How to Build Career Capital

According to an Accenture study, the vast majority of professionals around the globe believe building their ‘career capital’, those differentiated skills that define and advance their careers, is vital to succeed in the workplace. Many employees strive to increase their career capital in an effort to enjoy greater opportunities for growth, influence decisions at work, have credibility among their colleagues as well as to attain their personal goals and maintain job security.

Cal Newport, an assistant professor of Computer Science at Georgetown, highlights that according to the theory of supply and demand, “if you want something that’s both rare and valuable, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return”. Similarly, if you seek for a great job, you need to return something of great value.

The key is to develop skills that will add value to your career development, which in turn will be marked by creativity, impact, control and autonomy. Here are a few steps to help you achieve this central goal:

Get rid of the Passion Mindset

According to Newport, one of the most common misconceptions in the professional world is that career happiness stems from finding a preexisting passion. But “passions don’t come before skills” Newport explains. The problem with the passion mindset is that it makes people ask ‘What can the world offer me?’ This approach can ultimately make them feel unhappy because in their quest to find what their job offers them, they realise what they don’t like about it.

Instead, the right attitude calls for asking yourself ‘What can I offer the world’ and seek how to turn a problem into an opportunity to bridge a gap, advance your skills and get recognised as an innovator.

Know What’s Really Valuable in Your Field

In order to thrive and become an expert in a particular field or industry it is pivotal to have an open-minded and flexible stance in the way you look at things. If you can’t easily discover what skills would be important for the specific vision you have of your career, Newport suggests the following: identify two people in your area of expertise – one who resonates and one who doesn’t. Then try to spot potential differences in their approaches. What did Person A do that Person B did not?”

Keep on Learning and Seek Feedback

In his book Newport refers to a screenwriter who grew quickly in Hollywood partially because he was persistently seeking to learn more about his craft and practice. Part of his success was also owed to his brilliant idea of showing others his work and gaining critical feedback.

Likewise, you should actively ask for feedback and use your peers to objectively reflect on your work so that you figure out where you need to improve. Newport argues that “It’s in honest, sometimes harsh feedback, that you learn where to retrain your focus in order to continue to make progress”.

Minimise the Time you Spend on Things That Won’t Help you Improve

Developing career capital requires setting goals for time use. Spend a few minutes thinking how much time to allocate on different activities. Then track it to figure out how close you are to your targets. It is wise to limit your time spent on commitments that don’t make you better at what you do.  Allow more time for those activities that are worth capitalising on and that add value to your professional profile. 

Newport says that “People who have big stores of career capital are the people that turn down most opportunities” adding that “people with career capital don’t do a lot of things, but what they chose to do, they do with great intensity and over a great period of time”.

Always Have a Goal but Make Sure this Goal matches the Career Stage You’re in

Working hard and being busy does not necessarily mean that it yields effective results. This is because the bulk of that energy may be wasted unconstructively on things that do not enhance your career development.

Newport advises taking advantage of ‘little bets’, that is small projects that can be completed in less than a month and that compel you to learn something new. This can include the acquisition of a new skill, the production of a new innovative idea that will give you a tangible product which in turn will help you get feedback.

So what do you think? Do you have the qualities necessary for building career capital? If not, are you willing to work towards entirely changing your mindset about career progress? How do you envision your future career and how do you plan to achieve this? Please have your say below…