On The Right Track: 5 Strategies To Build Your Career Capital

December 14, 2014 • 9 minute read • by Saeed


“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

– Warren Buffett –

You are not in Kansas anymore. The idea that you can show up to work on time every day, do your job and get ahead is a relic of a bygone era. In the past, employers focused significantly on professional development to support employees advancement. Those days are gone – or at least fleeting fast. Much to our collective chagrin, the Darwinian principle is alive and well in today’s hyper-competitive workplace culture.

Earlier this month, when I wrote about The One Trait You Must Demonstrate In Any Job Interview one of the concepts that intrigued a number of readers was the notion of career capital. Jobseekers know that to advance, they must invest in the appropriate education, training, and skills. But they also know that that is not nearly enough. Today’s worker has to dig deeper, much deeper to find his or her underlying value and make daily deposits in his or her career bank account.

Most would agree that Warren Buffett is one of the greatest investors of all time. It is also widely known that he largely credits Benjamin Graham, a scholar and financial analyst who is widely recognized as the father of value investing, for his success. One of the key principles that Graham advanced was the notion of buying stocks based on the underlying value and fidelity of a business enterprise. If we apply this bedrock investment principle to career advancement, our task becomes one where the building of our own underlying value and fidelity as a professional becomes paramount and one of strategic consideration.

As with any business enterprise, a series of strategies must be adopted and applied with focus and discipline to achieve our desired outcomes. We must pilot our work life using an instrument panel similar to the one we might use for our investments. We must be willing to risk, to learn, to grow and to adapt ourselves and we must be willing to monitor and improve our own performance in accordance with a set of underlying principles in order to advance accordingly.

A recently conducted Accenture Survey found that more than 89 percent of professionals believe building their career capital is the key to success in the workplace. The following strategies draw upon the results of this survey and other workplace research that supports the notion that career advancement is a matter of intentional and systematic planning and execution.

1. Build your Efficiency in Completing Tasks

Get organized, get focused, get disciplined and lose distractions. The key here is structure. Use agendas to drive meeting outcomes. Use “To Do” lists and planners to manage your time effectively. Use the countless (free) available apps out there to help you organize your life. Learn to use them and get ahead of the pack.

2. Build Mastery and Competency

Competencies are the combination of knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors. You are hired for your competencies so use and enhance them to achieve higher levels of performance. Knowledge is information developed or learned through experience, study or inquiry. So learn, learn, learn. Skill is the result of repeatedly applying knowledge or ability. So practice, practice, practice. Ability is an innate potential to perform mental and physical actions or tasks. Highlight these whenever possible. Behavior is the observable reaction of an individual to a certain situation. Ensure that yours is always positive. Mastery is the ability to blend skills and knowledge in a specific area of practice. Cultivate it.

3. Build Your Networking Skills

Your network is one of the most important career assets you have. If investment in real estate is all about location, location, location, then investment in your career is all about relationships, relationships, relationships. Nurture them and they will nurture you. The surest way to burn career capital is to burn bridges. Having said that, some bridges lead to nowhere and they should be burned. Just know which ones to burn, when, where, how and why.

4. Build Longevity in Your Career

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wage and salary workers have been with their current employer for a median of 4.6 years. That doesn’t include the 14 million Americans who are self-employed free agents. Building longevity is no longer about staying with one company and holding out for the gold watch. Rather, it’s about staying fresh and building career equity: developing a set of skills, contacts and relationships as well as behaviors that value self improvement and the kind of adaptability that will allow you to be seen as a change maker, not someone who wants to cling to the status quo.

5. Build Your Personal Brand

If you watch a Nike commercial, the last thing you’ll see is a reference to shoe laces and leather. Apple commercials never boast about their monitors or keyboards. Rather, what you see is an association: great athletes in the case of Nike and great thinkers in the case of Apple. To develop your personal brand, you must ask yourself what you wish for people to associate with you when they think of your name. A strong personal brand is reliant upon a strong narrative. As an exercise, sit down and write your own story (your past and your future) and then align everything you do with that story.

As you travel the highways and byways on the new map of your work life, you’ll find that the foremost rule of the road is that career tracks are no longer linear. If there was ever a yellow brick road, it has been replaced by interconnected webs of opportunity, exposure and experience where a willingness to learn, to grow and to adapt to a brave and yet uncharted new world gain the greatest returns on investment.

Good luck.

©2014 – All Images and Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

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