Invest in Yourself

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As we are rapidly approaching the end of 2016, part of the good news is that the employment picture is relatively solid.

The official unemployment rate for November, after the addition of 178,000 jobs, is 4.6%, significantly less than it was in November of 2013, when the rate stood at 7.0%. Yes, companies are still laying people off – that is basically not going to change. What does change is the number of people laid off or downsized. For much of 2016, those numbers have been light vs. the last couple of years.

I’ve been a hiring manager for nearly 40 years. During that time I’ve seen the majority of employees make the same mistake – they don’t invest in themselves from a career perspective. And, not doing so can significantly extend the amount of time it takes to get a promotion or find a new job, whether you are currently employed and looking, or in a job transition.

There are two main premises regarding how employers/hiring managers look at existing/potential new employees:

1. Why do I look/am I going to look like a genius for hiring you?
Frankly, if you are not making me look good to my bosses or I don’t think you will make me look really smart for bringing you onto my team, WHY would I keep/hire you?

2. How are you helping/will you help my team to go from “Good to Great”?
Basically, if you help my team improve significantly, then I have a good shot at looking pretty smart for hiring you.

Thus, employees should always be seeking opportunities to excel at their jobs. Work product should be exemplary as well as their interpersonal skills. Just getting the job done normally does not equate to someone who is considered to be above average or outstanding.

The chart above shows the bell curve of employee performance. Unfortunately, history has shown that the majority of employees are located to the left of “Good”, with the greatest percentage of workers falling into the “Satisfactory” range.

Unfortunately, employees falling into those categories are not making the hiring manager look like a genius for hiring them or helping their team go from good to great. This then becomes a significant issue when such employees are seeking advancement or new employment.

So, how does an employee invest in themselves from a career standpoint? Here are some tips from a long-time hiring manager:

• Keep a file on yourself – This is basically your own HR file. Items to keep in this file include: any emails or memos related to your performance – overall or for a specific task or assignment, Thank You cards or letters from clients, copies of performance appraisals (that said, many companies are starting to get away from using annual performance reviews) and copies of awards you’ve received with an explanation as to WHY you received them.

• Maintain a clear understanding with your supervisor regarding what he/she defines as Good, Above Average and Outstanding levels of performance. Once you are on the same page as your supervisor in this regard, select the path you wish to follow on the roadmap to success they’ve provided to you.

• Take ownership of issues, problems and questions that come from either internal or external clients. This means you either find a way to resolve the situation yourself or find the right person to do so and then remain in the loop until final resolution. Think of it this way, if you go into a big box home improvement store and ask someone for help who you see wearing an apron with that company’s name on it, how would you feel if that employee said to you, “Sorry, that’s not my department” and walked away without doing anything to assist you vs. a worker who tries to help or calls the person they feel can best answer the question?

• Excel at communicating verbally and in writing. Virtually all problems in business are the result of poor communication. If you can excel at communicating at all levels within the organization and with external clients, you’re going to make someone look really smart for having you on their team!

• Never stop learning! Go beyond the mandatory training that your company may provide. Consider taking some classes at a local university or community college that will have a real impact upon your skill set. Never settle and don’t allow yourself to stagnate. The access to information today is unprecedented, even as compared to just a few years ago.

• Understand your brand. Each of us has his/her own personal brand. Brand goes way beyond the name on a product. Brand equates to culture…it defines who we are and what value we bring to the table.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of people do not have an accurate read on how they are actually perceived by others around them or how others see their personal brand.

If you don’t have a very clear understanding of your personal brand, you’re going to have difficulty convincing your team and supervisor(s) that you are a great fit for the culture of the organization.

Good employers should always prioritize an employee being a great fit to the company’s culture/brand higher than their skill set. Skills can be learned and improved. Culture and personal brand are deeply embedded as part of a person’s DNA. For example, a person doesn’t all of a sudden develop a strong work ethic when they join a company…that person has been that way since they were very young…probably starting to display these traits/behaviors by the time they were 6 or 7 years old. Personality, culture, personal brand – basically one in the same.

If you are already doing these things, Excellent! But, if not, then I’d like to challenge you to take the first step in the investment process and do a comprehensive inventory of yourself.

Part of doing so would be to ask others to provide you with candid, honest feedback about how you are perceived by them, the organization and clients with whom you have contact. If you do this with the right people, you will most likely hear some things about yourself that will make you feel uncomfortable.

I guarantee you that most people won’t take the time to go through this exercise, and that is a shame, since all of us need to do so at least once.

Look at this as an opportunity to help ensure that you are doing everything possible to take the most expeditious path on the roadmap to success.

Are you willing to take the time and use the resources available all around you to invest in yourself? The answer to this question will define your career and who you really are.