007

By Peter Weddle -- More than half of all Americans are now invested in the stock market. Some are more active than others, but all want to achieve significant, positive results. Most also understand that it’s up to them to make it happen. Whatever their goal—great wealth or a great retirement—they have to set the course and take the required action. They have to opt into the 401K program at work, or put their savings into a mutual fund or establish an account with a broker and execute trades. Said another way, their financial investment must be backed up with a commensurate investment of personal attention, time and effort.

The same is true with your career. You invest your talent in your work, and in a perfect world, that commitment would produce a huge paycheck and tremendous satisfaction. Regardless of the position you accepted or the boss you went to work for, your career would consistently provide the rewards you seek. Since the world is imperfect, however, your commitment of talent is necessary, but insufficient to ensure your success. You must reinforce the knowledge, skills and experience you bring to work with a commensurate investment of personal attention, time and effort in the management of your career.

How do you make that investment? As with your financial investments, you should:

  • Keep an eye out for emerging trends of consequence;

  • Constantly reassess your situation; and

  • Act as if your future depends on it (it does).

    These three guidelines are the hallmarks of a savvy career investor. They won’t eliminate the ups and downs of employment—any more than financial models will flatten the ups and downs of the stock market—but they will enable you to derive the maximum benefit from your career over the long term.

    Keep an eye out for emerging trends of consequence.

    Trends of consequence are those that have the potential to impact significantly on your career field, industry or employer. Spotting them as early as possible, therefore, ensures that you avoid the greatest single threat to career success: unpleasant surprises. The unexpected makes you the victim of workplace changes, rather than their master. To avoid them, invest time regularly in:

  • monitoring professional, trade and general business publications. Use whatever medium delivers the access and convenience you need (e.g., online, print, podcasts) to stay on top of the state-of-the-art in your field and industry.

  • tapping into the insights and intelligence of your peers. Use whatever medium (e.g., online discussion forums, individual or group meetings) will encourage and enable you to stay in touch with the thought leaders and trend spotters in your field and industry.

    Constantly reassess your situation.

    Change has always been a factor in the workplace, but today, the rate of that change is unprecedented. The dizzying whirl of continuous technological developments, sudden shifts in consumer tastes and requirements, acquisitions and mergers among employers, and shifting business priorities and market dynamics virtually guarantee that nothing is permanent or even very long lasting. Not your job, not your employer, and increasingly, not even your career. To protect yourself, therefore, invest time continuously in:

  • monitoring the status of your employer and others that hire in your field. Be on the lookout for information and (credible) opinion that will help you evaluate their current health and future prospects as well as the caliber of opportunities they can or may be able to offer.

  • tapping into the latest data and analysis about your career field and industry. Use the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well as any (non-sugarcoated) forecasts by your professional association and trade organization to determine their current health and future prospects.

    Act as if your future depends on it (it does).

    With so much change underway in the world of work, job security no longer exists. Career security, however, does. It gives you to the capacity to achieve continuous employment in jobs that enable you to do your best work. And, the key to career security is mobility—not upward mobility on an employer’s career ladder, but personal mobility on your own career jungle gym. There is no set way to move across a jungle gym—you get to pick the direction—but the only sure way to achieve success is to keep moving. If you stop, you not only fail to make progress, but you foreclose options that are available at other positions along the way. To sustain your forward momentum, invest time regularly in:

  • developing two goals for your career—an achievement goal that will upgrade your performance in your current job and can be accomplished in the next 12-18 months and an advancement goal that will lead to a more challenging assignment either with your current employer or a new one and can be reached in the next 2-3 years.

  • giving yourself a makeover. Re-imagine yourself as a work-in-progress and never stop acquiring the skills and knowledge necessary to accomplish your goals and create the future you want for yourself and your family.

    Recent news reports indicate that many Americans are not currently saving and investing enough to prepare adequately for their retirement years. They continue such behavior because they don’t feel its impact, at least right now; the financial consequences won’t come due for a decade or more, when they finally leave the workforce. Engaging in the same kind of behavior in your career, however, will immediately impoverish your prospects in the workplace. It will bankrupt your ability to do your best work in the job you have today and to compete successfully for the jobs you’d like to have in the future. To avoid those outcomes, become a savvy career investor. Allocate the personal attention, time and effort your career deserves, and you’re much more likely to be rewarded with a huge gain in the satisfaction and the paycheck you bring home from work.

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