By Melissa Burns
Getting the job that you really want in the current employment environment requires strategic action and initiative — graduating with the “right degree” is no longer enough. Unfortunately, high levels of student loan debt often force job applicants to take an undesirable position just to pay their new bills. This ineffective strategy is likely to be compounded by a weak job market in a growing number of fields.
What should you do? One prudent strategy is to increase your competitiveness in the job market by “standing out” — doing things that the average job candidate is not likely to do. While suggestions like this can seem vague at times, here are five specific and practical actions that you can accomplish as part of your single-minded strategy to not only survives but to also thrive in the current job market:
- Never stop acquiring new skills.
- Do more than you are paid to do.
- Always be creative.
- Learn new languages.
- Exhibit initiative in everything.
Additional insights about each of these strategic actions are provided in the following paragraphs. This straightforward course of action can help you find a job — and also help you to keep your current job.
1 — The Need for New Skills — Both for You and Employers
The concept of career-long job security seems to have left the building many years ago. In part this is due to employers seeking more ways to improve the bottom line by reducing wages however they can. This approach has effectively created a new industry — outsourcing. Employers can now choose to outsource many tasks to global outsourcing companies such as Back Office Pro.
While some companies use an outsourcing strategy to save money, many others do so because their current employees lack one or more specialized skills. Your mission — should you choose to accept it — is to acquire new skills that make it less likely for you to be laid off or replaced by someone with skills you don’t have. As an additional bonus, this action will also help you to qualify for more new jobs in the employment marketplace if you do lose your current job. At a minimum, think of it as a viable “Plan B” for your career.
2 — Stop Doing Just the Minimum Required to Get By
One of your “go to” strategies for standing out as either a job candidate or a current employee is to make yourself indispensable — someone that a department manager or business owner would never even think of replacing or running the business without. On the other hand, many employees seem determined to do as little work as possible. In many cases, this takes the form of “not doing more than you are paid to do” or attitudes represented by saying “that’s not my job.”
Regardless of peer pressure, your mission should always be to do more than your fair share of work. This might involve working overtime, taking on new responsibilities that exceed your current job description or helping your company get new workers and business funding. These qualities tend to be noticed positively by individuals who make hiring and firing decisions in most companies.
3 — Being Creative, Unique and Original
Being unique and creative is an important component of surviving and thriving in a competitive job market. Think of the goal to “be creative” as the opposite of doing your job mechanically. Try to find new, faster and better ways of getting your tasks done. Don’t accept the common wisdom of doing something a certain way because “we’ve always done it that way.”
To provide positive momentum to your current or prospective career, the mission in being creative is to ensure that you cannot be easily replaced by just any other employee. The career wisdom of this strategy was astutely observed by Coco Chanel — “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.”
4 — Speaking and Writing More Than One Language
The ability to communicate proficiently in English continues to be an important element in global business communication. However, to survive and thrive in an international marketplace increasingly involves speaking other languages and local dialects. For example, another reason that companies use Back Office Pro and other outsourcing companies is due to a pressing need to have foreign language experts who are proficient in multiple languages.
By having one or more foreign language skills, it will be easier for you stand out in a crowd of current employees or job applicants who possess similar professional skills — but in one language only. Your primary career mission is to decide which languages can play the most instrumental role in moving your career forward.
5 — Taking the Initiative: Proactive vs Reactive
Anticipating what needs to be done and then doing it before someone tells you to do it is the essence of taking initiative. In many cases, this means the ability to prepare for possible future problems by taking problem-solving steps to prevent difficulties before they occur.
The ability to channel initiative in a positive fashion will often provide the impetus for promotions to leadership roles in many organizations. Whether you think of it as proactive management or other concepts like contingency planning, taking the initiative will move you into the forefront when hiring and job retention decisions are made by employers. Your practical mission is to be proactive rather than reactive.
Conclusions — Creating More Career Value
By doing your best to pursue the five practical career action steps suggested above, both new graduates looking for jobs and employees trying to survive in a current job can have a similar desirable outcome — enhanced value for careers. This will rarely be an easy path to follow, so be prepared to invest in yourself by working hard. As Milton Berle once said, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”
Melissa Burns graduated from the faculty of Journalism of Iowa State University in 2008. Nowadays she is an entrepreneur and independent journalist. Her sphere of interests includes startups, information technologies and how these ones may be implemented.