What is Your Number One Asset in Your Career?

What is your #1 asset? Odds are high that the #1 asset you own is your job. And, if you’re lucky a “career”. Think about it. Your career is your primary source of income. You and your family depend on it. It absorbs the majority of your waking hours during the week. It defines a good portion of your identity and hopefully provides substantial returns in job satisfaction.

But, like any other asset it is not immune to disruptions in the market. Over time you must manage and grow it if you are to realize optimal value. Unfortunately, in my experience, many professionals sub-optimize their potential returns on the time and effort they put into their careers. Why? Sadly, the amount of thought and action they put towards proactively managing and shaping this important asset is but a very small fraction of the hours they spend on the job. Once squandered the opportunity cost can be very significant. In most instances, unintentional career missteps have a long-term impact on advancement, job satisfaction, earnings potential and ultimate wealth. This occurs largely because many individuals are unaware of the understanding and skills required to successfully navigate their professional development, or are not proactive in taking the required actions. Nowhere, before entering the work force, does anyone teach you how to proactively manage your career from a longer-term and strategic perspective. You learn as you go through it for the “first” time. By the time you realize you’ve gone awry the damage is done.

How do I know this? Through 30 years of observation as a consultant, Partner and Practice Leader for Spencer Stuart, a leading global executive search firm. During this time I met and assessed literally thousands of executives. Frequently the distinction between successful and a less successful professionals was not their intellect or energy, but instead, how effectively they had managed their careers. This is especially true in today’s fast paced and swiftly changing environment.

The following shares with you what I believe to be the most useful principles and actions related to effective career management and building a bankable background that results in more assured growth of your #1 asset – your career.

  1. Successful careers and bankable backgrounds rarely just “happen”. They are the result of understanding where your interests, innate strengths, learned skills and experiences intersect.
  2. Once you have this basic understanding it becomes much easier to define which career paths make sense. Accomplishing this requires that you take personal responsibility for becoming and remaining self-aware of how these components are evolving and growing over time. No one else will do this for you. If you don’t care, no one else will.
  3. Optimize your Return on Career Investment (ROCI) by leveraging your strengths, skills and experience in industries and companies that are: a.) growing, and b.) have a pronounced need for what you have to offer. It is a lot easier to show accomplishments and advance in industries and companies that are growing (and not resource constrained) and where the skills you bring will be fully utilized. The primary investments you make in your career are – time (a fungible asset); learning (through education, training, certification programs); and the relationships that you build with superiors, peers and subordinates. You want to make these investments wisely to optimize your ROCI.
  4. As your career is formed consider the impact of supply and demand for talent in your industry and across the economy. Ideally, you want to build and maintain positioning in sectors that have a high demand for your professional background but low supply of needed talent available (versus a high supply/low demand scenario). The considerable benefits of a high demand/low supply setting include greater compensation leverage, more job opportunities, swifter advancement, and added job satisfaction.
  5. Pay attention to macro-trends that can influence the supply and demand curve for talent. You do not want to fall behind this curve and risk becoming irrelevant. Influential macro-trends include: advances in technology (Internet/digital disruption, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Virtual Reality); outsourcing of jobs; pending industry consolidation; increased global competition; and changes in federal regulations. Those who remain aware of macro-trends are in a much better position to proactively shape their skills and experiences for the future.
  6. Don’t job hop. If your track record is unstable future employers will be hesitant to hire you. They want to feel confident that you will be with them long enough to show a return on their investment in you. In building a bankable background the ideal proof points are multiple promotions within the same organization supported by significant and concrete accomplishments.
  7. Provide consistent performance!

Chris Nadherny spent 30 years at renowned recruiting agency Spencer Stuart. As a principal at the company he conducted more than 700 search assignments, including the recruitment of C-Suite at executives at some of the nation’s largest companies. He wrote The Proactive Executive which details strategies for career advancement. 


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